The path up to Su’a Henry Fruean’s house at Moto’otua felt familiar the moment I headed into the direction of the family house and there was an overwhelming sensation that one had been there before.
It wasn’t hard to find the small family gathering, all one had to do was follow the aroma of freshly-baked pork and the murmurs of the all too familiar family bantering that usually takesz place in any backyard barbeque on a lazy Saturday afternoon – it was no wonder that I walked in confidently as if I was a long lost cousin of the Parker/Fruean clan.
Looking very relaxed and in his element of every day Samoa was the World heavyweight boxing champion, Lupesoliai La’auli Joseph Parker, who had just arrived for family barbeque held in his honour and was making the rounds greeting his cousins, aunties and uncles before settling down for a chat with the Samoa Observer.
Getting straight down to business our discussion turned to the most important subject of the evening – Samoan food. Parker admits that it’s hard to stay healthy when he is in Samoa but he believes that if you do the work, you can have the treats.
“If you train hard and you eat clean for a long time, you can have a little cheat meal now and then. I’ve been having a cheat meal every day since I’ve been here.
I love Samoan food but when I’m back at camp all the cheat food is gone and it’s time to focus on training hard, eating clean and being in good shape.”
You can take the boy out of Samoa but you can’t take Samoa out of the boy. For Parker, landing in Samoa usually entails a beeline straight for his favourite dish and first on his “food to do list” is oka (raw fish in coconut cream) but like any good Samoan son, Parker still prefers his parents oka skills.
“In Samoa, usually at family gatherings they make nice oka. When I’m back in New Zealand my parents make really good one and if I’m at home, I prefer my dad’s oka.”
Parker pauses before he realizes, “oh wait - my mum’s oka is alright too,” he laughs.
“And also when I’m on the boat fishing, I can just eat oka like straight from the sea - no pe’epe’e and kalo. Just dip it in the water and eat it.”
It’s easy to see why Joseph Parker has won the hearts of Samoans and boxing fans all around the world. Humble, hardworking and ambitious, Parker is the proverbial young David who did the impossible and took on the Goliath world of professional boxing dedicating his victory to God, country and family – all in that order, making him not only an endearing figure to all his fans but also a very marketable commodity of all that is beautiful about Samoa.
Parker revealed an entrepreneurial streak when he shared that in the future he intended to pursue a career in event management and promotions after boxing so it was no surprise that he saw the bigger picture when it came to the future of Samoa tourism.
“Even though I was born in New Zealand, I speak Samoan and I’m very proud of my culture,” he said.
“I feel like everywhere I go around the world, I’m proud and happy to meet other Samoans. You know, as a small country we can achieve big things and like I said it’s very important for us, not only myself but other Samoans to promote our country and show other people how beautiful our country and our people are.”
Right from the beginning, Parker has worn his very Samoan heart on his sleeve knowing full well that he has the power to place Samoa front and center wherever he goes and his trademark march into the ring is an example of this.
Flanked by two stoics matai representing both his maternal and paternal lineages, Joseph Parker is both protected and delivered into danger by his uncles and this image, symbolic of Samoan culture is beamed across the world into the televisions and magazines of millions of people.
It was important to Joseph Parker and his family that the world knew first and foremost that the New Zealand born fighter, was a son of Samoa.
“You know, I don’t have the whole country there with me but they (my uncles) are the representation of the country and I feel like all the Samoans are there with me,” said Joseph Parker.
“I don’t have the tattoos and when people see me they think that I’m Maori, they don’t really know that I am Samoan so having my uncles there really show that I’m proud of my culture, that I’m proud to be Samoan and I’m proud they are representing me so that the whole world can see where I am from and what I represent and what I love.”
Joseph’s Uncle Su’a Henry Fruean weighed in earlier about his role in delivering young Joseph to the ring before every fight and shows us that he knows a thing or two about the power of branding and that Parker’s role as an unofficial ambassador to Samoa had mass potential in boosting our tourism numbers.
“It’s very simple,” Su’a said.
“Walking in Joseph is a way for us to tell the world he is a son to us and a son of Samoa. We want to promote our country and Joseph does this very well. We don’t have other resources like raw materials; we have ourselves to promote our country.
“A lot of young Samoan guys are doing well in other countries, they’re from Samoa but they never promote Samoa, this is the difference. If you think of our small tiny island, it makes you very proud that someone from this small island is now fighting these big guys from these big countries so I’m very proud to walk in Joseph.”
It’s very obvious that Parker’s close-knit family cherish their time with the young champion boxer but all are very understanding of Parker’s crazy schedule when he is on the island due to his sponsorship commitments and charity causes.
Parker comes back to the Samoa at least two to three times a year and while he admits that he hasn’t seen everything in Samoa that he would like, the most important thing for him to do is spend time with family, enjoying the food and when he has time, tries his best to relax and get some sun.”
Meanwhile, Uncle Su’a laughs when we ask him whether Joseph gets special treatment from the family when he visits. Then he gets serious and tells us that his nephew is treated just like all the other “kids” in the family and it’s just in Parker’s nature to want to help and serve his family.
On the other hand, Su’a points out the obvious pride the family have in his nephew because of his achievements.
“From the start, we didn’t believe he could reach this stage as a world champ and so we were very careful and humble every time we walk in. At the same time, Joseph’s achievement tells me that all things are possible through God and where there is a will there is a way.”
Before we knew it, everyone’s prayers were answered and the feast and fellowship was about to start as the Parker/Fruean clan gathered round the table but before we left the family, Joseph Parker’s brain was still ticking when he spoke once more about his passion for promoting Samoa.
“We should attract every single culture and nationality there is,” he said.
“Our country is a beautiful country and it would be awesome for people all over the world to experience it.
There are people from France, Germany and so many countries that I’ve heard do come here and enjoy the tourism and the things that they do here.
I feel like world should know about us and they should all come visit because it’s a beautiful place and that’s why I come here sometimes 2-3 times a year because I love it.”
Parker returned to New Zealand last Sunday, on his way back to his Las Vegas camp to prepare for what is up ahead.