It’s my last day here in Samoa – I’ve been here for 21 days. That’s right! 21 days of not taking kids to school, lessons, training; not making lunches and breaking up fights between child #1 and #2, and child #2 and #3 (Child #2 is a feisty one lol).
So, this trip is actually a small part of my data collection period – this is where I go out into the ‘field’ and watch, record and study Samoan people (our people) create and perform music. My whole life has been spent creating and performing Samoan music, however as a researcher, this has been the first time where I’ve had to ask the questions:
Why do we sing/perform the way we do? Why is it important for us to create lyrics and melodies the way we do? What does it all mean to us? Will we still be doing it this way in 50 years time?
I bet you never asked those questions before every time you sang ‘Ia lavalava teuteu fa’asamoa’ right? Me neither! So this trip was timed to coincide with the annual EFKS Fonotele – an event that brings together all EFKS leaders from around the world as well as delegates from every single EFKS parish. It is also an event where music is performed many times a day, every day for 2 weeks – so I had to get in there!
One thing that stood out for me during the fonotele was the amount of food available for my consumption, especially in my own pulega – I ate breakfast x2, lunch x2 and dinner x2. It was more of a psychological thing – suafa’i was on the menu, I just had to eat it. Taulolo was on the menu and I just couldn’t stop ‘tasting’ it. Kokolaisa appeared nearly every night – well, I don’t even have to tell you….add to that fresh bread and NZ butter (Angels singing ‘aaaahhhhhhh!’) and THEN add to that the heavy Samoan food. I thought that when you go to Samoa, you can easily lose weight due to the heat, the lack of easily accessible junk food and all the feaus you end up doing. I was so wrong – my baggage allowance on my return to Melbourne will definitely exceed the limit. 23kg in my suitcase, and an extra 10kg around my waist.
Back to my research (coz that was the whole point of my post a ea?). I audio/video recorded every musical performance I could witness. Hymns during formal church services, hymns in the fale, hymns at a hotel resort chapel, pese Samoa sung and danced at the entertaining sections of the fonotele – music was everywhere! There were many highlights to my fieldwork moments. One of them was the realisation that my being there, at the fonotele as an ethnomusicologist is probably the first ever attempt to document and record the rich musical traditions of the EFKS church, particularly at Malua. It made me feel so blessed to be in a position to do so, but on the downside, it was sad to know that after all these years of being known as the church that has plays a huge part in maintaining Samoan traditions, language and music, nothing had been done previously. So – there is a lot of work to be done.
One of the biggest and most important components of my research is being the voice of the Samoan fatupese (composer) – especially those elders who have contributed to our pese fa’asamoa (traditional songs). My discussions with elders in various Samoan communities have been a real learning experience for me and I’m grateful to those who have willingly shared their stories. Speaking of elders, my dad was texting me during the fonotele period to make sure that I had the proper dress attire, walked around Malua like a ‘teine lelei’ (good girl) and that I didn’t laugh my big laugh around the place, especially at night aaaaand that I didn’t drop my frequent F-bombs in conversation with faifeau (it has happened once lol). Actually, I think this time I dropped the F-bomb in conversation with a faletua…sooo, I’m not sure how that one is perceived in the scheme of Samoan teine-leleiness (Soz dad).
Soooo…to wrap up my reflection on this trip – it was well worth the extra kilos on my hips. I have collected numerous recordings of Samoan songs, discussions with elders, 2000 photos (including 20 selfies just because) and I even managed to do a bit of writing in between my fieldwork and moments of food-coma. In the first week, I found myself being invited to a TV interview on my work as an ethnomusicologist on the popular show Samoa Star Search where I also sang a song (queue: Blue Bayou lol). I also sang as the entertainment at the Eleventh Commandment Restaurant in Vaitele. Seriously – there was a ridiculously HUGE banner hanging on the restaurant fence with my name on it, I almost crashed my car when I saw it coz I couldn’t stop laughing. I was too embarrassed to take a photo of it. On my first 3 days driving around Samoa, I got stopped twice by police – for no reason other than to ask for my number and if I wanted to go out on a date to ‘eva’ with them at the RSA – I politely declined, maybe next time boys lol.
And to end with, I have successfully converted my masters degree into the PhD programme so I look forward to finishing this damn thesis next year and moving on with my life with the hopes of becoming a Samoan hiphop star.
Ia manuia xx