“No man is an island” penned by the English Poet John Donne, explores the ideas of connectedness between people. If you are Samoan, ‘isolation’ cannot co-exist with ‘Aiga’ / family. Just think of a Samoan funeral or a wedding and how that ensues a family reunion! A death in the family does not just affect a change in an individual, Samoans will set up the big marquees in their back yards, come together from near and far, don the ie lavalava and do feaus (chores), sing songs, crack jokes until dawn and camp out in the marquees for days! We know that together, we can deal with the important family transitions and support each other to celebrate, heal and navigate change.
A wedding? If you are marrying a Samoan, you’ll know the struggle is real when culling that invitation list. Then you have to find a caterer who has the right meat to salad ratio, which can quickly escalate into #ICan’tDeal if your Samoan mum is overseeing the menu. Note to self, always make sure there is plenty of pork! But we shall save that for another blog…
What about the organised and structured family reunions? The popularity of this ritual in the USA is reflected in the incredible amount of literature such as books, cook books and even children’s books on the topic of planning African-American family reunions. Perhaps you have seen Tyler Perry’s movie “Madea’s Family Reunion” movie which grossed $63.2 million at the box office? Madea is a pistol-packing grandma who has to plan her family reunion and contend with the other dramas on her plate such as the runaway foster child placed in her care and her love-troubled nieces. The beautiful Dr Maya Angelou makes a special appearance in this film too.
With families being dispersed all over the world, family reunions serve as a mechanism for maintaining strong family connections. My uncle Sauoleola Vaega Inu is like Walt Disney to me. He always has the big picture in mind, dreams big and is always committed to excellence. Our ritual: A lotu (religious devotion), then in between mouthfuls of Aunty Ligo’s famous fried chicken and exquisite custard pie, I’d have to try multi-task and listen to Uncle Sau’s sermons. His teachings are simple: “Our aiga/ family grounds us with a strong identity and sense of place, our faith gives us purpose and remember Daisy, Families are Forever!”
Our first Inu reunion was in January 2015, in the Gold Coast, our family hailed from all over NZ, Australia, Samoa and the USA for this inaugural event. It was so superbly organised we can’t wait for the second Inu reunion in Auckland next week!
Uncle Sau passed away in 2013, even though he wasn’t able to physically be there, I do believe it is us who are now seeing and enjoying what he already envisioned. He knew that a family reunion could be the complex arena in which our past adversities could be explored and ultimately be transcended!
What does it mean to be Samoan? My New Zealand born cousins and I can speak and understand Samoan, but truth be told, our children are increasingly becoming monolingual, although they do understand us when we tell them off in Samoan. (That Samoan look with the pursed lip and the “fa’atalitali nei oe pe a o’o ile fale” line works a treat when our kids play up in public). Family reunions provide a space where we can experience, reflect and learn about our cultural preferences and practices.
O le Sauniga o le ‘ava o se tasi o tū ma aga fa’amatai tāua a Sāmoa. O se sauniga aloa’ia – e fa’asoa le ‘ava e fa’ailoga ai la’asaga tāua i Sāmoa. At the Gold Coast reunion, we opened the occasion with a traditional Ava ceremony.
The Inu Uncles and cousins in my generation who were bestowed with tulafale (chiefly) titles had to learn a lauga (oration) for this Samoan tradition. Our patriarch Uncle Vaito’a guided us through Ava Ceremony process. Through this experiential learning, I can clearly remember the pride I felt in learning the proverbs, concepts and dense natural imagery in the special, chiefly Samoan language. My usually quiet uncles Malo and Filiga Inu stole the show with their eloquence and delivery.
Our stories also help us celebrate what it means to be Samoan. Take for example my friend’s mum who at their reunion started her speech with the line, “We are one family, one heart, one blood, one pones (bones)” Or yesterday at Spencer Park, my husband’s aunty said a speech at the family gathering that ended with, “Our family coming together today, it’s about family, the unity and the gravity…” These nonsensical, broken English sentences are what we Samoans call ‘fresh’, not only does it cause pales of laughter but our reflections cement these memories of love, family and our funny Samoan sense of humour. These cultural elements of reunion:traditional ceremonies, dance, storytelling and reflections help maintain and preserve what it means to be Samoan.
You always have that one Aunty or Cousin who is really competitive at a Family Reunion. Meet my Aunty Feagai Inu, don’t let her pretty smile fool you, she is a Beast! Her high confidence, sense of justice and corporate finance background meant that Ron, pictured here and his host team had their judging work cut out for them!
Her tenacious desire to win meant our #TeamBlack functioned at optimal capacity during the Indoor Sports, Samoan Sports, Beach Sports, Haka challenge, Trivia Night and the Amazing Race events, most of which I am sure Ron must have missed as we did not win the Reunion trophy. That is ok though, we will take Aunty Feagai’s “Go hard or go home” mentality into next week’s challenges!
Reunions last anywhere from 2-7 days and are highly organised affairs. It comes complete with T-shirts, talent shows, sporting events, cultural events, storytelling and family tree research, religious devotions and award ceremonies.
The structural characteristics of family reunions can facilitate the transmission of social and human capital in that the assets amongst family members can be developed.
Our family reunion activates the potential for the sharing of resources amongst our family: the orators, body builders, teachers, DJs, musicians, singers, artists, accountants and administrators come together and offer their time and skills throughout the event to make it possible.
A family reunion is about connection and strengthening those ties to kin: the great food, company, the humour and these stories construct important memories for us, which we remember and pass on.
I recently read an article about the Lee family, who on their 3rd reunion, decided they would do something drastically different and devote their reunion to helping out the Samoa Cancer society. What an inspiration! They have extended beyond the immediate pleasure of the social interaction and explored the potential of being a system of support for other community practices.
I would love to hear about your family reunion experience and leave you with the words the Matriarch Myrtle says in the movie, Madea’s family reunion:
“Family reunions are about uniting the family, bringing together the young and old. Singing and dancing and thanking God, giving him the glory. Thanking him for getting us over…Take your place. Now. Starting now. Starting now. Young black women, you are more than your thighs and your hips. You are beautiful, strong, powerful. I want more from you. Take your place. I want every single one of you, young man, young woman, turn to the next person standing alongside of you. Grab them and hug them and tell them that you love ’em. Tell them, ‘If you need anything, come to me.’ ‘If you need somebody to talk to, come to me.’ ‘I’ll give you the shoulder, I’ll give you the hug. I’ll feed you, I’ll clothe you if you need it. That’s how you start from this moment. When you leave this reunion today, you take that with you.”
Till next time, xoxo