I met with an expat kiwi recently, now living in Samoa, who had to balance the two cultures.
Semi Samau moved back to the islands so that her children wouldn’t miss out on their culture. What she found on her return is that the two cultures – Samoan and Palagi are very much connected and overlapping in modern island life.
It has taken them some adjusting back to the Samoan way but they’re here to stay. She invited me into her home. It is light and spacious with all the trappings of a Palagi home. On closer inspection, Samoan and Palagi exist side by side. She offered me Milo, or tea then pointed out the window and said “or a coconut?” laughing.
I have experienced these incongruences all week.
She and her husband (Eneleata) own and operate Eva Eva Transport which is the local “luxury” bus company. Knowing what the standard bus fleet was like – open air wooden buses – they saw the business opportunity to offer something different. Their buses are what locals call ‘ready made’ and have air conditioning. They’re so popular and you see patrons holding out roadside for the comfort of air conditioning.
I was introduced to her three children and her house keeper who is busy getting the children ready for morning sports. Her two elder sons were being rounded up for a tennis lesson. They don’t want to leave, because it was their younger sister’s second birthday. Semi explained that they wanted to be part of the preparations. Samoan birthdays are not your average; they are a huge celebration that runs all afternoon including entertainment a massive feast and gifts galore. Everything to excess, and for show!
As we talked, people came and went dropping in cash, picking up keys and clearing the yard outside in preparation for the afternoon. She feels that the celebrations are more for the adults. There is so much expectation from others. She joked that her little one won’t even remember in years to come. If she was in New Zealand it would not be such a fuss. It is a balancing act for Semi and her husband between Palagi and Samoan ways.
It is important for the couple to uphold tradition while wanting to run a successful business and teach their children their own work disciplines. I left Semi negotiating a trip to town to pick up the birthday cake, but first, finding her car keys!