Multiple identities, repping the Pacific and an old friend makes the news

This week has been action packed. I managed to fit in a whirlwind night out, an international economics test, a presentation, a throat infection, work and study and the good Lord above knows what else that has kept me occupied.

But of real interest this week for me personally, was the presentation that my group delivered in front of our transnational issues and international co-operation class. Back in week one when we were given the choice to choose our topics for the all important presentation, there was one that I knew that I wanted to take. While all the other students in the class fought over the “cool” topics like origins of war, terrorism and the Politics of the middle east. I made a b-line for the Multiple identities, diaspora politics and the role of religion topic. Such is my intense interest in the topic, the presentation became somewhat a labour of love for me and my fellow presenters.

Obviously being a Samoan New Zealander, the idea of mixed loyalties, carrying a multiple identity and how that informs our decision making process is a topic of great interest. Especially when you take into account the way in which international actors are looking at how this new form of “transnational nationalism” or the emergence of these “transnational citizens” are effecting organised states. Are they weakening the legitimacy of the state as an instrument of territorial control? And what impact is this having on both “host” nations and “home” nations? I think for people of the Pacific the effect is quite profound.

We have always been a voyaging people. Our ancestors settled the South Pacific, reached South America, didn’t like it and left, (all while Europe was still coming to terms with toilet paper). It has been a natural part of our psyche to travel around our region. A region that has included New Zealand, (but not really Australia, sorry skippy) for about, oh I don’t know a couple thousand of years. Remember Samoa was originally called the navigator islands by European sailors who met a flotilla of Samoan sailors on their way back from trade in Tongatapu in the 17th century.

So I guess, the discussion the rest of the world is now having about globalisation is a bit of a bore for us Islanders. While the rest of the world were busy entrenching their borders, developing their International Relations theories, signing their treaties in places like “Westphalia” concerning who was allowed to believe what, we went through a complete evolution of civilisation. Colonialism rose and fell (sorry Tonga and Fiji) Nationalism rose and made way eventually to a regional consensus in which we traded our goods and services from country to country. We shared common customs, shared dances (yes I always wondered why the Tongan Ma’ulu’ulu looked like our sasa lol) and even shared royal houses and myth and legend. (Darn you Fijian chiefs for always stealing our beautiful women!) By the time the missionaries arrived, and when the European powers had started on their race for colonisation, Polynesians could have been forgiven for thinking, been there, done that. Just wait and see how that works out for you in the end. 😛

So the white man brought God to our Islands, A supreme being that supplanted all of our own indigenous religion, (that’s a topic for another blog post altogether) but they also brought something much worse. They brought Palagi ideas. That above all was the single most destructive thing to our way of life. They introduced borders and territories. They cordoned off areas of travel, whereby our canoes sailed to Hawaii in the North, to Easter Island and Tahiti in the East, to Melanesia in the west, in the past; then all of a sudden we needed a passport. And not even a passport that said we came from Samoa, or Fiji, we had been colonised. Only Tonga managed to escape this fate. Something all my Tongan friends are so quick to point out. But this aside and following the second widespread movement of our people around OUR region occurred to New Zealand (as we are all now familiar with) during the post-war boom. Fast forward past the dawn-raids, Lesa V Attorney general case and you will find me in a town  where I found myself educated and brought up in the late 80’s and 90’s. A South Auckland suburb called Manurewa.

It was with this in mind I presented a special case study for our group presentation. It was the effect that Pacific people but more specifically the transnational group of Samoan New Zealanders were having on New Zealand society and what effect this was having on Samoa as the host nation. Without going into too many details, I pulled out the statistics, I talked about the revolution in culture, language, the rejuvenation of the ageing population of New Zealand, etc, etc, and for Samoa I talked about the remittances and then I briefly touched on a point that I think is even more important. And that is the development of a new diaspora Samoan, who can’t be called a New Zealander per se, nor an indigenous Samoan. A transnational Samoan, who holds qualities unique to its own culture and experiences. And its implications for Samoa’s future could be earth shattering. I think the same could be said about other Pacific Island groups. I apologise for focussing on Samoa because to be quite frank it’s what I know the most about, considering I’m Samoan lol!

But first let me qualify that previous statement. For any Samoan we pride ourselves on tradition. “Our culture is a proud culture”, << I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve heard that in the interview section of the Miss Samoa pageant. But seriously, we have operated on a politics of consensus since I don’t know, we realised that majority politics doesn’t do anything but marginalise people. Let’s just homogenize and tow the party line. Well not quite like that, but a decision isn’t considered to be reached until at least a suitable compromise is reached. If it’s not, well we used to have civil war. That’s the truth, let’s be honest. We fought for centuries.

Our own oral history tells of only three times when the tafa’ifa (the four aristocratic titles of Samoa held at the same time under one person) was ever held by a single chief. (First of all by Salamasina a Woman) Once again, the west, we were WAY ahead of you! Feminist what? But on a more serious note, what this means is that in such a hierarchical society, we have always known our place. Although not as regimented as the system in Tonga. I know what I can and can not say in front of my elders. I know what I can and can not say in front of my Mum before she throws her jandals at my face (or in my Mothers case, her high heels!) What the emergence of this new transnational Samoan is doing though is challenging the face of what we consider to be the accepted practices within Samoan society.

Just look at all the groups popping on facebook advancing the cause of Samoan youth, run by Samoan youth for the advancement of Samoan youth without a single mention of any authority figures that they pay homage to. It would have been unheard of of any youth organisation to criticise the government when I was a kid. But I look to the highly successful Autalavou Mo Taeao (AMT) movement (The Youth of Tomorrow) that campaigned openly against the autocratic policies of the current Samoan Government by distributing anti-government leaflets during the last election. They helped the Tautua party gain some traction and carve into the substantial HRPP majority. It will be interesting to see what will happen in the next 5year election cycle of Samoan government. And who was the driving force behind the AMT? sure the operations took place in Samoa. But the will came from the transnational Samoan groups.

If you aren’t familiar with the voting system in place in Samoa, we have a democratic system meshed with the traditional system. So only chiefs or Matai’s are allowed to stand for Parliament. But most Samoan’s can gain access or be bestowed with a chiefly title (so that’s not really a barrier) and also anyone of age can vote. However, in Samoa there is great influence exercised in individual villages. So most villages, especially in older aligned areas of the country vote in blocks. If the chief of the village decrees this is their candidate, the majority of the people will vote for that candidate. Because as I said before, we don’t make decisions that aren’t based on consensus. So even in a democratic society, Samoans have made a way so that you guessed it, to turn it into a chiefocracy! The overall affect of this? Since before the day I was born, Samoa has been under the control of the same political party. Longer than some communist dictatorships have lasted. (I’m not saying anything ok!)

But this brings me to the main reason of my post. So this week a certain Rugby player has made quite a loud splash in the headlines, even after our team exited the world cup last week. Mr Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu has been plastered all over the news, misrepresented in headlines by some in my opinion, and lambasted by others. Called terrible names by a few and heralded by many. And this many are the people who I am most interested about. They are the transnational Samoans whom the future of Samoa really depends on.

Controversial you may say. Well of course Eli is, but, my claims are more predictive than anything else. So remember how I said that the white man brought his ideas with him? Well he brought one in particular that grates at the truth of being a Samoan. There is no such thing as free speech in a Samoan house. So in essence all the kae that Eli has been firing at the IRB is a product of what the white man brought over to our islands those many many years ago. Their ideas of everyone having the right to freedom of expression, to fight against injustice, to see what’s right realised has come back to bite the white man of the IRB on the buttocks. (well maybe not them in particular, but their ancestors, you get my drift)

Eli is an old friend of mine. Not to be a name dropper, in fact he used to have quite the opposite effect. He is seen by many as a polariser as opposed to a unifier. Too controversial for his own good, too lippy. And one thing Samoan people are good at are talking circles around people. I’ve heard so many bad things said about Eli, his Mum and his Sister Josie. All of whom I have always had a healthy respect for. My Uncle used to work for Eli’s Mother’s law firm back when I was in primary school. The Sapolu’s were the first people to take me to a professional rugby game way back when super rugby had just started with their 12 cool teams. Josie and I stayed friends from those days and I watched them grow and develop and become strong Samoans who were equipped by another mistake the white man made, and that was giving us an education in their ways. They shouldn’t have educated us in their laws. in their politics. Because now there are Samoans who are using their very own laws against them.

This week it’s been hard to sit back and read people criticise someone you know, when you know that all they are hearing about them are either soundbites, out of context tweets, or misrepresentations of peoples characters. There is only one thing I have never been able to deny about any of the Sapolu’s and that’s their commitment to the advancement of our people. They may come off abrasive to many, but just think what we have to do to get heard around here. I’ve heard so many people say, “oh I agree with what he’s saying but not how he’s saying it”. Newsflash: If he hadn’t had said it that way, you wouldn’t have even have heard what he said in the first place. For an islander to be taken seriously in New Zealand we need to shout at the top of our voices. That’s what Eli’s doing. And I admire him for having the guts to stand by his convictions when even the Samoan Rugby Union are distancing themselves. I guess the task of standing up for his cause and our cause too becomes easier when there are multitudes of these transnational Samoans behind him all the way. And I for one intend on backing this horse as a winner!

Eli is a product of this new transanational Samoan. He is educated, he is motivated, and he has the one thing that all Samoans have, a passion for our people. This is what will make this new breed of our people the difference to our islands. Transnational Samoans have the money, the connections, the passion for Samoa and most importantly the Education. Sharing these resources with our people will empower them. What will be the key to empowering the Samoan nation as a whole is Education. How the local Samoan population perceive this new community will be key too. There was a real resistance to anything in Samoa that resembled “plasticness”. I always got a buzz out of locals saying that my Samoan was good enough to pass as someone who grew up there, I always made sure to put on my strongest Samoan accent when speaking Samoan so as to not be teased or looked down upon by others in the islands as just another New Zealand Born.

As the long enduring Prime Minister of our paradise home Uncle Stui famously wrote in a paper on Samoa’s future economic prospects. He happily exclaimed that “Samoa’s greatest export is her people.” Export your people, and take the remittances, but Samoa needs to be also receptive to taking some of her exports back and finding room for them on the islands. Incorporate them, and share in them as a resource for our country’s development.

The responsibility needs to also go to the transnational community of Samoans as well. Don’t expect to be given anything in Samoa just because you were brought up overseas. People in Samoa have worked for everything they have. From the food they eat, to the crafts they sell at the market. Everything was made by our peoples hands. The least you could do is try and respect our traditions, and please, try to learn the language at least. But even if you can’t speak the language, everyone knows the language of respect.

So while the rest of my class went on with the discussion, I sat there thinking to myself, where do I place myself in all of this? I know now that I want to work for Samoa more than for the New Zealand government. Although New Zealand will always be home too, I feel a real homecoming coming on soon.

The greatest lesson I take from this whole debacle is that the greatest asset a man (or woman) has, is their mind. Educate yourself, and watch the insignificant criticizers, the small minded people become of small consequence. So when someone threatens to take away something from you in the material sphere, your mind will always find a way for you to materialise a new future.


2 thoughts on “Multiple identities, repping the Pacific and an old friend makes the news”

  1. Excellent blog, thanks Pat. Just a few random thoughts to get the discussion going.
    1. Is the term transnational Samoan (or any other nationality) an oxymoron? Surely the target is, like your example of the early Samoans, no passports just like Europe today.
    2. Has the Palangi concept of borders etc. Had it’s day and we all become world citizens?
    3. Does a transnational need roots (I.e. A base culture) or can they pick and choose?
    4. Does a transnational have to choose one of their cultures over another or will they eventually come to adopt only one.
    5. I am the product of two counties/cultures (wales & Scotland) and have lived in five countries. Our children are transnational but do they have to/ need to select only one of their background cultures or (my preference) they grow up feeling comfortable in all, I.e. True transnationals.

    Just a few puzzles your piece has provoked. Thanks.

  2. Hi Bob!! Thanks for your comments. It’s funny your first two questions is exactly what our discussion was about. Is the emergence of transnational nationalist groups softening borders? I think the general consensus is that yes it is, but transnational groups can’t exist without borders. It is what legitimizes their existence. So I don’t think it will lead to a new world order as you say because transnational groups are linked to the idea of transnationalism. This in itself requires at least a base territory as it is this feeling of belonging that motivates the group.

    Question 3,4,5 I think can be answered if we consider what the definition of a transnational citizen is. As long as a person maintains, political, economic or social interests in a home country’s policies and processes they can be considered a transnational citizen or part of the diaspora. We need to distinguish this from migration. The key is that once someone is assimilated to a new country’s culture and lose their interest in the transnational community they are no longer transnational citizens. Scholars make a clear distinction between the tw.

    So even if you are a product of two countries, what effect do you actively have on your host country? and equally what do affect on the home country, I think are the more pertinent questions.

    Just a few thoughts from my end Bob!

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