This whole uproar about cultural identity and the cashing in of outside brands on our cultural artifacts just makes me roll my eyes. As both a proud Samoan and a marketing professional, I have to say, this whole notion that palagis are trying to make money off our culture and should be crucified in the press? To me it reeks gently of tall poppy syndrome, which ironically, is about as authentically Samoan as it gets. The economics of the matter don’t come into play unless of course, they are in our favor.
Selling culture, it’s a delicate matter yes, but I don’t believe our patterns and culture are intended to be locked in a box for only Samoans to profit from. And I say profit from because that’s really the only issue here, is that someone other than we are profiting from this. You know it would be ok if those clothes were on Mena or Eveni shelves. Anyways, I digress.
I’m not going to rehash (anymore) the whole Nike kerfuffle, other than to add, they should have spent the money on a cultural adviser. It might have spared them the PR nightmare. But it has got me thinking about Samoan brands, or brands in business that are carving a niche for themselves as a brand from Samoa, and doing it well. Below are a few Samoan brands actively selling Samoa, in their own way that I for one appreciate.
Tanoa Samoa Apparel
Samoan Brands selling Samoa? My favorite has to be TanoaSamoa . Apparel brand that comes out of American Samoa, they sell online and have recently opened up shop in Samoa. They also sell jewelry, handicrafts and shoes but their apparel line is what I’m most impressed with. Some of their designs are produced in collaboration with local artists, which is nice I think, giving a platform for local artists to showcase themselves other than empty art shows. They have a huge range of consistently changing styles in a nice range of applications (Aloha shirts, casual t-shirts, hoodies, kids clothes) that I think is appealing to Samoan markets not just locally but abroad. Their stuff is also very good quality, and reasonably priced and constantly being updated and adapting with market conditions. I am a fan of these guys, not because they are smart Samoan business people creating good Samoan product, but because they are smart business people, period. More people would “profit” by learning from them.
Samoan Film – Heart to Heart/ Fatu o le Alofa
I watched “Heart to heart/ Fatu o le alofa” in the weekend. Made by Navigator Island Pictures, it claims to be the first feature film made in American Samoa made by American Samoa young Director Zena Iese featuring an all local cast. It is an ambitious film, and even though it showed a few flashes of brilliance, I thought the plot was a little confusing at times, and then it just ended abruptly, like, premature abruptly, like “oops we ran out of budget” abruptly. Some of the acting was a bit amateur (not hating, just saying) but that crying closing scene by young American Samoan actress, Sissy Christine Unutoa honestly had me in tears.
I really enjoyed the camera work (because you know I’m a filmmaker) there were shots throughout the film, like the sped up driving shots along the coastal road, and the scene at the Leone open-air Post office, and at the bus stop that perfectly captured the simple beauty of Samoa. And then in contrast, there were parts of the story, like siblings fighting over land and money, and the generous use of violent verbal abuse in jest (and in seriousness) that nicely convey the complexity of Samoans and life in Samoa. I felt the film left a lot to be desired but I must commend the makers for embarking on what was no doubt a hugely challenging project to create something true to Samoa, which I think they succeeded in doing.
Telesa Book 3: The Bone Bearer
This weekend I also read the third book in the TelesaSeries, The Bone Bearer. I found the first two chapters the hardest to read, and then I met Akamai, and I couldn’t put it down until I finished it.
The story was definitely action packed with more twists than a Miss Samoa Pageant sarong category, and it moved at a surprisingly quick pace which was unexpected but a welcome surprise. I enjoyed that the story shifted from the sickening love story between Leila and Daniel to the tormented tale of Pele. Not that I’ve got anything against undying love, but I can only take so many passages about staring deeply into each others souls before I start rolling my eyes. Don’t get me wrong, Daniel seems like an upstanding guy and all but the scarred less talk more action style of Keahi is more my cup of tea. I am conflicted in my admiration for Leila – while she seems strong and smart on the one hand, I find myself getting annoyed when I am in her mind while she is overthinking things and being a bit of a martyr. I suppose heroines are supposed to be annoyingly perfect, but the darkness and humor of some of the new characters (enter Pele & Talei) added a lightness and depth to this book that I particularly enjoyed. I think it’s a true testament to the talent of the author in bringing out the emotions so vividly in her characters, that she drew from me very real reactions and emotions towards them.
My favorite thing about all three books is the author’s descriptive setting of the scenes. The detail with which she describes Samoa her weather, her environment, her lava fields, her ocean is intoxicatingly evocative. The imagery is so strong for me that I feel as though I am there, in every scene, sensing, feeling, fearing, fighting, learning, and laughing alongside these characters.
These three examples are examples of Samoa for Sale. Good for them, I say.