Lockdown, Samoan families and the pain of grieving from afar
The impact of the border shutdown extends far beyond the economic impact of not having tourists and visitors on our shores.
As a family oriented nation where fa’alavelave and being present at these family, village and church events is an integral part of who we are as a people, the inability to be able to do this is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of what is happening today.
As Samoans, it has become second nature for our people to attend to our families in times of need, whether it’s a funeral, wedding, birthday, graduation, umusaga (dedication), saofai (chiefly titles bestowal) or whatever else comes up. As a people of the “we”, it is why flying to and from Samoa from Auckland is undoubtedly one of the most expensive three hour and 50 minute routes in the world. But this doesn’t of course stop with Samoans in New Zealand. This applies to Samoans living all over the world.
Samoans quite often make reference to a scripture where Israelites, wherever in the world they are, would often open their “window” and look towards “Jerusalem.” In the case of the Samoan diaspora across the globe, their Jerusalem is a small nation located in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. Aside from their prayers, their “window” is often the nearest Western Union branch or however else they could transfer money for their families back in Samoa.
But even that is not enough. When something happens to a family member, members of the clan do not hesitate to come together. A Samoan would pay anything to be able to attend these family events, especially funerals. The same applies to many Samoans living in Samoa who are able to do so for their families living overseas.
While there is a tendency to lament having “too many fa’alavelaves”, most Samoans would agree that one of the most beautiful aspects about a faalavelave is the opportunity to reunite everyone. And during the process of the fa’alavelave, families are being strengthened, new bonds are formed and knock on effect is immeasurable. The economy for instance benefits from the money that is being spent on whatever is needed. We get to witness our Samoan culture and the family-oriented nature of Samoans being played out in the most beautiful of ways.
In a way, fa’alavelaves, as painful and annoying as they are some times, is a built in mechanism to strengthen our family bonds and cultural values. It is an unspoken code to unite, fellowship and a reminder about what it is that makes Samoa and Samoans unique.
But with the border shutdown, this part of being Samoans, can no longer be fulfilled for families living countries apart. It gets especially painful for parents and children, who live oceans apart when something happens, like death.
The plight of the Tuilagi boys, who cannot make it home to farewell their father and former Speaker of Parliament, Namualuulu Lauaki Vavae, who passed away last Sunday, is a classic example. Finding out that a parent has been called home is hard enough on its own but it’s quite another thing when you cannot be there in person to grieve and say goodbye.
Social media footage of what appears to be a zoom call where Lauaki Freddie is playing and singing to his father after he had passed away, while his younger brothers are in tears, is heartbreaking to watch.
But such is the reality for thousands of Samoans now all over the world. The same goes for Samoans living in Samoa whose parents are living abroad. It’s a painful situation made worse by the fact that there is simply nothing anyone can do about it.
For Samoans, coming together to grieve is a big part of the mourning process; it is an integral part of healing and closure. As alluded to earlier in this piece, Samoans are people of the “we.” We find strength in numbers and collectively, we have our mechanisms of dealing with loss and sorrows.
It could be similar to other culture across the globe, and we are quite sure it’s not just Samoans affected in this way by the border closures. So out of this situation, what do we hope to change?
Well, the first thing is that we look forward to the day when a vaccine is found, tested (which is a big question mark at this point) and borders reopen. We don’t know when this will happen. In the meantime, for people who are living with their parents in the same country, consider yourself privileged. Make the most of your time with them because there are so thousands of people who are yearning and crying for the opportunity, especially when they are called home.
Have a peaceful week Samoa, God bless!