Our Heritage, the Ocean
The SAMOA OBSERVER Tusitala Short Stories
On 4th April 2016 the Samoa Observer held a launch of the first publication of the anthology of the best of the English language stories in “Our Heritage, The Ocean.”
Seventeen very different and imaginative stories grace the pages of the anthology and introduce us to some veteran writers and some new and emerging authors.
Every competition begins with a small seed planted to hopefully turn into a big tree that will bear fruit and take on a life of its own. This is exactly what happened for the Samoa Observer and Marj Moore, a long time teacher, lover of literature, and a woman who has promoted reading and literacy in Samoa for over thirty years.
The first competition was held in 2011 and Ms Moore was not only the facilitator for the competition she was the motivator and stimulus to take the project from its inception to completion.
That the idea had originally come from Savea Sano Malifa, a published writer and poet, and was supported by Muliaga Jean Malifa was a huge bonus for the project, as it could be promoted through the pages of the Samoa Observer. Nevertheless it is a huge undertaking to take the competition to where it is now and Samoa has to applaud the Samoa Observer for their conviction and dedication to promoting literature in Samoa and the Pacific from whence the stories have been gathered.
In 2012 the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum presented an award to the Observer for their ‘on-going commitment to Samoa” and the preservation of the memory of Robert Louis Stevenson.
The Samoa Observer pledged then to take the competition to a higher level – the Pacific region, and in 2015 the Samoa Observer Tusitala Short Story Competition was launched. Amazingly and to the delight of the organisers, over 200 entries were submitted and sixteen of the best have been edited and published in this the first publication under the title ‘Our Heritage, the Ocean.”
Savea, Editor in Chief of the Samoa Observer acknowledges that the competition ‘plays an important role in our developing countries, and its up to us all to make it the success that its meant to be.”
He is grateful to all those that have supported the competition including the wonderfully talented writers. Savea urges us all to pick up a pen and to begin giving life to the hidden stories within us.
Literature, the written word, can change lives, open up doors, educate us, thrill us, tell others about our wonderful part of the world, the ocean, the islands and about our way of life, our struggles and our joys. So today I will look at three of the writers in the anthology and over the next few weeks I will highlight other authors.
Jenny Bennett teaches English in Samoa at the University of the South Pacific and since 2008 she has been editing the Ancient Myths and Legends page on the Observer. Her story divulges her fascination of the ancient belief systems the Samoan people. In “The Turtle Rock” Bennett creates a narrative whereby a girls’ love of ancient Samoan spirituality comes into direct and catastrophic conflict with her fathers Christian belief system.
Sina the central figure in the story openly recounts traditional fa’agogo, ancient chants and enjoys dancing to the rhythm of sacred songs.
These connections to her ancestral past are epitomised in a sacred turtle rock; a secret place where Sina goes to feel connected to and at one with nature and her ancestors.
Sina begins to feel less affinity with the church that her father leads in the village. She no longer attends this church preferring to secretly visit the rock where she finds peace, strength and tranquillity.
‘Turtle Rock’ escalates to a violent and tragic crescendo symbolizing how dictatorial and insular beliefs of current day Samoa are in absolute conflict with ancient Samoan belief systems.
“A Haunting Thought” by Seuili Seti Ah Young reveals another type of conflict in Samoa and this is focused on acceptance of those who are different.
There was and always has been tension between full-blooded Samoans and those of mixed race.
Historically these include individuals from other island groups, such as Tonga, Niue, Rotuma, Tokealu, Kirribas and Tuvalu, who blend and intermarry with little conflict. Then there are the more obvious mixed marriages with Chinese, Solomon Island and German migrants who came as indentured labourers or colonists, and whose offspring a immediately recognised as being different.
Seuili recounts the story of a family growing up in a family of eleven children with a Chinese father and Samoan mother.
Sometimes over the dinner table (which was always taken with every family member present) his father would mention his Chinese past.
Sibling faces would turn down, and the children would stiffen and become embarrassed.
The father would become melancholy, silent and withdrawn.
The child in the story grew up resenting his Chinese blood as he was taunted most of his childhood and called “Saiga’ instead of his real name.
The father withdrew into himself hiding his Chinese stories and working tirelessly to put food onto the table of his large family and to educate his sons and daughters.
But as time went on the Chinese father talked to his son of his childhood far across the ocean, of his own father absent who was working in the paddy fields.
His father’s decision to come to Samoa to work in spite of warnings by his own mother of maltreatment of workers.
His fathers face would light up when he talked of falling in love with the boys’ mother.
As “Saiga” grew up and became educated and successful in his own career, he cherished his conversations with his Chinese father.
Saiga and his father shared a loving and close bond. Saiga grew to be proud of his rich bi-cultural heritage.
Maureen Fepulea’i was born in Samoa and raised in Aotearoa New Zealand. An award winning Samoan playwright, Fepulea’i is a firm believer that we all have stories hidden away just waiting to be told.
“The Samoan Wife” is a story based on what is behind the veneer of every day life, what the public is allowed to witness and what the reality is in peoples’ lives, and most especially in the lives of public figures.
Maintaining a good reputation was above all other considerations.
Rosa and Tasi came to New Zealand and met when they were 17 and 20 respectively; Rosa the love of his life and he the Samoan prodigy and with high expectations for his future.
There was a hidden story behind the publicly observable veneer. Tasi became a well-respected politician in his adopted country and Rosa the prefect Sampan wife. While Tasi only remembered the good times and believed he was a loving and caring father and husband, Rosa held onto more private memories.
Rosa remembered the bruises and yelling and numerous infidelities, the empty gestures of flowers and chocolates as symbols of hollow apologies. Yet Rosa felt the pressure to be ‘a good Samoan wife’, the perfect mother and grandmother. Samoan culture had instilled in her notions of self-sacrifice and keeping face. Rosa was taught to ‘stand by her man’ at all costs. She learnt well the Samoan way of smiling through the pain and wearing a mask in public.
That was her duty as “The Samoan Wife.”
Copies of the book can be obtained from the Samoa Observer’s Town Office, all SSAB stores, Eveni, BSL, the Samoa Tourism Authority and Rasmus Pereira at www.shopsamoa.com
Dr. Vanya Taule’alo writes & edits the Observer Art Page for the Samoa Arts Council (SAC). Guided by SAC’s vision “to envisage a future where the Arts Sector is fully developed for the benefit of Samoa”, the page promotes all forms of art and promotes the arts in the Samoan community. For more information on SAC see samoaartscouncil.com and Samoa Arts