How to raise Samoan kids in Australia

As a NZ-born Samoan parent of Australian-born Samoan children, this question flies around in my head constantly, alongside:

  • How do I raise my children as Samoans in a country like Australia?
  • How do I keep the culture alive in their upbringing?
  • How do I encourage them to be proud of a culture that they only experience when at home or at church?
  • How do I guide them along their journey to adulthood keeping their Samoan culture close to their hearts, something to be cherished and passed on to their children?

Since I have been an Australian resident for 10 years now, I feel that I qualify to offer some advice on this topic. 🙂

I was born and raised in South Auckland, NZ.  As a result of the massive migration of Samoans to NZ from the 1950s onwards, Auckland is the biggest samoan-populated city in the world outside of Samoa.  My generation was born from Samoans who had brought their culture with them.  Therefore we grew up in Samoan communities, went to Samoan churches, played with our Samoan cousins, went to school with our Samoan friends and the majority of us grew up and married our Samoan partners.

In terms of learning our culture, we had it easy.   We got to see Michael Jones play the example of a rugby player who won’t play during his Sabbath;  Va’aiga Tuigamala display the brutal strength of a Samoan on the rugby field, Rita Fatialofa wear the Silver Fern uniform showing off her typical hamo curves and big calves; and Jay Laga’aia sing and act on TV (I’m talking 1990s here – my own teen years):  Samoans just like us!

We had the Samoan values ingrained into our everyday lives so even if we grew up not speaking the language as fluently, we still learned some of the important values:

  • Honour your parents
  • In everything you do, you are representing your family
  • Brothers:  Look after your sisters, keep them safe from harm
  • Sisters: Serve your brothers
  • Put God first
  • Always remember that no matter where you are on this earth, you will always be Samoan.

Fast forward 20 years and here I am, raising my little family in Australia.  It’s not so easy here for a Samoan trying to raise little Samoans that’s for sure!  We teach them the Samoan values that we were raised by but find ourselves competing with the world outside.  My kids tell me that their friends at school ask them: why do they have to wash dishes and clean house everyday instead of just the weekends?  Why do they always bring lunch from home instead of buying it from the canteen?  Why is Malia (my 9 year-old daughter) the tallest in her grade and the next grade up? Why does she has massive feet?  Why does Jeramyah (my 12 year-old son) have white hair growing  on his head already?  Why aren’t they allowed to have a boy/girlfriend at school?  Why is it that when our family go out, Jeramyah and Malia are in charge of looking after their 4 year-old brother?  And the list goes on.  It’s a challenge for my kids to try and ‘be’ samoan when everyone around them in school is palagi/aussie.

There is a tiny Samoan community here in Melbourne.  It probably isn’t such a small number when you count how many of us are living here – but we are so far apart from each other that it feels like we are not even in the same city.    As parents, we can only try our best with what we know and have:

So here’s what TEAM GALE does:

  1.  We belong to a Samoan church so with that comes Sunday School, Junior Youth programmes, the aufaipese, Lotu Tamaiti – all these things keep my children immersed in their culture.   The service is conducted in Samoan and there are times when my children want to sleep during the sermon (I’ve mastered that with my eyes open) but I know that in some small way, understanding what is being said is coming to them….albeit slowly.
  2.  At home my husband and I bark out orders in Samoan (Words like sasa! aua! and kope! are the firm favourites).  Our food consists of a modern-Samoan diet of Kokolaisa (keepin’ it real) KFC and McDonalds (I did say ‘modern’).  We also teach our kids how to say grace in Samoan before they eat however  their Samoan-speak is laced with the Aussie accent so hubby and I try not to roll our eyes lol.
  3.  I have recently put my 2 older children in the aufaipese (church choir).  My fluency in reading Samoan comes from singing in the church choir and finding my way around it.  So it warms my heart to see them sitting there in the front and giving it a go.  Of course, with their mother being the choir director, they have no choice…naturally.
  4.  There are so many Samoans out there on the world stage at the moment.  We try our best to get our children to attend shows or games that feature them:  The Silver Ferns, The LG Northern Mystics Netball team, The Laughing Samoans, The All Blacks, Adeaze, Cydel, Giantkilla, Deelicious, Tama Tatau – For my children to see these stars in real life, it reaffirms the belief that they can achieve anything they want to.  There are people just like them doing great things on this earth and my kids understand this.
  5. We encourage the kids to be proud of their heritage.  Yes there are the downsides: the samoan temper, the big feet and everything from waist down, the strict household and the fe’aus.  But alongside these are Alofa (love), Fa’aaloalo (Respect) and Fa’amalosi (Strength).

PS – Thank you Maria Tutaia for talking about your huge feet on a recent doco.  I said to my daughter “You see?  It’s normal!!!”  lol.

Ia manuia xx


14 thoughts on “How to raise Samoan kids in Australia

  1. Loved it Rit, a bit of a wake up call for me. Im sometimes called a potato(lol) but you’ve reminded me of how good it is being Samoan. Proud muchly of you.xo

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this read!!! loved it, you are doing a great job in trying to raise your samoan children in Australia!!! your definitely doing your part and more in trying and enrich our culture into their lives and yes it is very difficult with the outside influences i can totally relate to your dilemma. Thank you Rita beautifully said,

      1. Thank you for the words of wisdom grew up in a afakasi family my mum was Hawaiian father Samoan in ca still trying to instill these values everyday now to my grand child.

  3. Thanks Rita. A great post with a very symbolic title – lost coconut. I am a palangi just returned from my first trip to ‘paradise’ in Samoa. We knew a little about Samoan culture before going and wanted to learn more on our trip. We certainly did, visiting beautiful Upolu, Manono and Savaii. The elements of respect ,love and pride demonstrated in communities left a strong impression. What a peaceful, welcoming country. As teachers we can see how difficult it must be here to teach and maintain your culture with all the challenges and contradictions that life in Australia brings. However non-Samoans have a lot that could be learned from Fa’a Samoa – both children and adults.
    We are looking for a church to experience White Sunday this coming sunday and some baby taro to plant in our garden.

    1. Thank you for stopping by Rob. I’m glad that you enjoyed your time in Samoa, what an experience that must’ve been for you and your family. Thanks also for making the effort to try and understand our culture, much appreciated. Yes it is White Sunday this weekend in Australia and I have been busy prepping my kids, its a mission and a half! Good luck with the taro plantation lol. You must send me pics!

  4. Explaining culture tu ma aga is a start. The fa’asamoa that affects them and there lives. eg:..the great respect to parents the great respect (fegaiga) between brother and sisters etc.
    Some times it take other people for our kids to listen or understand some part of fa’asamoa.
    Being proud Samoans is taught from church carried through by parents explaining at home.
    Keeping fa’asamoa alive becomes our responsibility and your doing the right thing by taking them to church to hear the language.
    Im proud Samoan too and i am dedicated in the continuation of faasamoa in million of yeas to come and if we just start by using the language we have to our children without being embarrassed that would be a start, cause without the language there is no fa’asamoa and no Samoa to be proud of. Manuia

  5. Hi Rita, i produce pacific language books and resources for pre and primary school children.
    I have been thinking about trying to get some exposure in Australia are there any areas that you can think of that have a high proportion of samoan or other pacific cultures. Any guidance would be appreciated, cheers

  6. We were in Western Samoa 1968-70 Trying to write a couple of stories based on that experience . Could do with a bit of help. Live in Adelaide. Brian & Dianna

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