Writer from Observer competition comments on her powerful story
Maureen Fepulea’i surely is an extremely talented person. Not only is this Samoan-born lady an award winning playwright but also a very gifted writer. Her short story, ‘A Samoan Wife’, was one of the top stories in the Samoa Observer Tusitala Short Story Competition and thus was included in the compilation ‘Our Heritage, The Ocean’. But Maureen is also someone you should listen to. Her wise words really make people think. So, are you interested in getting to know more?
Pasifika Tales: Why did you decide to enter the Samoa Observer Tusitala Short Story Competition?
Maureen Fepulea’i: I decided to enter the Samoa Observer Tusitala Short Story Competition because I had a story to share. It also helped that there was prize
PT: Did you have any idea that your piece would appear in the compilation? What was your initial reaction when you learnt about it?
MF: I found out that ‘The Samoan Wife’ was going to appear in the compilation, after the judging had been completed. I was very excited and at the same time, pretty surprised that my piece was to be included, considering the high calibre of the winners entries.
PT: As you’ve already mentioned, the story we are talking about is entitled ‘The Samoan Wife’. What does it mean to be a Samoan wife?
MF: I can only speak from my personal observations and experiences throughout my lifetime. Being a Samoan wife is to be strong in the face of adversity; to sacrifice self in the name of peace and harmony in the family; to submit to the will of your husband whether good or bad; to lose your precious status as ‘feagaiga’ because you are now married; to obey; to smile for the world to see that all is well in your aiga, regardless of whether it is or not; to clean up the mess made by your husband, your children, your in-laws, your parents; to love, cherish and honour your husband above all till death do you part; to be treated like the Princess that you are; to be honoured and respected for all that you do; to be a fierce, beautiful and intelligent and empowered individual.
PT: I’d say – and your story shows it quite clearly – that Samoan wives are strong enough to carry on with their duties no matter what happens behind closed doors. Would you agree?
MF: From my observations and also personal experience, I strongly agree with that statement. I wrote a play – ‘e ono tama’i pato’ that illustrates this very well. Unfortunately, the cost to the ‘Samoan wife’ is too high; mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
PT: You wrote a story that’s – apart from being very moving – extremely uplifting. Did you want to give women the courage to say: ‘It’s not OK the way it is’?
MF: I actually started writing ‘The Samoan Wife’ based on an experience my Mum had immediately after my Father died. Mum had brought Papa’s body back from Samoa to New Zealand and we were preparing for his funeral. I remember my Mum called out from her room and when we rushed in, her nose was bleeding and she said that she had seen my Father in the mirror. As my writing progressed, it developed into a story of empowerment for women but at the same time, illustrated the powerful conditioning of the Samoan wife’s mind to loyally protecting the image of ‘aiga’ at the expense of her truth and her personal dignity. I agree that I wanted women to know that “it isn’t OK the way it is” as well as for our Samoan women to know that they are not alone in what they are going through. Despite the masks we wear, we can all empathise to some degree, with what goes on behind closed doors.
PT: Domestic violence is a big problem throughout the Pacific. Actually, in ‘Our Heritage the Ocean’ there is another emotionally charged piece – Sina Retzlaff’s ‘Unborn Child’ – that deals with the same subject. Do you think that talking about it openly can bring about some changes?
MF: I think that talking about it openly is always a good thing. My concern is that it usually ends at the talking stage, until the next workshop or fono or “domestic violence awareness event”. I believe that it is like the scripture in the book of James – Faith without works is dead. So is talk without works. I believe that churches need to take a greater responsibility in teaching and educating families about the feagaiga of respecting for, taking care and protecting our wives, husbands and children. I believe that our Matai and Family leaders need to take a stronger lead and set premium examples of how to treat one another. I believe that our children need to have their voices heard in their respective aiga. We are an oratory culture – we are also a culture of action and service. This needs to go hand in hand when it comes to addressing and deleting family violence from our collective mindsets. Don’t get me started…
PT: So now getting back to you… You are an accomplished playwright, but do you plan to write more? Publish a book maybe?
MF: I so plan to write more. I have many stories lined up inside my head bursting to come forth. Whether they come out in poetry form, song form, script form or story/book form remains to be seen. All I can say for now is, “watch this space” auuuuuuuuu lol.
PT: Would you encourage your fellow Pacific Islanders to become tellers of tales? There are so many talented people from the region, aren’t there?
MF: ABSOLUTELY!!! Your life is your story! Your observations and experiences are the content of your manuscript! You don’t have to be formally trained or educated to share your story. Your story may be exactly what somebody else needs to read to be inspired or motivated to take the next step for empowering themselves. Your story may come out as drawings, sculptures, song, poetry, script, written story or performance theatre…however you choose to share your story, please do!
Copies of Maureen’s story and others can be found in “Our Heritage,the Ocean” which is available from the Samoa Stationery and Books, the RLS Museum, Business Systems Limited and the |Samoa Observer Office in Apia.