Pride in thyself; family and culture is not bad but when such pride is misguided, it has devastating consequences. Such consequences are contributing to many challenges Samoa faces today.
That’s the warning from a farmer, Molio’o Petelo Peters, who says “misguided pride in culture is bleeding our people dry.”
From funerals costing thousands of tala to weddings most people cannot afford, Molio’o says our people need to wake up and be realistic about living within their means. He reminded that times are tough and attitudes need to change. He was particularly critical of the Samoan culture.
“I want to speak about our Samoan culture and how harmful it can be to a few people,” Molio’o told the Samoa Observer. He visited to express his concerns about what is going on today.
“Many people are struggling; people are trying to make ends meet but our own culture is bleeding us dry with things like funerals,” he said.
“Many people go to funerals nowadays with the mindset of profiting or getting something out of it knowing that the hosts have too much pride to reject.
“People come with small gifts and then leave with a box of tinned food which is worth more; some don’t even come with gifts and just want to gain from the struggling hosts.
“This is not love, this does not show love at all especially in situations of funerals when the family needs all the love they can get after losing someone.
“Many of the people work yet they come and still try and take as much as they can get from others.”
Molio’o also feels that there is a lot of false value placed in commodities such as fine mats, which is often presented as gifts at the gatherings.
“It has absolutely no use,” he said. “It is a valuable to some but what applicable use does it have? It just gains dust on the shelves or storage room.
“A box of tinned food has more use because at least people can eat it and get full; to me it’s just a lot of rubbish… useless rubbish.”
According to Molio’o, some of our cultural practices could easily be replaced such as substituting the extravagant giving of gifts to just praising the Lord together.
“For me the only important thing that we should focus on is to serve the Lord,” he said. “Serving the Lord especially in times of hardship is what we need to do rather than try and gain worldly things; I feel that serving the Lord should replace a lot of things in our culture.
“We need to make changes in the way things are happening in Samoa; everyone knows the struggle of hosting gatherings for funerals so we need to think about our future generations.
“Our children will grow up with the same struggles we are facing now if we do not make a change.
“We need to stop these things; I mean if we have people coming to funerals just to give a small gift and not expect to get anything in return then that’s good,” he said.
“But right now all we get is small sympathy speeches then they want to leave with something, may it be money or even a box of tinned food. We need to display more love in our culture other than just profit.”
Molio’o’s points were well supported by the Director of the Center for Samoan Studies at the National University of Samoa (N.U.S.), Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea, when his opinion was sought.
“It is true that our cultural activities are getting more and more expensive,” he said. “I say the word ‘activities’ because our culture is not necessarily an expensive culture but I feel that our people are making it more expensive and there’s lots of reasons why.
“One of which is of course pride and to become honoured (mamalu) or equate honour to whatever you give and therefore people think that the more you give then the more honour you will receive.
“I don’t think that should be the case. People are trying to buy honour with money and that is one of the problems we have; that people’s dignity depends much more on other things.
“So the notion of our culture adopted over the years that the more you give then the more honour or respect you will receive; I think it’s a very misplaced one.
“Having said that, I think cultures do change and we must make allowances for that.”
According to Leasiolagi, there is no one to blame but ourselves.
“Before my father passed away some years ago, he told us not to put him in the morgue and we buried him within 24 hours,” he said.
“Our relatives came from overseas and complained because he was already in the ground; no fuss; but there was no such activity involving boxes of tinned fish or whatever.
“I think that what we have now is what we’re sowing from our own values in our culture. What I mean by that is that we don’t have anyone else to blame but us.
“People tend to blame culture for what’s happening in the culture not knowing that they are the ones instigating what we have now. So I think the issue of honour and pride needs to be changed soon.
“Even the Prime Minister said that traditionally people never gave excessively, maybe one or two fine mats and that was the honour.
“But now people are gradually moving back to the numbers game again; the same thing with boxes of tinned fish; now people are giving twice as many as before but it’s all our pride.
“I see people who cannot afford it are the ones who are at the forefront of this.”
The church also has a part to play in culture, Leasiolagi said.
He said he is not sure if the mindset of giving more to receive more is being enforced by the church.
But according to him, the two are playing a “good game of tag team.”
Leasiolagi added that since it is our fault we have made our culture expensive, then it is up to us to change it.
“Yes I think we are responsible for the change and if we want it to be less expensive then we should be at the front seat of that; there absolutely needs to be a change,” he said.
“Nowadays I see people giving away bottles of wine, bottles of champagne, and some even whiskey which is very expensive instead of the baby coconut which is just one tala.
“In order to change this we need some brave people to say ‘don’t give 10 boxes of tinned fish, five is enough’ or even ‘don’t give $4,000, $100 is enough’.
“Another thing is people need to know that you cannot buy honour; it depends on what you do, your persona that gives you credibility.
“I feel that our culture is the only thing that we have that we can identify with as people but if culture becomes too expensive and the people cannot afford it then we have a big problem.”