FA'ALAVELAVE - Building resilience, strengthening family ties and losing your penti in one single phone call
By FotuoSamoa Jackson
I feel like sharing with you all a fagogo about this fascinating topic this week, thoughtfully entitled; Fa'alavelave – Building resilience, strengthening family ties and losing your penti in one single phone call.
Aue! (That is the word you’ll utter in agreement as you read this life changing story that you never really knew you needed in your life).
But first of all, before we get to the losing penti part, let’s set some context, so you can ease yourself into this fagogo. Let’s picture you, a woman or man of Samoan descent, living in a modern world, minding your own business. You have families all over the world, US, Australia, NZ, Samoa and wherever. Yipeeee, “Samoan Pride” is etched onto your uneven chest tattoo. Good for you Sione/Sina/ insert your name here!
But every now and then, you get told that someone has died, or that you need to contribute to a church/village/family event. And so in response, you do, or don’t – because everyone is different.
Some of us, choose to ignore that dreaded phone call or message.
Some of us, respond immediately and get involved.
Some of us answer the call, agree we will support and then Block Caller forever.
There are so many responses but I am uniquely from the school of “FFS! another funeral? Can’t they space out these funerals instead of all at once?” Then I complain, whine, get angry, and then ….I oblige. In other words, I’m pala’ai (scared).
Now, let’s pause here for a moment and picture that I’ve just transferred money to the funeral and now I’m wondering what pepelo (alternative fact) I’d tell my non-Samoan partner about what the money is for. After all, when it comes to money matters, our relationship is built on trust. That is, I trust that he will never learn how much I actually spend on fa'alavelave. Pugi.
Now let’s digress a little,
You see, the further away from Samoa I go, the more my culture becomes this beautiful Motunui-like facade – all so rose-tinted and romantic. I think of my family and I miss home and I reflect on the beauty of my island. I reminisce of the waves that caresses my feet as I stroll blissfully across the Faga-o-malo beach where my ancestors once launched their boats to forge relationships both standing and bending. Oi aue, I love my culture.
The romantic dream-like thoughts of home are so perfect that I forget momentarily that I’m dreaming. Because in reality, I can’t stroll through the beach during curfew, I forget the mosquitos that bite my legs and they turn into boils that turn into po'us and are permanent starmaps on my legs. I forget about walking to have a swim and having men call out friendly comments like "I really want to beep beep your beep beep beep" and “let’s go have *beep beep beep* behind the church”. I mentally block out the pervs who stand on tiptoes by the shower in the evenings. I forget all that because I am far from home and I miss it all, the beauty, the ugly and the moekolos of Safua. Ok I don’t miss the moekolos but you get my drift.
So, where were we?
Yes, fa'alavelaves and distance from home.
Many, many, many of us are obliged to support our families – no matter what. I look around me today and see so many of our people – in challenging situations because of our love for our families. And it got me thinking of many of the young people around me who are born into this world of giving and supporting – who are trying to make ends meet, without being informed of what all this is for.
So, here are some things you need to talk to your elders about – or rather, to those who are demanding money from you. You’re welcome :)
Disclaimer: If you get a hiding for using any of these tips. Sorry about you. Not my problem. Lol.
Firstly, find out about what the fa’alavelave is. For example, when someone dies, find out how you are related to that person. Knowing the connection will help you come to terms with losing your tupe but you will also know who your family are. Also find out what was given altogether (total contribution) and what was received. Ask questions always.
Secondly, only give what you can afford. Now, this is where the pu penti-ness comes in. Many of our families are so committed to supporting their loved ones, that they will sell the kitchen sink, borrow money, borrow money on high interest, beg for money and go without - just to afford that financial donation. Thus the adage that your undies will fall apart and no one will care. So, remember, if you can’t afford to give, then make that clear. And then run away quickly hahaha – nah jokes but really.
Thirdly, think of your priorities first. What is important to you now? Do you have children? (Hint, the children need to be a priority, so park your wanna-be millionaire dash and feed the children.com). If you are working part time and saving up for a car or a house or studies then here’s another hint ---- that is a priority.
Prepare for the criticism and backlash if you don’t give or donate. There will be times where your loved ones will criticise you for not contributing, and very often, they may say "E ke alofa I le kou aiga" (You don’t love your family). Remember, if you set your priorities then you will be ok with such judgement. Just turn the other cheek child. My favourite response is from one of my relations “Koe lava o o’u fua e le’i avakua” (The only thing left I haven’t given are my testicles).
Another point is: Don’t be a mimika with over-giving. Samoans are like those animals that can smell blood. Ok, I figured out the animal, it’s a shark. If you get all mimika up in here and flash your cash around, then trust me, you will suddenly attract the love and affection of leeches / sharks/ relations who will suck your finances dry (Gee – that statement almost got dirty). The trouble then will be, they will expect it for the next fa'alavelave and the next one and then when you’re broke and spent (oh there you go, it got dirty) then you’ll be lying there along with nothing but a pu penti. And the sharks will have abandoned you for new blood. Boom.
So remember kids, DO NOT be a mimika.
Lastly, have a serious think about what/who is important to you and your loved ones and then have a list there to guide you: for example, in my case, giving to church is not a priority. I consider that a fa’alavelave which adds very little value or relevance in my life today. You see, I came to discover that building a bigger church and rebuilding a perfectly sturdy home for the church minister wasn’t going to get me a first class ticket to Heaven so church instantly dropped down the list of importance. I am all about giving to fa'alavelaves for our families who are there for us. I love giving and being part of fa'alavelave that involve education, building and stocking of a school library, getting much needed health support or resources for someone/group needing help and anything that enables people to help themselves. The moment you say church, I develop a complete mental block. Bye. Let’s not go there.
Ok my tarlings, despite the sick humour some of you may find in this pu penti post, there is actually a real message behind it all. That is, when performed with alofa and respect, fa'alavelave can unite families, give us purpose, lighten the load we carry and create a true sense of aiga and community. When done without much thought, it can cripple our ability to succeed in life, it can break up families, create conflict, drive us further into poverty and desperate situations and most of all, leave a sizable hole in your penti. All the best!
Aue: The response the listener utters that will encourage the storyteller to continue
Fagogo: Fascinating stories that are told usually to children before they go to sleep.
Fa'alavelave: An event that is a disruption to your everyday life where you will most likely find a hole in your penti.
Penti: Undergarment that women and some men wear, and sniff.
Pugi: Shut up.
Moekolo: Usually men who sleep walk during the night accidently onto unsuspecting sleeping