It’s a cliché, but it is true nevertheless that, behind every successful man is an even stronger woman holding him up!
This is particularly true in the case of the Samoan faife’au in Samoa, especially the wife of the faife’au E.F.K.S., the Faletua.
The faife’au is the face of their ministry, but the heart and soul of the whole ministry is provided by the faletua, which, without it, the ministry simply cannot function. So if we think the faife’au E.F.K.S. makes a significant contribution to Samoan society and the Samoan economy, then don’t forget the faletua; she is simply priceless!
Now, I have known many great faletuas over the years, because my father’s family in Moata’a had a number of them. But I can speak only of my experience of the faletuas that served the tiny village at the foot of Mt. Fao where I grew up as a child. Their work was less appreciated, but as I look back now to those years, the work they did was critical to the success that many of us now enjoy and the kind of people we have become.
First and foremost was providing the maternal side of ministry. This is important, because the ministry agent(s) is God’s representative in the community. As such, ministry has to be offered by a team of husband and wife, for as we learnt from Genesis 1:27, God is male and female; and experience has revealed the wisdom of this understanding – ministry is more than preaching, performing Mass, burying and marrying people, because the human being is body, mind and spirit.
Both the Uniting Church of Australia and the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand have treated ministry as a job and exclude the spouse from the call. They argue that the traditional model of minister and spouse has allowed congregations to get two workers for the price of one, which was unfair to the spouse. The analysis is correct, but I think the solution is flawed; the spouse should also be paid an allowance or stipend, because I am convinced that ministry has to be offered by a team of husband and wife, called by God to be his Christ in the community.
Another important role of the E.F.K.S. faletua consists of modelling support for the faife’au as they worked as a team in serving their church and village communities. As the title faletua suggests, the faletuas at our village were always at the background, never drawing attention to themselves. But they made the faife’aus looked good and assured and made the Manse the ‘mustard tree’ where people found rest.
The skill sets the faletuas brought to ministry, however, were not limited to running the households and managing the faife’aus and the office of the church. They had their natural nurturing skills of being mothers, which made them naturals for the other big part of the E.F.K.S. ministry, the teaching of the children of our village.
Pre-schools and kindergartens are now fairly common, but before they arrived in Samoa, there was the faletua and her ‘faitau pi’ class as well as the Sunday school. These were the places where I took my first step into formal learning, beginning with learning how to read the Samoan alphabet, or the ‘pi tautau’ and how to count. Without the ability to read and to count, I would not have progressed further.
As I look back, though, I now realise that I was learning more than reading and counting from the faletuas. I was also learning other skills that I needed in life. I was learning to work in a team, to respect others and their properties, to honour the elders, to share, to be patient and wait for my turn, to serve and much, much more. Indeed, I even learnt how to mend holes in my lavalavas and how to iron my own shirts from them. These skills came in very handy when the government sent me to Aotearoa as a teenager to study.
The teaching of the faletuas was not limited to us the children. They also instructed unmarried girls on skills that prepared them for married life and taught the mothers practical skills in child rearing and household management.
And who can forget their style of speech? This is an area where we are having problems with as we try to transition from an oral tradition to the written word. There is so much confusion, but may be we should ask the faletuas that received the proper training on how it should be done.
Finally, her prayer for the nation and ourleaders. The God that Jesus reveals in the Gospels may have been a father, but heart of that same God that is apparent in the parable we have called, The Prodigal Son, is undoubtedly the heart of a mother. And I think it make sense, because as Genesis 1 testifies, God is male and female. Which brings me back to the prayer of EFKS faletua. Her heart is the closest a human heart is to God, why I believe her prayer for our people and leaders is priceless!
I hope I have done enough in this short article to demonstrate the value of the EFKS faletua to us as a people and consider it together with the contribution of the faife’au to our country, as the government ponders its relationship with the faife’au EFKS.
The faife’au is only one part of the E.F.K.S. ministry team in the village. The faletua may be like the small faleo’o behind the big afolau, but she is the one holding up what you see in the E.F.K.S. ministry in the village; don’t forget the Faletuas!