Vā Tapuia – A cultural construct to counter violence

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COMMITTED TO CHANGE: Church members from Solosolo participated in a workshop to discuss the causes of domestic violence over the weekend.

COMMITTED TO CHANGE: Church members from Solosolo participated in a workshop to discuss the causes of domestic violence over the weekend.

Members of the Church of the Nazarene in the village of Solosolo hosted a discussion on the causes of violence in families last weekend with the blessing of Rev. Iafeta Misionare and on an invitation from Pastor Tiumalu Tai. 

Supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives and Soroptimists International of Samoa, the half-day workshop included the screening of “Sisi le La’afa,” a two-part documentary film series produced by the Tiapapata Art Centre exploring violence against women and girls in Samoa. 

Over 40 people from the village of Solosolo participated in the discussion, which also explored the relevance of the vā tapuia (sacred space governing interpersonal relationships) as a cultural construct that may help reduce violence. Senior Sergeant Iosua Samia from the Community Engagement Unit of the Ministry of Police gave an opening address beginning with the characteristics of the family “unit” in Samoa, not only as a place where family members should feel safe and happy but also as a place that can be inhabited not only by parents and children but also grandparents, uncles, aunties, cousins, in-laws, adopted children and other relatives. 

Living together in an extended family can create tension and anxiety, especially if family income is low. He went on to outline the different kinds of offences and punishments pertaining to “domestic violence.” He highlighted the vulnerable age group associated with domestic violence cases handled by the Police with an overwhelming number of female victims and male offenders falling in the age category of 20 – 30 years of age. 

He also referred participants to the Family Safety Act 2013 “no drop” policy and the different protection orders that can be applied to keep offenders at a distance from their victims. Mr. Samia ended his presentation with a series of disturbing images of women and girls bearing wounds from their husbands or fathers. Ironically, one of the team members helping with the workshop observed a mother repeatedly beating her child outside during the group’s discussion on violence. “It looked like she was swatting flies, not children,” he observed. 

That mother’s actions highlighted the connection between beating a child to discipline him or her and the violence that same child may perpetuate into the future as a result of this conditioning or socialization. “The common practice of physically punishing children to ‘teach’ them is one of the issues articulated in the documentary film and is a conversation the people of Samoa will have to engage in to create a more peaceful society,” stated filmmaker Galumalemana. 

“The sooner Samoan families can recognize the long-term harmful effects of physical punishment on children,” he added, “the sooner Samoa will begin to see a reduction in violent behaviour against children and adults, be they male or female.” A multi-country study conducted by UNICEF in 2014 on violence against children found Samoa as having the highest level of fighting and bullying among adolescents. 

The aim of the village workshops conducted throughout Samoa is to gather the views of villagers on what may be causing violence and what they, in their families and various village groupings, may do to help reduce or prevent violence. The premise of these community conversations is that if violence against women and girls is being perpetrated in families and villages, it is in the families and villages that the problem must be considered and addressed. 

Leota Leulua‘iali‘i Itu‘au Ale, one of those attending the event, thanked the organisers for bringing the discussion to Solosolo, emphasising the importance of all people working together to address this issue. 

“With such cultural constructs as the vā tapuia (sacred space governing interpersonal relationships),” he stated, “Samoa is in a position to solve this problem much, much quicker than all the other countries – not only the Pacific but in the world.”

© Samoa Observer 2016

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