On Saturday, I was invited by my friend and s’hero Hana Moemalo to her community event.
She has booked me several weeks ago, and it wasn’t a smooth process,. she simply said “sau e judge le makou pageant” (come and judge our pageant).
For those who know me, y’all know how I feel about pageants. It took me years to try and avoid that part of my past but in some circles, it keeps popping up.
Samoans have three obsessions: God, rugby and pageants. True story.
And coming from a small-ish place, it felt like none of my professional and academic background mattered when I was in circles of Samoans from Samoa.
So in that context, I rolled my eyes at Hana but knew better than to decline her invite.
On the actual day, I had to collect my students and set up our stall at a trade show, before proceeding to ‘said pageant.
I kept thinking, “Oi aue – beauty queens and stilettos ahead”.
On arrival at the hall, I saw no stilettos in sight and the actual contestants, were two young women from the youth group who were judged on everything BUT their physical attributes. They had to be skilled at paluina o le ava, reciting poems/chants, dance and were actively involved in the rest of the categories that the youth were participating in.
The whole event was centered about youth and the theme was “Tautua nei mo sou manuia a taeao” similar to “Serve Now for your blessings tomorrow”. Everything was conducted in Samoan.
At one point, a 7 year old had to stand in from of the stage and recite a whole page of scriptures. Her voice wavered, she shook a little, but her words were clear and powerful. I couldn’t stop my eyes tearing up at seeing this child, and realised that those around me also cried.
As I was sorta trying not to cry, I noticed that behind the curtain (there the girl stood) were the feet of an adult – perhaps her mother, coercing her to read on. And I just laughed (ok, cry-laughed) because —-that was me. That was my siblings and most samoan children on white sunday. We had to stand in from the entire congregation and recite. Under duress.
Trying hard to speak with meaning because your momma is sitting in the front gesguring to her jandal. hhahah joke but really.
The entire event was beautifully planned and the competing groups clearly had put so much effort into their performances.
When it came to decision time, it struggled to make a call, but was grateful that the revered faifeau made the decision with me.
I walked away from that hall with renewed respect and adulation of the work that so many of our people do, to keep our culture alive.
I was also in awe of people like Hana, who hold full time jobs during the week and then much of her time is supporting her community. I have also seen her do additional hours supporting her youth into employment and educational opportunities.
Faafetai tele lava Fono mo lou alofa ma lou naunau I le manuia o alo ma fanau a lo tatou atunuu. Absolutely humbled, grateful and blessed to have done this, and to witness the celebration.