Okay you guys, now I know that in my last post I was in a tad-bit-bat-shit-crazy mode with LIFE and everything I had decided to take on..but I just wanted to let you know how that nite (June 21st 2016) went:
First of all, it was an amazing experience. For real. I mean, a few weeks into rehearsals I was reassuring everyone with “Don’t worry guys! We got dis! It’s just a step up from Lotu Tamaiti…” but then, on performance day, once the lights were dimmed, we were all dressed up and ready for the opening number to a sold-out audience, I was all “Oh my gosh guys..this shit is legit! 100 steps up! 100 steps up!” Yep, that was me….
But hey – our play was received amazingly well by the audience, a mixture of Samoan and non-Samoan peeps who happily stayed back for an hour with us to eat faapapa (coconut bread) and sua fa’i (banana soup). We had the TV Samoa Melbourne crew there, taking video footage and interviewing audience members for the beginning episodes of their new TV programme. Also, Multicultural Arts Victoria officials attended and were eager to continue discussions about taking our play to country Victoria where there is a large Pacific community. The smooth vocalists from DFX Barbershop opened our night with their beautiful arrangements of Samoan gospel.
So, where is this show at right now? Well – thank you for asking! Firstly, we have developed the show, it’s bigger, it’s better and we are preparing to showcase it on two consecutive nights in two different parts of Melbourne in order to cater for everyone who wants to watch it. Secondly, this show is really the beginning of a Pacific theatre movement happening in Australia. We are not a professional theatre production company putting together professional actors, dancers, musicians, production teams. INSTEAD, we are members of the Melbourne Pacific community coming together to stamp our own creative artistic talents path for all the world to see – our stories, and our peoples. So we’ve sourced our own playwright – Delsa Tuitea, an aspiring Samoan film director and playwright, a BA (TV & English Lit.) graduate from LaTrobe University. Our Director, Steve Tafea who hails from the Pacific Underground legacy in Christchurch; one of our actors is Asalemo Tofete, a BPA and BA graduate from the prestigous National Drama School of NZ, and then you have me as music director – flash title but I’m really just making sure that everyone has their important caffeine intake during rehearsals (totes important). This is just a small number of the huge amount of talent we make altogether and we make a tiny part of the Melbourne Samoan community here. Our crew is a gentle reminder to the rest of Australia, that there is room for Pacific theatre here, and if you look deeply into the Pacific communities of Australia, you will find gems of untapped talent that can’t be taught in the conservatorium or prestigious dance school – but instead, taught in the Pacific upbringing – in the home, church and at every frikken faalavelave or fundraising event we’ve ever had the ‘pleasure’of performing at lol.
So! If you are reading this and you think – Wowsers! We need to be part of this movement! Let’s get this party started! Crikey! Take that damn shrimp off the barbie and throw on some pua’a! Then I invite you to share this moment with us – here in Melbourne, on Friday 23rd or Saturday 24th September at precisely 8pm. And this is the part where I slot in our poster:
I’ve been thinking a lot about the church music ministry and how I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve God through my participation in the choir as well as my community. I’ve been in this role for 26 years now ( I started really young lol) and I’ve seen many moments of joy (weddings) and grief (funerals) from behind the keys. I’ve also had some up/down experiences such as the time I was playing for the choir in one of our big songs (like epic) and the Yamaha-Electone I was playing on decided to go all funny and malfunctioned during the song…or the time I got a growling in front of the whole church by the faifeau because all year he saw me reading my romance novels from behind the piano during loku and just couldn’t hold his silence any longer lmao….and then there was the wedding where the bride insisted I play a particular song for her walk-in and when I told her it was a funeral song (a well-known one too) she demanded that I still play it but a ‘happy’ version.
When I moved to Australia 13 years ago, I didn’t know that I would (or even could!) continue my ministry in the EFKS church as I had come to a place where I knew no one and did not have any family nearby who could help me with my young babies during church time like my mother did for me in NZ. When I was little, dad was free to focus on his role as faipese (choir director/teacher) because mum was always there for us. But when I think of my own experience, today I am the faipese as well as the ‘mum’ so most times it is hard to juggle my ministry as well as my young family. I guess it’s fair to say that girls would start off as kapiago (pianist) but as we get older, settle down and have babies, it’s too hard to maintain the aufaipese (choir) timetable so the role of faipese (choir director) is normally fulfilled by males. Female faipeses make a tiny number compared to males.
I look back and think of a special woman who came to my aid – the late Apitale Lua (RIP) who religiously babysat my newborn Malia Lucy every week at peses and lotu in 2003-2004 while I conducted the church choir – teaching her young daughters Nafanua and Puna how to help look after her also, and then giving them the evils whenever Malia cried during service lol. When my youngest Osty was a newborn in 2008, the entire row of altos (teenage girls) had turns looking after him during peses and loku…until he started walking and then wanted to be a cool guy with the tenors at the back. I remember conducting a song with one hand and yanking his shirt with the other when he kept running around me – some good times there lol. Also, I fondly remember that Sunday in 2002 when my Reverend at the time Dr. Rev. Peniamina Vai (RIP) told the congregation to leave the little 2-year old Jeramyah to breakdance down the aisle every time his mum played the fast church hymns lol – so I had one eye on my music notes and the other on my dancing son.
One thing that I’ve had to learn to deal with as a mum/faipese is that I have had to put my foot down with certain people and tell them that I am a mother first, a faipese second. Particularly now, as a solo-mum, I will put my children’s needs and timetable first before I allow the choir to schedule rehearsals. I’ve also had to deal with people who try to ‘own’ me as a faipese – I acknowledge my role in Sunday service, and I do my best to get that choir singing at the top of their lungs every week – but when people try and put their ‘hands’ on the ministry that God has allowed me to fulfil, or try to claim ownership over me as ‘theirs’ – then shit gets ugly. I remember the time an elderly couple (from another church parish) came up to me after a combined service, thanking me for sharing my talent with them that day. When they walked away, a member of my own church asked me “what did they say? and why?” and when I answered..she looked disgusted. Clearly she thought that as a faipese in her church, people from outside were not allowed to compliment me… I left that choir a few months later. I don’t understand how people try and put their ‘stamp’ on something that they had no input in creating and developing. It was my father who put my music lessons/practices/performances/exams ahead of everything he had in his life for a good 13 years, and my mother who made sure my fees were paid and comforted and encouraged me during the difficult times. So everyone else can just watch and listen thank you.
I make it a point to share my music notes with my fellow faipeses, I get requests every month from Samoans around the world who are looking for a particular song copy and for some reason – I happen to have it – so I scan and email it over. I don’t like this attitude of “these are my music notes and no one is allowed to see them” – because at the end of the day, I did not compose all those songs..so I don’t ‘own’ them..and I’m pretty sure that if a composer wrote a song, they would love for as many choirs to sing them right?
My father is pushing 72 and is still the faipese of his church choir. I’m in my late 20s…..okay then..late 30s geez. So the way I see it…I have another 40 years of faipese work ahead of me…..and around that time I will be writing a blogpost called “The Faipese Grandma”….*****dying****
Ugggh..uunnnggaaaah..effff. That’s me groaning right now. Every second Sunday of October, every fri…..kken….year. It’s that time of the year when the majority of Samoan parents pull out their hair trying to help their kids learn their tauloto (memory verse).
I can’t remember a time when I HAVEN’T been an active participant in Lotu Tamaiti festivities. It started with me reciting my tauloto every year for most of my early years – I stand in a long line facing my dreaded parents who await with proud-slash-murderous anticipation to hear the one line of bible verse that I had been memorising for the past 2 weeks. Then in my teen years, I take part in some dodgy-cheesily-written tala (play) that re-enacts a bible story – all in Samoan, so at that time in my life with my limited gagana, these plays were like silent films to me lol. Then I was rescued by the faifeau (minister) who told me to plonk myself behind the organ and play all the songs every year. Music saved me from having to summon up ugly cries during those dramatic moments in character (fist pump!).
So the normal progression in Samoan life is that you spend every year of your childhood dreading your 5 seconds of fame on stage, wearing some itchy lacey-frilly white dress with matching stockings/shoes; your hair in the tightest french plait that you get a migraine halfway through service, and have to endure an epic 2 hour programme (sometimes 3hrs). Then in your teen years, you have to convince your mother that you DON’T need a frilly dress with the big bow at the back so please can we just get a normal puletasi – which she gives in LATER on in your teen years (yep). AND THEN..you grow up, leave the house, send your kids to your parents every lotu tamaiti season so they can happily get their grandkids prepared for the day and you don’t have to really be part of the rehearsals/service – you just attend as a member of the ‘audience’.
I must’ve missed the memo on that smooth progression from participant-to-audience-member. Because once I got plonked behind that organ, I’ve been sitting there ever since. Also, I live in a different country than my parents so not only do I have to prepare the music for the Sunday School kids to learn, rehearse and perform – I then have to help my own kids learn their tauloto. Then there’s the crazy search for white outfits. And then I have to make sure my white outfit is ready because I’m part of the Sunday School for this occasion (I don’t have an emoji to describe my thoughts on this paragraph…).
But THIS year I have reason to celebrate!!! My youngest child Osty (6yo) is starting to get the hang of reading Samoan like his older siblings. So you know what that means? I only have to write his tauloto up on the whiteboard and then he stands in front of it, reads and memorises his verse without me having to sit with him every day to teach it phonetically. A.k.a: I’m freeeeeeeeeeeee!
This is a small victory for me and it’s all thanks to the support my children get from being part of the EFKS church and Sunday School and also the Saturday morning gagana-Samoa language classes at the Polynesian Kids Community Language School here in Melbourne. So from now on, every lotu tamaiti season, I will enjoy some peaceful early October days and not have to pull anyone’s hair out (mine or my kids, or anyone who happens to be visiting us at the time). Happy Lotu Tamaiti season to all Samoans worldwide 🙂 and to all the parents who are helping their kids prepare for the big day…good luck and please go easy on the frilly dresses.
This week marks one year since the day I was blessed to receive a Malu. To get to that momentous day, it took ten years of thought, research, learning and conversations, three months of planning with the Tufuga, and 4.5 hours of receiving it.
The conversations around people getting the Malu or Pe’a nowadays is hot topic on social media, especially when a non-Samoan receives it, or when Samoans are ranting about other Samoans displaying their la’ei in vulgar fashion. I have never entered into any of these debates, however, to celebrate my Malu’s first birthday (lol) I will offer a few of my thoughts and reflections on debates and statements that people make regarding our traditional tattoo.
Learn the lingo before you get the tattoo. This is a well known saying that the oldies (and even today’s younger generation) say to remind those who are thinking of getting a tattoo. For those who bear the tattoo and don’t speak the lingo, I urge you to learn it – it’s never too late to learn your faasamoa. Seven years ago, I made the decision to learn Samoan properly. Not because I didn’t want to before, but because I didn’t know how to really speak it confidently and well enough to engage with the older Samoans without sounding like an idiot. My parents were not strict with enforcing the native tongue at home, and when you grow up, you can easily get away with not having to speak Samoan at all. So when I knew that being a full-time Samoan musician, academic and malu-bearer was in my future, I made myself speak Samoan – there was no way that I was gonna embarrass my family and Samoan community. So how did I learn it? I asked for help, from friends, family and elders here in Melbourne – the oldies at church – who speak perfect English and make me feel bad for not having perfect Samoan in return lol. It’s frustrating at times because I could start off a sentence in Samoan…then can’t remember the word I’m after and revert back to English lol but I have great teachers by my side who are supportive and patient. If you feel that wearing your malu/pe’a without speaking the lingo is enough for you, then you are missing out.
Too many people get the tattoo nowadays just for show. This seems to be a reality, and I can’t help but agree with this statement when people who are newly-inked are all of a sudden clogging my Facebook newsfeed with their closeup pics of their bodies. I’ve tried to see it from their point of view..maybe by getting the tattoo, it has revved up their confidence as Samoans and now they want to proudly show the world their identity, so everyone can know that they are Samoan. Believe me, I’ve tried to agree to this way of thinking. But for the people who I know personally, I’ve always come up with the following questions: Well if you’re proud to be Samoan, how come in all the years I’ve known you, I’ve never heard you speak Samoan? or seen you at Samoan events? or seen you at a faalavelave that your family was hosting? Or seen you wear an ie lava lava? Now all of a sudden you are a sogaimiti? The young men who receive the pe’a, and have been given the blessing to receive it, do so because they have served their families and their matai. Receiving the pe’a is not the end of a journey, it is the beginning. When you receive it, you are taking that step to represent your aiga and village in the hopes of becoming a matai. I don’t see how you can accept this step if you haven’t fulfilled the steps before you receive the pe’a. I received my malu, because I have served my family, and I continue to do so until I die. Plain and simple.
We must move on with the times. Oh yes I totally agree with this. We’ve definitely moved on from grass leave skirts to the mu’umu’u, from sugarcane thatching roof to the iron roof, from the fala to the pate, from chant to pese lotu, the list goes on. But I urge you to think about this: What makes us, the Samoan people, unique from other cultures? At the top of my head, I’ll say: our faamatai system, our sacred tattoo, our music and dance, our spirituality. If we give in to “the times” and start tinkering and altering these things which altogether create the fabric of Samoan identity, then we will end up as a culture that is no different to the next one. Look at Samoan music for example. The majority of our people listen to and perform western-genres and versions of Samoan music so much, that our young people don’t even know what their real cultural music sounds like. Young people think that Tiama’a and Punialava’a are the earliest sounds of Samoan music. (FYI ,they are not). So do we really want what’s happened to Samoan music, to happen to our malu/pe’a? It’s great to move with the times – some things need to move on, but others are more safer if they stay as they are.
Only those who bear the malu/pe’a should have a say in these debates.I totally disagree with this argument which many people seem to be saying these days. If you are Samoan, you have a say in what happens within our culture. We all have a responsibility to uphold the sacredness of our tattoos. If you wear the la’ei, it doesn’t put you up on the next level from where you used to be so that you could look down on your friends and fellow Samoans who want to make sure that our cultural traditions stay mamalu. If anything, you are the one who needs to work the hardest to prove that you deserved that tattoo in the first place, and if we have our non-inked Samoans around us, holding us accountable for what we wear and what we represent, then you better lift your game. You must remember, you wear something that belongs to our people – it’s not yours. It’s ours.
The Tufugas these days do it for business. I don’t entirely agree with this accusation. The Tufuga tatau are the keepers and givers of the tatau. They were believed by our ancestors to come from a lineage of gods and without them we wouldn’t have the tattoos in survival today. They are the ones who maintained the customs when the Germans banned the practice in Samoa, forcing the tufuga to tattoo deep in the night and away from the patrolling German ships around Savaii. I have heard of many tufuga out there who muck around with peoples’ time and money – so I don’t blame our people when they accuse them of setting up shop and taking advantage of the popularity of our tattoos and charging ridiculous prices. On the flip side, they are the ones who have been blessed with the skill and expertise therefore we should respect this and focus on playing our part as bearers of the tattoo.
So there you have it, my thoughts on some of the current statements that are being thrown around social media in these tattoo debates. I lean towards keeping our tattoos sacred and mamalu. For those wanting to wear something that bears their Samoan heritage so they can proudly show it off every day, anywhere in the world – go get a taulima, tauvae…a sleeve or those things on the chest (a chestie? lol) that way, you can flaunt it without a care in the world. But for those contemplating the malu/pe’a, just remember, these tattoos come with protocols and rules. And who are we to try and change them?
I’ve had the malu for a year now and I feel like I have so much more to learn and to do in order to truly feel like I deserve to have it. May I always feel accountable for what I wear on my legs.
This particular post was supposed to come before my last one (FIELDWORK TRIP: SAMOA, MAY 2015), but somehow I forgot to post it. So here it is:
2015 is my FIELDWORK year – the year where I put on my ‘Budget-Buster’ hat and do things to make sure I can afford to travel to collect the data that I need in order to write my thesis. These things include scabbing all the coins from my kids’ piggies, gradually down-sizing their lunchbox menus without them realising it, and ‘forgetting’ to pay for school trips so that when they get to their dad’s house, he ends up paying for them – you know, little things like that….
So – early this year, I went home to Auckland to check out the Archives of Maori and Pacific Music. I already had a sense of what historical recordings of Samoan music were already on the shelves there thanks to the online catalogue that I have practically stalked since 2011, but I just needed to have a literal noseying-around to check if I could find anything extra. I wasn’t disappointed – the archives is an amazing goldmine of so many Pacific audio/video/dvd collections that anyone researching Maori/Pacific music and dance will find immense value in what these guys have here. But before I begin salivating while describing my archival finds, let me tell you about the other side of my trip first – the personal side lol.
Going home to conduct research isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially if you’re Samoan…and if you go to EFKS church…and you’re a faipese….and (even worse)..your dad is a faipese too. Can I get a “pressure!” up in here…Nod your head, raise your hand in the air and say “Aye-MEN!” if you hear me. My visit coincided with my dad’s month in charge of church choir music so yes that meant he could have a nice break while I took over the choir for him. I love my home church choir but choir practices are almost triple time-consuming than what I have to deal with in Melbourne. So, peses were on Wed 530pm-730pm and Sat 4-6pm with Sunday service 11am-1pm – that’s about 6 hours every week. That very month, the church lost a dear member to cancer so that meant heavy preparations for the church choir for extra services (epic 3-hour rehearsals x2 that one week). All of this, while I had to visit the archives everyday 10am – 4pm for one solid week – and I had the kids with me too!
I know you’re probably asking me the question: “But Rita..why didn’t you ask someone else to do peses for you so you could do your research?” – I’m sorry..I don’t understand your question (uppercut yourself if you are Samoan and you asked me this question).
Moving on: The Archives of Maori and Pacific Music and Dance. I was granted access to many different collections and types of Samoan songs and given digital copies of these by archival manager Nigel Champion who basically made my research such an easy process – Thank you Nigel! I worked in a small room and basically sat there all day listening to music and taking selfles every hour to Facebook everyone lol. Some of the songs I listened to were from commercially released LP albums from 1960s onwards, some were from Richard Moyle’s fieldwork days in Samoa in the late 1960s, a sizeable collection came from 2AP Radio Samoa recorded 1970s onwards, also a digitised copy of 1910/1911 recordings that are originally kept in Berlin. However, one of the highlights for me was accidentally coming across sacred Samoan songs that were actually commercially released in the 1970s as an album of Samoan love songs – when I realised I had found recordings that were important to my research, out came the fist pumps and my 1-min victory dance (running man, Roger rabbit, the robot etc).
So the trip was awesome, my family were a huge help in keeping my kids busy whilst I hit the archives. Big shout-out to my brother who took the kids for a few days and when we organised swap-over, he brought my son into the city with no shoes – yep, I did one of those..walk down Queen Street..see my 6yo with no seevae, then quickly walk past him and pretend not to be his mother. Also, big thumbs up to the lady who drove the 487 from Manukau to Otara one Thursday night I caught the bus, eating her KFC drumstick and navigating the streets of Otara like a boss.
Thank you for reading my blog post and staying right to the end (it’s a mission, I know). Hope it changed your life.
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.
I just wanted to share this with you all, to show you what’s been happening in the Melbourne Samoan community. This is one event that made such a huge impact on many of our NZ-born Samoans who were able to re-connect culturally and linguistically to the homeland, Sāmoa. Please read the following blog post from our very own, Miss Delsa Evotia Tuitea – a Samoan-passionate-and-proud young woman who also just successfully completed a BA from LaTrobe University, Melbourne. Congratulations Delsa!!
Last week a group of 40 students were truly blessed to take part in the FIRST (auuuuuu) international Aganu’u Fa’asamoa 101 workshop for NZ & Australian Born or Raised Samoans. Truly a blessing from the Heavens this workshop is. For so many of us born and raised outside of our Motherland Samoa, the true essence of our Samoan culture has not always been emphasised, dying out or is beginning to lose it’s significance. It’s become something we have to do because “na fai mai mum ma dad e fai” and we have little understanding to all it stands for. For many youngsters we grow up learning to speak Samoan because we hear the constant “soia le fegagui so’o guku, o oukou gi palalagi?” so we obey our parents because we value our bodies from copping hidings lol. Speaking Samoan is not even close to BEING a Samoan, our cultural values are…
“Carrrooolllll! Git your shit together Carol!” (The tennis game scene in Bridesmaids)
If you came up to me this time last year, and told me that 2014 meant that I would get my heart broken into shreds, lose my visions of a happy family and the one man that I gave a massive chunk of my heart to for 14 years, I would’ve punched your face. Hard. But here I am before you, December 31st 2014, as a newly-divorced woman (signed the papers recently) and sitting alone at my kitchen table trying to write this blog post without sounding like a broke-ass, whiny-ass and dumb-ass woman. Suffice to say, 2014 was probably the hardest year of my life. A year where I had to learn the hard way, that even your loved ones, as much as they don’t mean to, can really bring you down to your knees and break your spirit.
I won’t focus on the sad story that my marriage ended up playing out. Instead, I’ll tell you about some of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned in the year that I will always remember. Before I go on, I need to tell you that this is not a “I hate my ex” blog post, no, this is more of a “this is my blog so I can say what I want” type instead.
Lesson #1: Life doesn’t always go the way you plan it to
During the early stages of my marriage break-up, I was a devastated and desperate woman. I was in shock when I realised my marriage was about to end. On the outside I looked normal, but privately, I was so heartbroken and confused as to what my life was going to be like from now on. How the hell was I going to face my children and tell them that their parents were splitting up? Should we move back home to South Auckland and try to rebuild our lives? Should I chuck in my studies, now that I was to be a solo-mother of 3 kids and find a job? So many thoughts racing through my mind, every hour, every day, and the number one question: How did my marriage get to this point? I am a meticulous planner. I am not big on last minute events, or impromptu day trips/holidays. I am not a control freak, but I choose to be well-organised so that I can make the most of my time doing things that will benefit the lives of me and my children. I’ve watched others lose so much time, money and freedom because of the way they go about their day/week/year with no ‘goal’ in mind. I didn’t plan my marriage breakup though. It took me by surprise (ps. I don’t like surprises) and I was not prepared for the emotions that I dealt with in the aftermath. During this time, I was in denial about everything, but eventually as the weeks went by the denial subsided and was replaced with anger. I just could not accept the fact that after all these years of being loyal, committed and forgiving to this one person, he gave no second thought to his actions when he decided to screw me over. This was not the marriage that I planned.
Lesson #2: Great friends – REAL friends – are hard to find, but easy to keep
Looking back, I cannot believe that I made it through this whole experience with my mental state intact – my broken heart is no more. I’ve always known who my real friends are. While I have maintaned a great relationship with my childhood friends in South Auckland, I have also been a part of an amazing circle of friends here in Melbourne. Although my marriage has suffered many breakdowns (too many to allow to be honest), these sisters (and brothers) have stuck by me, picked me up and helped me get through the maze. Without their support, I would not have had the courage to look for my happy ending that I know I deserved. I also sought spiritual and psychological help to get me through and I am a much happier and confident woman because of it. My support system was there when I needed to vent out my fustrations, they were there when my children needed extra support to help them understand what was happening, and they were there to shield me from those who were only in my life for material reasons. I decided to chuck out those who had their own hidden agendas on my life. Maybe one day in the not-too-distant future, when they get their heads out of their asses, I may be more accepting of their flaws. But at this point in my life, i just cant accommodate those who continue to just take, take, take from me without any real desire to have a friendship with me. I Thank you.
Lesson #3: Acceptance is key
A few months after my marriage ended (around June/July) I woke up one day and said to myself (to my mirror) “Rita…git…your…shit…together”. And that was it. I promised myself that I was gonna move on with my life, and live it the way that I intended to when I was a naive and hopeful young adult. I realised that you can’t make someone be with you, if they don’t want to. You can only try for so long, to try and make them see that you guys are great together, but it is all in vain and a wasted effort when year by year, he refuses to acknowledge your part in his life, and only brings you in when it suits him. So I accepted that this was it. And that was all I needed to do to be able to move on – I cannot express how liberating it felt when I learned this lesson. My friendship with the ex is at a great place right now, because I accepted that I just wasn’t the woman for him. I don’t blame him, I’m not holding any anger towards him, I’ve just accepted (there’s that word again) that if he tried his best to be my husband, then this was his best and I have to accept that J
Lesson #4: You MUST pick up your balls, and move on
I almost chucked in my studies a few months ago. I just wasn’t feeling confident enough to make it through to Phd. I neglected my postgrad commitments, didn’t keep in touch with my supervisor, and spent way too much time in bed feeling sorry for myself. I had a trip to Samoa coming up in late August where I was to present my research on Samoan music at the National University of Samoa “Samoa Conference III”. First of all, with my confidence levels at an all-time low, I spent many days in bed shit scared of the thought of facing Samoan academics and elders with my paper. I would get up at the podium and deliver my paper, and they would all find out that I was a fake (Im not really a fake but this is how I felt, you see, during my sooky phase). I also planned to spend the 2nd week of my trip scouring archives for my PhD study next year, setting up future fieldwork trips. And lastly, something that I had planned for the last few years was about to go down – getting my malu. This would be the pinnacle of my journey as a Samoan woman, mother, daughter, academic. But with all the dramas that occurred up until this point, I was shit scared. I would probably cry during my paper presentation, look like a wasted mess while meeting archival officials, and then cry like a baby while getting my malu done. I felt like this for a good few weeks, event wrote my resignation letter to withdraw from the Master of Music Research program I was enrolled in, and then planned to drag my sorry ass back to Otara. My support system was the strongest during this time, I got the ‘are you effin crazy?’ speech re: resignation letter, and the ‘don’t think, just do it’ speech re: Samoa. So, I picked up my balls (imaginary ones) and went. Which leads me to my next learned lesson:
Lesson #5:God works in mysterious ways
I went to Samoa, I achieved everything I set out to do and more. I came back to Melbourne a new woman – literally. My legs bear the malu – a process that I find hard to express in words, it means more to me than just representing and honouring my family, my ancestors, my culture. I still remember every minute of the painful 4.5 hours that I endured at the UN SIDS Village. I hugged my tufuga (Su’a Peter Suluape) once it was done and will always be grateful to him for his care and guidance during the whole process. Wearing my malu makes me accountable for everything I do in life from here on and I hope that one day I will feel good enough to wear it. My trip to Samoa was a success, on all levels. Academically, my research was received awesome support from academics, professors, the Samoan community and my peers. I could not ask for a better response and willingness from others to offer their help and guidance during my PhD journey next year. I can go on and on about this new chapter in my life, but I will save it for next year in my Lost Coconut journey.
Thank you to all of you who have sent me words of encouragement, have picked me up from the mess that I was – I thank God for you. And to my ex, Gus – I wish you all the best, we have had some great (and not-so-great) times, but I choose to remember the great ones. I hope that in time, you can too.
We are counting down to the last 2 months of 2014 and I have too much to write on this blog. My journal article submissions are piling up, my ethics application draft number 1001 (feels like it!) needs to be submitted asap, and my MMus review written report is looking pretty uggs at the moment but oh wait, my facebook page is on point!.
I have heaps to say and so little time to really say it in. So this is just a quick little post to say that I promise to kick my own ass into gear and drain your blogsfeeds with The Lost Coconut Happenings 2014.
Today’s post is purely my own thoughts on attending The Factory: A Pacific Musical on Sat 14th June 7pm, Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide. This is not the traditional type of review with the good/bad – it’s just the good stuff ’cause I says so.
“Top of the chain, top dog of our game because life is good, here life is free, my life started at the factory” (the cast of The Factory)
There is something to be said about going to the theatre to watch a Pacific-themed musical. More so, one that is written, directed, produced, delivered, performed and musically composed by Pacific talent. As a child of the people this musical is based on (Pacific Island migrants in NZ) – I struggle to find the words to describe the way I felt sitting in seat number 21 of row J: moved, honoured and touched comes close to it though.
Last year, when I wrote my thesis on music in the Samoan migrant communities of New Zealand during settlement period (1960-2000), I heard first-hand, the stories of how the Samoan people struggled to adapt to the western way of life. These struggles included the raising of NZ-born children who were caught in between the two cultures; and dealing with money and maintaining finances – something many of the migrants were not used to during their village-upbringing. Also, the immigration status of many Samoans were as ‘workers on a 3-month visa’ – a rule that was largely ignored by the government and then all of a sudden, enforced by the NZ Police once the New Zealanders started complaining about the place being too crowded and the migrants taking all the jobs (Google: Dawn Raids New Zealand 1970s). My parents left their homeland, Sāmoa, in the 1970s – both young and single and willing to work hard for their families back in the village. They managed to escape the harsh deportation of Pacific peoples who were caught during these raids.
All of these struggles were highlighted and honoured in The Factory. The main character – Losa – was the young woman who moved to New Zealand with her father with the sole purpose of working in the factory to send money home to the family in Sāmoa. She reminded me of my mother – who did the same thing as a young 21-year old, only she was alone. Losa’s father – Kavana – portrayed the brave, no-nonsense father. He reminded me of the Samoan leaders who, upon arrival into New Zealand, hit the ground running and forming church communities for their people to congregate and socialise, comforting each other in the new world they were in. Mose – the team leader at the factory and strong advocate for The Polynesian Panthers, a Pacific Island movement – reminded me of the children of the Pacific Island migrants who were able to reap the rewards of western education, using this to voice the Pacific Islanders’ fight against discrimination. With each character portrayal, I saw someone I knew in New Zealand and I was so touched that the directors of The Factory – Kila Kokonut Krew – made sure we did not forget these people who were courageous enough to withstand these struggles, allowing my generation to have a better future.
In terms of delivery and performance – I was so proud to be one of the 7 Samoans sitting in that 590-seat theatre in Adelaide – a city that has one of the lowest Pacific Island populations in Australia . I flew from Melbourne 3 hours prior, just to catch The Factory – it was worth the airfare, tickets, and the isolated feeling in that small city lol. I have never seen a Pacific Musical before, I’ve been part of Lotu Tamaiti (White Sunday) every year of my life but watching a fully-staged production such as The Factory is something else. The quality of vocal talent in the cast took me by surprise. Milly Grant – who plays Losa – is a woman of small stature yet she has such an incredible range so I was super impressed. Her style of singing reminded me of Samoan singer Lole Usoali’i – with the low vibrato tones. Furthermore, Miss Grant’s vocal humility scored major points in my book – I am a firm believer that just because you can reach THOSE notes, it doesn’t mean you need to overpower a song and the message behind it with constant ear-cracking….noise. The song ‘Samoana’ showcased her ability to move the audience – bringing those power vocals in at the right moment that even I could feel my parents’ struggles from where I was sitting.
There was a gospel-like number in the repertoire of songs: “Workin’ for the man”. It was here that we got to see the fabulous Rosita Vai-Gibbons show some of that sassy voice of hers -even with the few lines she had all to herself, she was able to make an impact on the audience. I felt the audience’ appreciation of her talent the second she sang solo. I should also mention the song that was sung by Losa’s father – Kavana, played by Aleni Tufuga. I can’t remember what the song is called, but it took place right at the beginning, when Losa and Kavana settled into New Zealand and he sang the song to encourage his daughter to be strong for their families back in Sāmoa, who needed their financial support. One of the best things I loved about this musical was that it showcases different types of singers. I could hear in Aleni’s voice that typical church-singing male voice, one that probably has not been trained in a conservatorium – BUT is powerful and moving enough that he is proof that natural talent isn’t always found at a theatrical or performing arts school. Special mention needs to go out the Chorus singers – the tone and colour of Pacific vocals ceases to amaze me everytime I hear it – this is one of the reasons why I loooove working with Pacific choirs. No other region of the world can produce singers who sound like us and I was so proud to see and hear the chorus singers on stage, I know that the Australian audiences wouldve picked up on this quality of singing straight away (if not, they are deaf lol).
I won’t go into too much detail with this review – my only goal here is to show my appreciation for people out there who are workig hard to put Pacific peoples on the map – the Performing Arts map, so to speak. And anyway, I already gave my feedback on vocal performance to the production’s composer, Mr Poulima Salima after the show – I don’t think I need to mention it here lol.
Personally, the major highlight for me, was to be able to show my children that being on stage as a Pacific actress/actor is POSSIBLE! I would love to see more people put together productions and shows that showcase Pacific talent! So if you happen to hear of anything like The Factory – buy a ticket! Go and see them, take your children along and stalk the cast after the show for pictures like how I did (see pic below) 🙂
So there it is, my Lost Coconut Review of The Factory: A Pacific Musical.