It’s funny how as Samoan’s and Pacific Islanders’ in general that we have an innate sense of christianity as being part and parcel of the package. Samoa is founded on God, Tonga’s Royal family coined the doctrine that Tonga and God are my inheritance. I don’t suppose that as Islanders that we ever tend to question this undying loyalty to an imported religion. And that’s just it, we have forgotten that in essence it is an imported religion. What it supplanted for us though has been immeasurable in loss.
I don’t want to get into a debate over whether it was right for us to become so adamant that this God that supposedly was the be all and end all of is the one we should be worshipping. Polynesians have a strong sense of who they are and this is related strongly with our spiritual connection to different entities. Prior to the arrival of Christianity we worshipped god’s of the elements. Tagaloa the god of the sea being one and we connected with the elements which brought a strong sense of tradition and indigenous knowledge on how these elements interacted.
The rise of Christianity in Samoa in particular was down to a lot of good timing and political gain that was exploited by Samoan chiefs and the missionaries alike during the 19th century. In Tonga it was an important tool for the first modern King of Tonga to gain unrivaled authority as well. These are historical facts, and are not a criticism of the behaviour of individuals. It’s how politics works. I wish more Island kids would be interested more in politics though.
What I do want to criticize is the loss of indigenous knowledge that Christianity brought with it. The banning of many ancient traditions, such as tattooing in many islands, and of course dances in others. But the biggest loss being the ban on traditional forms of navigation.
The biggest concern for me has been this lack of interest in indigenous knowledge that remains in our people outside of the islands. We are so quick to espouse our Christianness and ignore the values of our traditions. The ancient technology that our ancestors held was far ahead of anything the west or christianity could account for. Yet we have been so blindsided by Christianity and the West speaking of our economic and social inferiority that we so readily accept political inferiority as well.
I personally feel that the church as an institution has now become a drain on our development. Here I distinguish the church as an institution, from the church as an ideology though. I think that as Pacific Islanders, we cling too much to these institutions of church, sunday school, mafutaga’s and all the fa’alavelave’s that go alongside that we forget the spiritual connections that they are meant to foster. The traditional churches in Samoa wield far too much political power. I would like to see Samoa in particular free itself from the power of the Council of Churches and focus more on community development that are not linked to Church outcomes. There is no need for limited village resources to go toward the funding and maintaining of three Church’s the size of small cathedrals servicing a population of 300.
Samoa’s social development is also being hindered by these church’s. Perhaps speaking from a liberal perspective, Samoa’s progress socially needs to be separated from the reach of the Church. The Church shares many things that are common in Samoan custom, which is why it is supposedly so successful, but in other ways the Church is in conflict with Samoan ideas. The Church made women subservient, when in our tradition there was no one prized more highly than a woman and her abilities. The church outlawed and invalidated fafafeine, when traditionally they were seen as an asset to a samoan household, even encouraged by families that lacked girls that could help with the domestic chores.
But the Church’s biggest crime in my humble opinion has been the transformation of the feagaiga concept. Or the covenant that is between a brother and sister. The church changed this covenant to be between it and the people. This Samoan version of social contract has been supplanted by a foreign institution that has exploited this position for over a century, drumming up even deeper support over the years, so that I will be labelled a heretic by so many after this post is published.
There is one Samoan concept that even I can’t seem to shake off, and that’s the respect I have for my elders, and for those in a higher position than me. This hierarchical structure is what keeps Samoan social order. So every sunday, Samoan’s fill the churches in their Sunday’s best, and even fafafeine, social delinguents, disaffected youth fill the seats at Churches around the nation despite being the very people that the Church hold as morally reprehensible. But they do it not because of a sense of true faith, but out of a sense of obligation.
I went to church as a kid because I had to. Then I went because I believed in what it was teaching me. I still go to Church because of this. But I refuse to attend Samoan churches in New Zealand because I believe that they perpetuate a crime. The crime of stealing our people’s history. Ask any Samoan when Samoa’s history began. They will tell you one of two things. They have no idea, or it started with the arrival of Christianity aboard the Messenger of Peace as John William and his London Missionary Society brought the word that set Samoa on a path of light, after spending eternity in the darkness.
To me the church as an institution in its foundation in Samoa is a criminal. A social criminal. And for this statement I will pay dearly. But it’s what I believe and as a Samoan, my loyalty belongs to my true Samoan identity. Not one a foreign institution is trying to enforce upon me.