Friday, October 2, 2009

Talofa Tonga

Talofa Means Aloha
in Samoa & Tonga-

Our hearts are with those isles
as many of our Honolulu neighbors wait to hear about family "back home."

The first military relief flights that reached Pago Pago today took off from right here at Honolulu's Hickam Air Force Base. A Significant portion of the crew are Americans of Samoan ethnicity on a double mission: to do their military duty, and to search for family.

In the 1990 census of the United States, over 55,000 Americans reported themselves to be of Samoan descent. Approximately 26,000 of the respondents resided in California, with another 15,000 in Hawaii, and 2,000 in Utah. But the influence of Samoan Americans has spread far beyond these limited regions.

The contributions made by Samoan Americans have been many and diverse; From courage and legendary valor in the US military during the Korean conflict and the Vietnam war (to today), to prowess on the athletic field that has brought much well earned recognition for Samoan Americans in college and professional football.

Samoan culture is sophisticated, exemplified by rhetorical skills, which are considerable. Samoan villages are complex in their structure, with different levels of matai, or chiefs.
(Yes, the drink was named for them)
Villagers are related in various complex ways
through common descent groups.

The involvement of small numbers of immigrant Samoan youth in gang activity has led some to dismiss all young Samoan Americans as hoodlums. But most Samoans and Tongans are people of deep faith, as the growing number of their churches attests. My own anxieties around illness and death have been lightened considerably by their attitude & example of deep gratitude and resignation in such matters. At the end, everyone gathers to join in wonderful (loud!) choral singing. Gospel music has a whole new voice!

Since most things & resources are shared by the entire family group, it is considered selfish to keep everything you earn for your own "nuclear" family. This can create psychological conflict for Islanders assimilating into western type cultures like the US and New Zealand.
They are very generous to their churches.

The Samoan islands were colonized between 500 and 800 B.C. by an oceanic people distinguished by their production of Lapita pottery—a unique pottery form named after one of the original sites of pottery shard discovery in Melanesia. Based on archaeological, botanical, and linguistic evidence, it seems almost certain that the ancestors of the Samoans originated in Indo-Malaysia, spent several centuries living along coastal areas of New Guinea, and then colonized Samoa and Tonga.

Over time the descendants of these original immigrants colonized other regions, including Tahiti and other areas of eastern Polynesia, the Marquesas, Hawaii, and New Zealand.

Western awareness of Samoa grew over time due to its proximity to southern whaling grounds and the unparalleled harbor of Pago Pago. In 1857 a German firm greatly expanded the copra trade, establishing a regional center in Samoa. This led to the establishment of a German consulate in 1861. This increased interest in Samoa created significant tensions between the colonial powers. Samoa was finally partitioned between the east (Eastern Samoa) and the west (German Samoa) during the 1880s.

American Samoa was eventually ceded by the chiefs of Tutuila and Manu'a to the United States and administered by the Department of the Navy as a U.S. territory. The region was largely forgotten until the 1960s, under President John F. Kennedy who had served in the South Pacific during WWII. During the 1960s and 1970s construction on American Samoa increased dramatically. Elections now determine the territorial governor, a position previously filled by appointment from Washington, D.C.
Tuna canning has been a major employer.

Western Samoa changed hands from German ownership to New Zealand administration during the First World War after a bloodless invasion.

Jacob Roggeveen, the first European to discover Samoa, happened upon the islands in 1722 during his ill-fated voyage from the Netherlands to New Ireland.

Today's Honolulu mayor is Mufi Hanneman, a Harvard educated song bird of Samoan ethnicity. (Get call waiting when you phone the City, and you will hear him singing!)
The mayor's brother, Gus, called a meeting of Samoan comunity leaders to Honolulu Hale (City Hall) yesterday in order to organize prayer and relief efforts. I was once at a smallish event where Da Mayor spoke with evident feeling about seeing the names of his chiefly family members on the historic treaties kept in Harvard's library collection.

Let's face it, growing up in America in the 50s, 60's & 70s one never saw an Asian, person of color, or even overtly ethnic person unless it was part of the plot or setting. The US was called a "melting pot" - which meant "Everyone try to pass as culturally English/American."

But living in Hawaii gives us the opportunity to interact with others with a certain Esprit Des Isles that gets us past stereotyping (well, except for island humour that teases us all, from the talkative Portugee, to the Filipino who can't be an HPD detective because he cannot wear plain clothes, to the "thrifty" Chinese, to the clueless Haole in the ugly Aloha shirt).

One of the heroes of my little novel, Aloha Where You Like Go? was Fia the taxi yard boss. That character is based on a man who was a very kind mentor to a certain clueless young haole wahine , and who taught ME da Honolulu taxi business many years ago when I needed the job. When a dignified Tongan boss tell your husband that you are "one hard worker" well, that remark (from HIM) meant as much to me as my college degree. Maybe I'm even prouder of it.

So Talofa Tonga, Samoa, and Indonesia today as you struggle with the instant emergency of earthquake and tsunami. I know that you are resilient folks with great heart - and hearts very dear to God.

And thanks to each of
who stopped by today.
Warm ALOHA/Talofa cloudia