University of Utah Speech : September 2011

Sufiga o le tuaoi: Negotiating boundaries
(Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta‟isi Efi, Head of State of Samoa, Public Address to University of Utah and Utah Community, Utah, USA: September 2011)
It is high honour to be invited to your gathering today and for my wife and I to be given the privilege of visiting not only with your University and community here in Utah, but also with your Brigham Young Universities, both here and in Laie, Hawaii.
I accepted the very kind and generous invitation by the First Presidency of your Church to visit and share with you because I am aware of the significant Samoan Mormon community that resides in America and of the noticeably generous opportunities for support your community offers Samoa and Samoans in terms of humanitarian relief, employment, residency and/or fellowship. I have many members of my family who are practising Mormons and I have been inspired by the way in which they inculcate work ethic and thrift. Both are not easy habits to nurture at the best of times but particularly in this fast-paced life of instant gratification. I am therefore delighted for the opportunity to be able to reciprocate the goodness you have shown to me and the Samoan people.
I wish to share today some reflections I‟ve had on Samoan history, identity, culture and customs. In particular I wish to talk about a concept I raised in a recent keynote address for our National University of Samoa‟s 2011 Samoa II Conference, called “sufiga o le tuaoi”.1 Sufiga means to coax, placate, negotiate, canvass and/or persuade. Tuaoi means boundary or boundaries. Sufiga o le tuaoi refers to the fact and manner of negotiating boundaries. It directs that such negotiations avoid rough or violent language or thought, and privilege gentle and prayerful canvassing, coaxing, negotiating, placating, and/or persuading, particularly when negotiating highly contentious and volatile matters.
Sufiga o le tuaoi suggests a methodology – a manner or quality of thinking and doing – one that draws on the wisdom of tofa fetala’i and tofa saili. Tofa fetala’i is wisdom gained, among other things, through balancing old and new; tofa saili is wisdom
1 See Tui Atua, TTTE. Samoa Conference II, National University of Samoa. Keynote Address. 5 July 2011. Parts of this address have been included in this address.
gained through a constant searching for truth. Sufiga o le tuaoi is a concept rich in historical and cultural nuances and meaning. Through an explanation of the ava or kava ceremony and fagogo (children‟s bedtime tales), I hope to bring to light these nuances.
The ava ceremony is core ritual in traditional Samoan hospitality culture. The fagogo was core to Samoan childrearing. Both speak of the boundaries between man and environment, man and fellow men, man and self and man and God. Both teach us about ourselves and our environment and the divine mysteries of both.
Thomas Gray highlights profoundly the dilemma of creation, including of our indigenous knowledges, when he said: “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen / And waste its sweetness on the desert air”.2 My desire here is to assist in the project of allowing the fullness of the flower of our Samoan indigenous knowledges to breathe notwithstanding the desert air that can sometimes dominate our contemporary lives.
The tuaoi or boundaries that we negotiate when we seek to take responsibility for protecting ourselves and our environment from harm are many, but one of the main hurdles to gaining the fullness of human support for adherence to these boundaries or tuaoi is cross-cultural mis-communication about what is sacred or tapu. Sufiga o le tuaoi is a concept that seeks to address this cultural mis-communication. It gently but firmly advocates that the first step in our cross-cultural dialogue is to accept that 1. there are differences in the way in which we view what is tapu, and 2. that even with these differences there is shared belief in tapu and sacred boundaries or tuaoi between ourselves and our environment, between ourselves as people and between ourselves and our God. Sufiga o le tuaoi respects differences and appeals to shared beliefs. The ava ceremony offers insight into how although our forebears may have understood tapu and tuaoi differently, they shared a belief in the divine. Let me explain by first unpacking the ava ritual.
Ava ritual
2 See Thomas Gray‟s poem, „Elergy written in a country churchyard‟.
In the Samoan ava ceremony there is usually a host and guest party. The host party provides the ava roots for gifting and grounding, and as well the aumaga or untitled men‟s guild, who perform the rituals of the ava ceremony. Once both parties are seated the spokesman for the host party officially welcomes the guest party and makes reference to their honorifics and the historical and mythological relationships between them. After the brief welcome protocol is finished, a spokesman for the host party invites one of the aumaga to collect the ava roots. A member of the aumaga stands up, picks up a mat and proceeds to gather the roots. He brings them to the guest party and one of the guest party will identify himself as the spokeman by slapping the mat he is sitting on and calling out „ava‟. Then the spokesman for the guest party will sufi the ava, which is to talk soothingly about its origin, genealogy, mythology and history. Then he will proceed to folafola the ava, which is to announce the ava and commend its high quality. After this he proceeds to identify the ava, naming only those of highest quality. The names used are honorifics reserved for the ava of tamalii or high chiefs such as ava latasi or ava lupesina, or for the ava of the main orators or tulafale such as ava tugase. Ava lupesina refers to the mythology of the pigeon with nine heads, lupeuluiva, which was gifted to Sinalagilagi as a wedding gift3. Ava latasi, refers to the mythology of the great Sun of the universe, a progenitor of Samoa and the earth and giver of light, energy and growth.
After naming the ava, the guest spokesman will then proceed to offer ava to the aumaga, which traditionally is ritual courtesy because the aumaga is expected to politely decline and respond, „faaauau le faasoa o lea ua iai Aanoatamalii aua le sua alofi o le tatou aso‟, meaning „proceed with the distribution for we already have ava for the tanoa [i.e. ava bowl]‟. Then the guest spokesman distributes the named ava roots to the principal chiefs and orators or people at the ceremony. At the end of this distribution he will say, „what is left we will keep in reserve in case there is need for more ava‟. All this is part of the sufi and folafola ava sections of the ritual.
After the sufiga and the folafola ava the spokesman for the host party then gives the official speech of welcome. And he is responded to by the spokesman for the guest party. Generally both spokesmen will end by saying, “tatou alo ava, ua mai vai ae
3 See Kramer, 1994, v1, p. 78; p. 401.
suamalie ava i le alofa o le Atua”, literally meaning “let us proceed with the ava ritual, the water is bitter yet the ava is sweet because of God‟s love”. Again the connection or tuaoi between God and plant is emphasised. Now the ava ritual proper begins. If it is a formal occasion the faasoa ava, i.e. the master of ceremony will perform one or more of the ava chants or solo o le ava. The significant moment of the ava ritual is when the faasoa ava starts clapping – followed by others in the gathering – and calls: “usi le faasoasoa ae tula’i se soli tamalii ma tulafale” (literally, I wish to announce that the formal distribution of the ava drink is about to commence and I now call on somebody to come forward in breach of the protocols of this sacred gathering and stand in front of the chiefs and orators to distribute the ava). Then the tautu, i.e. he who delivers the ava cup to the drinkers, performs his function according to the ava cup name called by the faasoa ava. You can tell the ava cup of a chief or orator by the intonation used by the faasoa ava and by the way the tautu delivers the cup. The ava cup to a chief or tamalii is delivered using, as they say in tennis, a forehand movement; the ava cup to an orator or tulafale is delivered using a backhand movement.
Before man drinks the ava he pays deference to God by first pouring the ava liquid from his ava cup onto the ground and saying something to the effect of, „Ava lea le Atua, ia faamanuia taualumaga o le tatou aso‟, meaning „God this is your ava, bless the ritual and our deliberations‟. This act symbolises God as priority and acknowledges the connection and boundaries or tuaoi between man, plant and earth. The first and the last cup are of equal status. Where the last cup is not given to anyone ritually the alternative is to call out and say that what is left over of the ava will be distributed amongst those serving at the back – o le a faasoa atu i tua nei ona toe. The ceremony is then closed.
This distinction in calling tone and style of delivery to tulafale and tamalii makes the point about the sacred boundaries or tuaoi between them and the complementary differences of their roles. The role of the tamalii is to assess the wisdom of the long view or the tofa mamao. The role of the tulafale is to assess the wisdom of the deep view or the faautaga loloto. The sacred boundary between tulafale and tamalii is in the ava ceremony captured by the way orators refer to the residence of the ava of tamalii and tulafale. They would say, „le ava sa tofa i le maota‟ when referring to the
ava of tamalii (literally the ava of tamalii who slept in dream dialogue or moe manatunatu in his chiefly residence) or „le ava sa moe i le laoa‟ when referring to the ava of tulafale (literally the ava of tulafale who slept in dream dialogue or moe manatunatu in his orator residence).
The terms moe and tofa and maota and laoa are deferential terms used to describe and distinguish the sleep or dream dialogue and the respective residences of orators (tulafale) and high chiefs (tamalii). Like the oral and arm gestures used by the faasoa ava and tautu, these terms make audibly visible the sacred tuaoi or boundary between the tamalii and tulafale.
An understanding of Samoan cultural rituals such as the ava ceremony can be further deepened when participants have insight into its associated mythologies or belief systems. It is instructive to share at this point one version of a Samoan account of the origins of the ava in Samoa. This version was told to me by Reverend Kasiano Leaupepe of Fasitoo.
Story of the origins of the ava plant in Samoa
There were once two sisters, Ualā and Malomamae. They were responsible for the care of their grandfather, Tuisuga of Fagalii (Fagalii, incidentally, was the place where the LDS originally set foot and established themselves in Samoa). One day Tuisuga craved tuitui (sea urchins) and so sent the girls to the sea to collect some for him. Along the way the girls got bored and decided to do something else. When their grandfather found them idling and the basket not yet full, he got angry. He scolded and banished them. The girls left their grandfather and walked towards Mulifanua.
They came across a boat sent by the Tui Fiti (the King of Fiji). The Tui Fiti‟s daughter had taken ill and he had sent emissaries to Samoa to find her a fofo (traditional healer). The two girls, who held the gifts of fofo, decided to help the Tui Fiti‟s daughter and boarded the boat. The route back to Fiji from Samoa was not easy and the girls thought that they might die before they could have a chance of healing the Tui Fiti‟s daughter. But the skill of the two navigators was such that their boat was able to reach Fiji safely. When they arrived the Tui Fiti was waiting anxiously.
He asked the captain whether they had found a fofo. The captain pointed to the two girls who were coming towards them with their basket of traditional remedies, including vai sami pala, a fermented coconut concoction. When the two sisters reached the Tui Fiti‟s daughter, one began to massage the daughter‟s stomach area, the other helped her to imbibe some of the vai sami pala.
In what seemed only a few moments the Tui Fiti witnessed with joy the sudden recovery of his daughter, who was now moving around easily and looking very well. Seeing that their work was done the two girls said to the Tui Fiti that they were now ready to return to Samoa. The Tui Fiti indebted to the two sisters asked them to stay a while. During their stay both of them became his wives. With Ualā he had three children and with Malomamae he had one. Ualā‟s children, in order of birth, were Suasamiaava (male), Aanoatamalii (male) and Muliovailele (female). Malomamae‟s child was Saolateteleupegaofiti (male). When orators who subscribe to this version recite the genealogy of the ava in the ava ceremony, they will recite one or more of these names. In particular, they would make mention of Aanoatamalii, for it is believed that the ava plant grew from and is his flesh. In contemporary Samoan oratory, orators use this name as an honorific for the ava root. If you examine the name Aanoatamalii closely you will find that it literally means “flesh of a chief”: aano meaning „flesh‟, a meaning „of‟ and tamalii meaning „chief‟.
The story ends with the last testament of Aanoatamalii. His dying wish was that he be buried in the area of his home where he spent most of his life serving, i.e. the valusaga. This is the place where his tautua or service, that of gasese i.e. service associated with preparing food, was conducted. The valusaga was also the place where Samoan families would make their compost. It was where the leaves described as tauvela (i.e. leaves used to cover the umu or earth oven, usually from banana trees, taamu plants and large vines) are put, together with taro and other root crop scrapings known in Samoan as valuga o talo ma isi mea mata, were accumulated and organically broken down. This was our traditional compost mix. We would use this to help fertilise our soil. This was where Aanoatamalii wanted to be buried.
Aanoatamalii instructed his family that if a plant were to grow where he was buried, they were to look after it because the plant was he. Once he was strong enough they
were to take him, i.e. the plant, to Samoa. His family promised to do so. After some time his sister Muliovailele saw a plant with some shoots or tolo growing where they had buried Aanoatamalii. She declared, “Ua toe ola mai Aanoatamalii (Aanoatamalii has come back to life)!” As promised to her brother she then dug him up and took him to Samoa, the original land or roots of their mother Ualā. They settled in Vailele, next to Fagalii. The malae o le Niniva, literally the Niniva village green, in Vailele was so named because when rats came across the ava plant and ate its roots, they became niniva or unwell by intoxication. According to Vailele and Fagalii history, the name records the place where the ava first grew.
One of the moral underpinnings of this ava story for Samoans is that one‟s tautua or self-less service accrues blessings from God. The people of Samoa, especially the descendants of Ualā and Aanoatamalii, receive blessings for the tautua of Ualā and Aanoatamalii to the Tui Fiti. The ava plant, as the reincarnation of Aanoatamalii, continues his tautua to Samoa. Through the ava plant Samoa and Fiji are bonded.
Another moral underpinning is that humility is a prized chiefly quality. Aanoatamalii as the son of the Tui Fiti had rights to the grandest burial site Fiji could offer. Instead he wanted to be buried at the humble site of his service, the valusaga. Moreover, the muscle relaxant properties of the ava plant has a calming effect on those who consume the ava drink. It makes them less disposed to confrontation and violence and better able to sufi finagalo, i.e. to negotiate in a humble way for an accommodation of opposing opinions. This was and is the legacy of Aanoatamalii and the ava plant. Traditionally when chiefs and orators got together to decide contentious issues an ava ceremony would open the meeting. When they engaged in the ava ceremony and drank of the ava, this legacy was revived.
Our traditional stories of the ava plant and our performance of the ava ceremony offer evidence of a Samoan pre-Christian theology, value system and culture that prized recognition of boundaries or tuaoi between history and mythology; man‟s spiritual and physical selves; man and nature; fellow men; and man and God. In order that our performance of these ceremonies are more than empty or token gestures, we must understand and believe in the sacredness of each part, and how each reflects our identity and history as Samoans. The ava ceremony and its mythological roots give
insight into the meanings of the saying sufiga o le tuaoi, and also into what Albert Wendt might have meant by his eloquent lines,
I carry willingly the heritage of my Dead
my children have yet to recognise theirs.
Someday before they leave our house
Forever, I‟ll tell them: „Our Dead
are the splendid robes our souls wear‟.4
The only time that I have heard the word sufiga used in Samoan discourse outside of the context of people is when it is used in conversation with the ava plant. In understanding the story behind the word we understand the nuances of the word. Thus the answer to why we use the word sufi when speaking to the ava plant is… because we are in conversation with more than just an ava root, we are in conversation with a person (Aanoatamalii) and his genealogy.
Your Church has a reputation for being one of the top recorders worldwide of family genealogies. Samoans pride themselves in being able to recite from memory their family gafa or genealogical histories back at least five generations. But we are fast losing this skill as our society becomes more reliant on machines to help us remember and as extended families no longer find the time to meet. I want to talk briefly about the significance of family before moving onto the fagogo.
The significance of family
One of the strengths of the Mormon Church is its emphasis on family. I read a slogan written on your online LDS genealogy related websites. It said “Genealogy because families are forever”.5 This emphasis on the forever-ness of family resonates with our Samoan beliefs in the ongoing connection between the living and the dead. When Polynesians look for evidence of genealogical connection social anthropologists and linguists have provided us with some very interesting findings. Take for example the Samoan word for family which is “fanauga”. In Samoan this term refers to both the
4 See Albert Wendt‟s poem „Parents & Children‟.
5 See and Both websites were accessed 30 August 2011.
narrow idea of a family connected by blood and the broader idea of a people or nation. The same term has similarities in Maori language.6
The root word of the Samoan term fanauga is the same as the Maori term whanauga and that is fānau, said with a long first vowel, and commonly understood to mean: “to be born”. Reverend George Pratt7 suggests that the terms fanau and fanauga can be used both to refer to the specific act of child-bearing as in fanau mai (to be born forthwith) and to the grouping of offspring or close loved ones as in o la’u fanau (i.e. my children – literally or figuratively). This is in line with Patu Hohepa‟s explanation of whanaunga and whanau as extended family and as consanguine and affinal kin, as well as adopted kin.8
Dame Dr Joan Metge, in her recent book Tuamaka: The challenge of difference in Aotearoa New Zealand9 notes that when the term whanau is said with a short first vowel, it means “incline, bend down” rather than “to be born”. This is interesting because at first I thought that this was not the case for Samoan. On closer analysis, I am inclined to think that perhaps such a meaning may have existed. In examining the terms fanau and fanua I explored the possibility that they are abbreviations of a longer term or phrase. One of the great rules in Samoan articulation, in both speaking and singing, is that words must have fluency in both thought (i.e. meaning) and intonation (i.e. rhythm and melody). Many Samoan words have their origins in a longer term or phrase. A good example of this is the term tuāoi, which we raised earlier.
When you ask what is the tuaoi in our relationship as fanauga?, you impose a particular way of thinking about boundaries, a way of thinking that is tied up in the meanings of the term tuaoi. To get at this way of thinking it is necessary to understand the phrase to which the abbreviation belongs. This is implicit in the word itself – tua-o-i, which when elaborated further means – i tua atu o i e le au ai lau pule ma lau aia” (literally meaning, your rights and authority do not extend beyond this point). In this case boundary or tuaoi is measured not by the boundaries of my
6 The discussion offered here on fanauga draws on that offered in my keynote address for the James Ritchie Memorial Lecture, University of Waikato, Hamilton, 23, February, 2011.
7 See Pratt, 1893, p. 150.
8 See Hohepa in Tui Atua et al, 2007, p.56.
9 See Metge, 2010, p.86.
authority or rights but by where yours or those of the other in the tuaoi relationship at hand, ends. The Samoan terms fanau and fanua may well be abbreviations in a fashion similar to that of tuaoi.
In thinking about the possible origins for the term fanau, I am drawn to the suggestion of a link between it and the terms faanaunau, faanau and faananau. These terms variously speak to the process of „being born‟ and/or of bending or breaking something. It is not farfetched to read into the meaning of fanau „to be born‟ the idea of faanaunau, for in order to give birth one must first have some desire to give birth. Moreover, the image of a woman bending in childbirth is not beyond imagining. And, the breaking of a woman‟s waters when in labour is augury for an impending birth. Furthermore, when it comes time for the child to be born there is a process of vaevae manava, where the link between the child and mother is broken, i.e. the umbilical cord is cut. The child now born becomes part of the group of fanau or children of the family, village and nation, the other meaning of fanau. It is in this frame of reference, i.e. of birthing, that the term fanua also finds relevance.
Fanua as placenta provides the oft-quoted image of something that nurtures and protects new life. This image is embodied in the use of fanua as the term also for land. While I am leery to suggest any further meanings to the term fanua given the paucity of evidence at hand, I could not help but be intrigued by possible linkages between the suffix nua in fanua and nuanua meaning rainbow.
Through this brief exploration of the etymologies of these Samoan words and phrases we catch a glimpse not only of the interconnectedness of Polynesian cultures and histories but also of the richness of each specific Polynesian culture and how each adds unique colour and vibrancy to our rainbow of human languages and cultures. In fighting for the status of Polynesian languages in Aotearoa New Zealand, my friend Dr Pita Sharples, Maori anthropologist now politician, recently stated in the New Zealand media that „language is the window into my soul”10.
10 See Media Statement issued 9 August 2011 at Accessed 31 August 2011.
In this sense words and stories can carry the soul of a people and fagogo do just that. As bedtime stories for the young they not only excite their imaginations but also teach them about the soul of their elders and their culture. Telling fagogo was common practice in earlier times. Fagogo time was a time of bonding, sharing, teaching and learning between elder and child. In these stories the oldies would convey moral beliefs using terms and events idiosyncratic to Samoa and a Samoan way of thinking. A really good teller of fagogo would have children hanging on to every word and wanting more. This image of children yearning to be fed or hungry for knowledge is captured by metaphor in the word fagogo. Let us explore fagogo very briefly.
The term fagogo is an amalgamation of the words fagaga and gogo. Gogo refers to the noddy tern sea bird of Samoa. Fagaga means to nurture a school of eels or brood of chickens, pigs or pigeons and derives from the word fafaga meaning to feed. Tongan orator and social anthropologist Hufanga Okusi Mahina tells me that the Tongan term for legend or myth is fananga. In elaborating on this Hufanga pointed out that the Tongan term fananga is also used to refer to a body of refined and sacred knowledge or skills passed over successive generations by word of mouth, usually in the form of a whisper. Whisper in Tongan is „fanafana‟. The idea of whispering our legends is not present in our Samoan term for legend or myths. Our Samoan ancestors seemed to prefer use of the metaphoric images offered by the gogo, especially the image of them feeding and nurturing their young. Fa marks the imperative of feeding as in fafaga and of feeding a brood as in fagaga, while gogo provides for the type of feeding promoted (i.e. teaching and learning). The coming together of the two words fagaga and gogo to form one new word – fagogo – offers scholars opportunity to learn of how Samoans tended to coin words. Fully understanding the cultural nuances of such words depended heavily, however, on whether the scholar knew what a gogo bird looked like, what its habits were and where it lived.
There are two kinds of gogo in Samoa, the gogouli and gogosina, the black and white gogo. In early times, the gogo was an everyday feature of Samoan life. Their feathers were used as snares for fishing. They would be used by fishermen to guide them to
certain schools of fish. It was well known amongst good Samoan fishermen that the gogo and the bonito would eat the same kind of small fish. If the fishermen wanted bonito they would follow the gogo in hope of locating them. It was also well known that the gogo would fly about 20 miles out to sea during the day and always return home at night. If a fisherman or other seafarers got lost at sea, they would look for a gogo to help get them back to land. These were some of the practical lessons the gogo offered our ancestors.
The image of young gogo yearning for food provided a visual picture easily translated into metaphor for the hunger and discipline required for the teaching and learning of our young. When young gogo were fed by their parents the scene was of frenzied hunger. This frenzy was because young gogo were usually left in the nest for some time while their parents went out to sea to find food. When they returned the young gogo would be so hungry that they would cackle incessantly, sticking their beaks out in anticipation.
The way the gogo masticated and regurgitated food for their young also reminded our ancestors of how they would make little dumplings out of the food they chewed (i.e. mama) to feed their own children. These images of feeding mama to young children offered another visual metaphor that underlined the Samoan saying: „ai a le tagata i le mama o lona matua‟ [literally meaning, „the young feeds on the masticated dumplings of his parents‟]. The message here is that parents play a fundamental role in the nurturing of their children; they are and should be their first educators, they are responsible for feeding them food that would sustain them physically, mentally and spiritually. In watching their parents go out to fish and return with fish, the baby gogo learns a work ethic. They learn about what they need to do in order to be fed.
In observing the life of the gogo my elders found inspiration in the way young gogo learnt to discipline their bodies to go without food for a long time, at least compared to other birds. The message they took here is that our wants and needs can be temporarily denied and that that denial can discipline you to appreciate what you need when you get it. This practice of denial is central to the Samoan principle and practice of anapogi, i.e. ritual fasting and prayerful meditation, which was used by fisherman and other guilds to discipline their minds, spirits and bodies in preparation
for the challenges of their work. The belief behind anapogi is the same as that which underpins Christian meditation and contemplation rituals. It offered practitioners mental and physical protection against the harshness of natural and social elements.
When observing how birds protected their young, Samoans would note how the gogo would build their nests on the stable parts of very high trees. This they deduced kept predators unable to fly or climb so high away from young gogo while the parent gogo went off for hours to find food. Part of the nurturing role of parents includes making sure our children are protected from harm. The honorific name Matuamoepo alludes to this protective practice of mother birds.
In Asau, the orator Fao is honorically known as the Matuamoepo of Tupua. The name carries the message and image of a mother pigeon protecting her young from predators and the elements at night. Matuamoepo is literally, the mother pigeon [matua] who does not sleep [moe] at night [po]. The name is a riddle and for those unfamiliar with the regimen of pigeons it will test them. For those who are the meaning of the name will be obvious.
Each of these lessons drawn from the gogo are embodied in the fagogo. Fagogo are not only meant to entertain us, they are meant to teach us and we are meant to learn. They are meant to make enough of an impression so that we will want to come back for more. They are meant to remind us that our conversations with nature are as fundamental to our physical, mental and spiritual sustenance as are our conversations with ourselves and ultimately with our God.
When I watch the way the gogo protects, nurtures, bonds and keeps his family together, despite all the changes we‟ve caused to his environment, I can‟t help but to wistfully ask what it is that allows him so. As our societies develop and we become attached to our modern conveniences, we seem to find it hard to make time to converse with nature and with ourselves in the kind of prayerful meditation and contemplation that enables a negotiation or sufiga of opinions and boundaries whereby the tofa mamao [long view wisdom] and faautaga loloto [deep view wisdom] of our forebears can preside.
One of the most fundamental conversations with nature that we are losing, if we haven‟t already lost, is the ability to read the stars, the weather, the birds, the seas, the animals and plants. Today we rely on broadcast news from overseas to tell us if it will rain tomorrow. Today it is more likely that the television or the ipod will be feeding our young, than the stories or fagogo of grandparents. While change is a constant in life, so too are those verities that make us proud to be Samoan and to be human. When we lose the desire to constantly search for those verities, to search for the universal meanings in fagogo such as that about the ava, we run the risk of creating what Hone Tuwhare called „the radiant ball‟, that is „no gallant monsoon‟s flash‟, „no dashing trade wind‟s blast‟.11
The implication of Hone Tuwhare‟s cry of pain in his poem No Ordinary Sun, to which the phrases I just read belong, is that something must be done to restore our conversation with nature, to revisit and re-energise those traditional or indigenous beliefs and practices that can protect and restore health in our environment and more particularly in our souls. We, as humans, pushed the button that created „the radiant ball‟ and so we, as humans, have a responsibility to think about how to avoid doing it again.
The Mormon Church, alongside many others, has been right there in the fight to protect our environment. Your recent pilot initiative to build more environmentally friendly church buildings using solar panels, tankless water heaters, high-tech insulation, motion sensor lighting, low-water landscaping and preferred parking for electric or other environmentally friendly vehicles, will go a long way in this fight if successful. Often it just takes one person or group to put their hand up and say “we‟ll take the first step”, for others to follow. As your Church Bishop and Senior Administrator H. David Burton stated in his comments on this initiative, the fight to take responsibility for our environment is an exercise in constantly re-evaluating where we are in our “responsibility to the community, responsibility to the environment and responsibility to good stewardship of this finite land and ground that the Lord has blessed us with”.12
11 See Hone Tuwhare‟s 1964 „No Ordinary Sun‟.
12 See online article titled “Mormon Church Building Construction Going Green” by Jennifer Dobner at Accessed 31 August 2011.
The Mormon Church has been exemplary in taking the lead in this environmentally friendly church building initiative and I commend you for that. Let‟s hope that many other Churches will follow. Our Churches have a significant role to play in helping to sufi the tuaoi between man and environment. They offer more than just places of religious instruction, they offer, like the gogo and ava, role models for good work ethics and prudence and food for the soul, i.e. a practical theology for remembering why we should protect that which is tapu or sacred to us.
When in September 2009 Samoa faced its worst natural disaster in living memory, the loving contribution of the Mormon Church and its members to Samoa during our recovery will never be forgotten. Many of your members gave selflessly of their money, time and other resources. In fact, two of your Samoan members Joe Keil and Lani Wendt Young were directly responsible for pulling together and publishing a highly sought after book on the 2009 tsunami that affected Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga. The book titled “Pacific Tsunami: Galu Afi”13 weaves a loving and lasting memory of the stories of those who survived, those who didn‟t and those who did all they could do to help, during and afterwards. This book was a labour of love and can offer a bridge of hope for those seeking solace from pain and suffering. I have no doubt that Joe‟s and Lani‟s strong faith motivated them to initiate and complete this gift.
When tragedy happens we are quick to blame God or seek revenge and are often slow to forgive. Sufiga o le tuaoi encourages, pleads, coaxs us to take time to see God‟s love, compassion and forgiveness. It gives us a methodology for appreciating the beauty of those flowers that seek to bloom in the fullness of light despite the harshness of their environment. In remembering our ancestor‟s fagogo about the ava for example, we learn and teach of a way of living and believing that gave them and us identity, faith, hope and a sense of community, both in being Samoan and in being part of God‟s fanauga or family.
13 See Lani Wendt-Young, 2010.
The stories I have shared today about the ava, the fagogo, and fanauga are stories that are ultimately about love. They describe in a particularly Samoan way what is essentially a universal message about the forever-ness of love: the love of Aanoatamalii for his mother; the love of grandchildren and grandparents; the love of family.
American novelist Thornton Wilder in his novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey14, makes a poignant point about love and loving. In it he talks about a bridge that collapsed because of the weight of a fully loaded carriage. On arrival at the bridge the people in the carriage found it to be faulty but decided to tempt fate for they would not part with their possessions. Thorton Wilder in musing the fate of death and the meaning of living writes:
“But soon we die, and all memory of those five will have left Earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough. All those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning”.
To sufi or negotiate the boundaries or tuaoi of religion, culture, custom, history and identity there is really only one bridge and one meaning that survives, that is the bridge of love – God‟s love. God‟s love shines through all our clutter and pettiness and links what is good in us. It gives us meaning and helps us to see past our differences. It pleads gently that we join together in the common purpose of respecting our sacred boundaries or tuaoi and take proper responsibility for protecting this earth we share. This love is the bridge that is forever.
Gray, Thomas. Elegy written in a churchyard. Accessed online at: [Accessed 1/09/2011].
14 See Thornton Wilder (1929).
Hohepa, Pat. “Peace in the indigenous Maori world”, In Pacific Indigenous Dialogue on Faith, Peace, Reconciliation and Good Governance. Tui Atua, T.T.T.E. et al (eds). Apia: Alafua Campus Continuing and Community Education Programme, University of the South Pacific. 2007: pp.51-59.
Kramer, A. The Samoa Islands. Auckland: Polynesian Press. v1. 1994.
Metge, Joan. Tuamaka: the challenge of difference in Aotearoa New Zealand. Auckland: University of Auckland Press. 2010.
Pratt, George. Grammar and Dictionary of the Samoan Language. 3rd revised edition. London: London Missionary Society. 1893.
__________ . Pratt‟s Grammar & Dictionary of the Samoan Language. Apia, Western Samoa: Malua Printing Press. 1977.
Tui Atua, T.T.T.E. „Sufiga o le tuaoi: Negotiating boundaries – from Beethoven to Tupac, the Pope to the Dalai Lama‟. Keynote Address. Samoa Conference II, National University of Samoa, Le Papaigalagala Campus, Vaivase, Samoa. 5 July 2011. Available at Head of State of Samoa Website [].
Tui Atua, T.T.T.E. „E le o se timu na to, o le ua e afua mai Manu’a: A message of love from fanauga‟. Keynote Address, James Ritchie Memorial Lecture. 23, February, 2011. Available at Head of State of Samoa Website [].
Tui Atua, T.T.T.E. „Samoan Jurisprudence and the Samoan Land and Titles Court: the perspective of a litigant‟. In Suesue Manogi: In search of fragrance: Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta‟isi and the Samoan Indigenous Reference. Suaalii-Sauni et al [eds]. Apia: National University of Samoa. Available at Head of State of Samoa Website [].
Tuwhare, H. No Ordinary Sun. Auckland: Blackwood and Janet Paul. 1964.
Wendt, A. Parents & Children. New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre. Online at [Downloaded June 30, 2011].
Wendt-Young, L (edited by Keil, Joachim Hans). Pacific Tsunami; Galu Afi. Apia: Mafleet Printing & Publishing. 2010.
Wilder, T. The Bridge of San Luis Rey. London: Longmans. 1929.

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