Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Samoan born in NZ, who now calls Australia home

I've been reading some material online and a biography of the missionary Reverend George Brown, who served from 1860-1874 in Samoa. His observations give me some incredible insights into some strong tradtions of Samoans that have remained up to more than a century later. This is fascinating given the fact that the largest migration of Samoans was in the 1950's -1970's (because NZ needed factory workers for their ever expanding industry and service sectors, and saw the Pacific Islands as a harvest for labourers) and yet in 2016, some of these observed traits still run strong in the Samoan blood.
He observed the people “to be amongst the nicest and most lovable people with whom I have ever lived.”
Although in another entry, he observed that the villagers, “were extremely sensitive to what was considered to be an insult.” And he records times of trying to bring peace between villages in feuds and battles (some he successfully intervened and some he didn't), where people were either badly wounded or killed. 

"On they came, a band of stalwart fellows, almost naked, brandishing their guns, spears, and clubs, leaping and shouting, to the place where we were sitting. Their bodies were smeared with oil, their hair dressed with scarlet flowers, and their foreheads bound with frontlets made of the bright inner shell of the nautilus. It was difficult to recognise the features of those with whom we were acquainted, as every one had tried to make himself as hideous as possible. The chief led the way, dancing up to us, and shouting: ‘What is that for?’ ‘Why are you sitting there?’ ‘Why do you stop us?" (Rev George Brown was known to read, write and speak Samoan)
During a religious meeting out in the open air "about 300 were present. The Chief commenced this their first Collection in their own village by a subscription of $10 thrown into the plate in such a manner as to let every one know what he gave. Others then followed many of them giving $2 each. We thus realised $122.72".

The missionary's entries don't appear to just journal and record for the sakes of accountability to his administrators, but it also come across as personal observations and reflections of which he appears to try to make sense of a people who are quick to help, have a song, a chat, dance, a laugh, yet they are quiet and serene during relgious services and yet when they fight, they fight to the death (even for seemingly peddly issues) and when they give to what they believe to be of a higher cause, they give with all their heart.
Today not much has changed, Samoans are still much like what Rev Brown observed. However, most Samoans are no longer native, they are living in other countries. Statistics reveal that there is a much larger number of Samoans living outside of Samoa. According to Wikipedia about 400,000 worldwide to 100,000 living in Samoa. A lot of nations where we reside, such as New Zealand, USA, and Australia, still struggle to understand how to consolidate what appears to be fragemented traits of the Samoan people. In fact, in a previous blog I explore the idea that a lot of Samoans possibly don't understand why we are the way we are. The DNA runs deep but the understanding is shallow.
Most have noticed that Samoans that attend church services (and sometimes even at schools, hospitals or anywhere where those particular Samoans deem to be a sacred place), are on their best behaviour or they're there and behaving out of obedience to the parents or the wider community.
When Samoans party, we party hard and when we fight, we fight with the same tenacity of our ancestors. (Fortunately fighting sports, rugby, rugby league, football, rugby etc are a channel to allow the warrior spirit to manifest....unfortunately outside of these paramaters, it's just thuggery). We're still sensitive to insult, especially if it's to do with the honour of the family (natural or gang etc). And some church services still practice announcing the amount of the donation before "plating it".
Rev Brown not only learned the language, he learned the traditions and the culture. Armed with this knowledge and understanding he was able to prepare the gospel message in a way where the natives of Samoa could digest it.

This guy was on to something. To be able to add value to their lives by sharing the awesomeness of the gospel, he had to learn how they lived and did things. This missionary spirit is something to aspire to (notice I didn't say colonialism, but that's another topic altogether). 
Although I'm a citizen of Australia, I still don't know enough about the people that have lived here for thousands of years. I appreciate the bush, beach, sleeping under the stars, 4WDriving, food grown on this place etc and I realise, I'm feeling the presence of this awesome land and need to appreciate that others have mastered this appreciation well before me. I'm on a mission in Australia, I best do like Rev George Brown and start learning the hidden treasures of this place. “There are many plants and trees inland that the Natives do not know at all. One which I found near the mountain but did not see anywhere else is very beautiful indeed – it has a large white flower and looks very pretty amongst all the black stones. I was very much struck with the evident marks of the goodness and wisdom of God manifested in the wise provision He makes for supplying the wants of people. On the Beach the Cocoa Nut supplies drink for all, but here there are none and but little water. However there is an abundance of a species of vine … and we had only to cut one with a knife then put the severed end to the mouth, make another division a little higher up to serve as a vent and then drink as fast as possible. From a piece about 18 inches long about a tumbler full of fine clear water can easily be obtained.”