Tears, Elegi & Love

Yesterday, his Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, Head of State of Samoa spoke at the Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii.

I got a call to come help set up, so off I went two hours prior, decked out in my puletasi and sei, dragging siapos across the floor and making bouquets that I couldn't help but think that anyone in Samoa would be ashamed to have on display at a head of state's address (ma'imau aga i gei Dolly). He arrived. He spoke to a room full of academics, invited guests and students. His talk was on "Samoan Jurisprudence and Samoan Lands and Titles Court" - a topic that from the outset, he claimed to know little about. But he spoke from his perspective as a Samoan who lives his culture and loves his land. He spoke of acknowledging and building on the indigenous reference. Too often, he said, the assumption is that we must use the western perspective and frame of mind to inform our own. He urged that perhaps we must rephrase the question and first locate our own indigenous reference, our own perspectives. That in our own "tofa saili" or search for wisdom, we must recognise the legitimacy of our own "faasinomaga" our identity and designation. He spoke with a crisp British/ Samoan accent and a lively tone as animated his speech with anecdotes of his life experience. We all laughed, we all listened, and truly, we were all impressed.

I'd never seen him speak before but his title alone, commanded a lot of respect from me. By that I mean, he's the head of state so he could have talked about bubble gum stuck under his chair and I probably still would have given him a standing ovation. But I was really quite blown away with his talk. He was so articulate, so informed yet so humble, so charming and so mamalu. As a Samoan, you really could not help but feel your heart swell with pride. Ua ka mimika lava i le ga kaimi.

So I was happy and bubbling with pride afterwards. I helped to clean up, folding up the metres and metres of siapo and ie toga and throwing away the unworthy bouquets and proceeded to mix with the crowd outside with big proud smile. I talked with a few of the Samoan ladies that were disappointed that the traditional samoan protocols weren't observed. "Se laga o kukuila" ... "Ua ka ma lava," were among the comments. No doubt, if you're Samoan you know the intensity of commentry when we don't get our way. I smiled and shared in the thought with another Samoan later - that Samoans can be so hateful but you can't help but admire that the fact that we can't show our proper respects invokes such a fiery reaction.

We were told his highness wanted to meet students so if we wanted to meet him, now was our chance. I thought, well, why not. So I was last in line and I sat in my seat trying to sit up straight and think of something polite and appropriate to say. The girls that went before me chattered on with him and I thought, oh lord, please don't let me make a fool of myself. Finally, my turn came, I stood up and greeted him. "Talofa lau afioga, o au o Filifotu.. " He smiled and asked me about my parents and what I was studying. And then, he spoke about my grandfather. I didn't see it coming but in that moment, I just started crying. He looked (understandably) quite alarmed (is this chick breaking down in front of me? lol) and then he smiled and spoke softly to me as he tried to make me feel at ease. Holding on to what shreds for dignity I had left I tried to keep the conversation going talking about school, where I grew up, my parents - lord knows what I was going on about. He nodded and smiled attentively, a look of grave concern on his face and tears streamed down my cheeks as I harped on. Secret service nodded that it was time to leave so I murmurred goodbye and shuffled to the back of the room to try and compose myself (get it together woman!) As he was leaving he came up to me in the back of the room and he kissed me on the cheek again and smiled.

It was all kind of sweet, in a morbidly embarrassing kind of way. More embarrassing than sweet but it was certainly memorable.

Later on in the evening I was lucky enough to attend the official dinner for his highness. I kind of expected a big old banquet but it turned out to be a cozy little 6 course dinner for twenty all around one table! Seriously I was kind of freaked out - not only was I sitting next to Deans and Senators, it was one of those dinners where there's more cutlery around your plate than food on your plate. I was comforted by the security dudes from home sitting across from me who looked equally puzzled as we navigated our way through the meal trying to guess whether it was fish or chicken we were eating. "Ese fo'i le falaiga o le elegi a le aiga lea" one of them quipped as he clearly noticed the guessing look on my face as I slowly chewed on my 3rd course of something or rather. I met some interesting people - one of whom exclaimed "oh you're the one that cried!" as if the fame was any consolation to my embarrassment. At the end of the night as his highness thanked his guests. He said (and I'm paraphrasing here) - The greatest tragedy in life would be that there is no mourning when we are gone. Let us restore meaning to our dialogue. We need to find love, peace and justice in our governments, in our families, in ourselves. Let us love one another, not just say it, but mean it, and truly mourn each other when we are gone.

No, I didn't cry again. :P

Now if you read this blog and if you know me at all than you'll probably know that I talk a lot of shit, that I'm melodramatic about life, cynical about the world and that there's not too much that I take seriously in life beyond relying on myself to get where I want to go. That's not to discount my faith in God, in family and in friendships - but I think it's pretty well entrenched in me that ultimately I am responsible for my own happiness. Yesterday was special because there are few other moments in my life that I can truly say I feel like there is something greater than myself working in my favour.

I can't really explain why the waterworks burst like they did yesterday except to say that on top of being so inspired, his highness reminded me of my grandfather. Not so much of who he was, but of who he was to me. Someone who saw so much in me and made me feel so loved and so proud of who I am.


Lotopa said…
I was kind of wondering what kind of Head of State he would be. Sounds like we've got another good one then.
Anonymous said…
Oh man.. had to stop my own liddle waterworks readin that! :( ..lol.. nice piece fotu.. love from welly :)
dasifi said…
Loved this piece Fotu & ur grandpa was a great Samoan. A savvy business man & an astute politician but I believe his greatest legacy are his children his family grandchildren who have continued to do his name proudby being the best in their respective fields. You my dear showed ur grandpa the greatest respect by shedding tears long after he has passed from this world ackowledging that to you people are more than titles they are a part of your life & have a place in ur heart.
As for our new Head of State think I would be mighty proud of his speech too.
Take care darls.
Alofa atu
Omega & Alex said…
A beautifully written account of your encounter with The Man of the moment and no, you were not being melodramatic I think His Highness oozes charisma and has the 'mana' that our chosen leaders have. And you have every right to be emotional and bursting with pride in the presence of such a humble inspiring man.
Anonymous said…
hey i love reading your blog! one samoan to another...this entry bought tears to mine eyes...

let us love one another, not just say it, but mean it, and truly moun each other when we are gone!

AMEN to that...
Fotu said…
Thanks for the comments everyone :)

Tupe - My grandpa was just my grandpa to me but thanks for that. I miss him. :)

Mega - He really is the epitome of charisma. Ua ka lost in emotion lava. Hahaha.

Hope all is well with all.
reesa said…
Hey girl...reading this reminds me of similar moments i've experienced. The first thing you want to do is share it. You have not only shared it with us through this blog, but have done so exceptionally well with such strong feelings coming through your wrods. You seriously should have people pay to read what you write darl. You do it so well.

Anonymous said…
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Fotu said…
Hi Reesa - Thanks for your comments girl. I appareciate your appreciation :) As for getting ppl to pay... why don't you just cut me a cheque. Hahaha. Just kidding love.

Hope you're well
reesa said…
I knew I was gonna get minced with that comment but hey, to read your stuff, id gladly pay but you know you wouldnt be so cruel to a fellow diva...lol.
Fotu said…
Hahaha. I wouldn't. ;)