Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sticks and Stones may hurt, but words leave irreparable wounds

Lalomalava is like any other Samoan village.

Everyone knows what everyone is doing, going to do and did last week, last year, last decade.

Stories are told, retold, changed and eventually made legends. Elders speak in soft tones and lament of yesteryear when the influenza epidemic killed our people. The ‘death sickness’ that wiped out lives in many villages, leaving a community to mourn, while the dead are indignantly heaved unto government trucks, wrapped in aging fine mats and tossed into mass graves of sorrow and despair.

Our elders whose eyes glimmer with hope as they sing of our proud traditions. Our proud people. Our proud measina. Our proud triumphs from years of slavery, suffering and violence.

Wounds are revealed, pain is shared, victories proudly announced, and violence is uttered in a language of hatred, fear, disgust, threats and childhood circles.

My childhood was no different.

When you have a weakness, by nature or nurture, you are constantly reminded of these deficiencies.

Kokive has polio and everyone calls him ‘cripple’, pipili. He could not care less, he would just whack you with his walking cane as hard as he could. His use of vulgar terms made him the receiving end of many beatings from the thin edges of the coconut fibre broomstick.

Palama, a hard working young man, has problems hearing so everyone ridiculed and called him a stinking deaf 'faipepe.'

Moe has big lips and cannot shut his mouth for too long, thus he is called 'guku faamaga, guku elo' meaning gaping mouth and stank breath.

We taunt him as we run as fast as our little legs can carry us, for a rain of stones is guaranteed to follow.

Fialupe is always caught and fined by the village fono for peeping at women bathing at the village pool, thus his title Ku Paipa. Ku Paipa literally meaning standing near the tap (water pipes), or Ku Kekee, standing on tip toes. Sao being epileptic earned him the name 'maikeke ululeaga' transliterated ‘shaking nutcase.’

Tala is teased for being Vae sasape, screwed up legs. Petesa for being ai lalafa, because her skin is marred with spots and rash.

I did not escape this name calling. I was ridiculed for having skinny legs, likening me to the tuli shorebird with its stick-like legs. Whenever I fought with my cousin over the rocking horse, she would yell at me, “You skinny vae tuli!”. Meanwhile, I would keep on pulling her hair screaming “Diana Popo Masa!”. Popo Masa being the ideal rhyme to describe a rotting coconut that we discard to the pigs.

Fifteen years on, I ponder, are we crippled by our discourse of negativity?

Despite these snide jibes, Palama went on to become an excellent fisherman, Petesa married well and is now a respected wife of a village pastor. Koki featured on television for his polio complications and was presented numerous gifts from donor organizations. He has since become the popular dude that you 'had to’ hang out with. Tala was given the chiefly title of his family. Diana moved to Seattle, graduated and looks every inch the Samoan beauty, far from being Popo Masa.

Unfortunately, Fialupe continues peeping as unsuspecting women bathe at sunset. Moe still can not keep his mouth shut, and has also now taken up the art of ku paipa with Fialupe. Sao was found floating at the village pool one Sunday morning, having had an epileptic seizure while swimming alone.

As for the demeaning labels?

They never go away. Whenever we see Koki on the Health Ministry television advertisement, we say in an affectionate manner, ‘We are so proud of our pipili (cripple)!’. Whenever Palama returns with a boat full of fish, his mother cries with pride, ‘my beloved faipe (deaf boy) is such a blessing!’

And when Petesa visited the village with her beautiful children and well-off husband, the old ladies weaving their mats with heads bowed would mutter, ‘Petesa has come a long way from being a colourful collection of spots and all rashes on earth.”

I still have to wonder whether some of us have become victims of our own close-knit societies. Can we move forward with a clean slate, start afresh and erase the faults we are born with?

I wonder if we could have saved our loved ones from taking their own lives if we had called them beautiful things?


dasifi said...

It's a tough one aye.. Some psychiatrists claim that if we flatter children they will grow up to be big headed and may think they are all that, but negative reinforcement has done more harm that good. I guess we have to strike the middle ground... "ease up on the harsh words and give credit where it is due."
I don't know if its an island thing or what this name calling/labelling behavior but I know that though usually said in jest there are some people whose lives have been seriously affected coz they just couldn't shake off or get over the hurt caused by such ridicule.
There are those who have amazing tolerance levels.. others simply outgrow it but for some it remains a source of pain that though leaves no physical scars still hurt deep inside.

I've been called a couple of non flattering names by my own blood relations fortunately they just wash over me like raindrops off a ducks back but ur right...aches n pains from a beating will eventually go away but wounds from words takes ages to heal from if ever.

PS:Though I wish Fialupe would take up another interest I can not help but wonder would've a kind word his way prevented him from becoming a permanent bathroom fixture in people's homes.

fotu of samoa said...

Magaia le post Jody!

Your opening sentence "Lalomalava is like any other Samoan village." could not be more true because your description of the personalities in your upbringing at Lalomalava resonates so much with my own upbringing at Vaisala.

As you described, name calling is very much an accepted part of growing up. I have always had mixed feelings about the question you pose "I wonder if we could have saved our loved ones from taking their own lives if we had called them beautiful things?"

Palagi Peace Corps, TV and a Western education have told us that the answer is probably yes. Although it's sad, it would be foolish to deny that it is a real possibility that practices that are encouraged by our community (for whatever reason) are contributing to the sadly high suicide rates of our young people.

But a deeper part of me appreciates my own upbringing with all its salulima hidings and vulgar name calling. And it might be argued that the issue is in the home rather than in society/ culture. How much love an impressionable child receives from family and parents goes a long way in instilling strong values and healthy self esteem.

I guess it comes down to the answer to many questions: Some do, Some don't. Yes and No.

Se Ka'ilo se. hehe.

Very interesting discussion though.

Lava ia essay ae se'i fai gi galuega. haha.



salty said...

I still enjoy your blog... I am adding a link to it at my site!

reesa said...

Hey Girl, excellent writing. Love your style. When did you get back? John said he saw you on the boat. Sorry to hear about your Grandma. She's in a better place now, a ea? Well keep the updates coming. Sei faaaoga aku ai le kaimi..hehehe.

tel said...

Words can definitely go a long way in determining someone's journey in life. They will either take it on board and use it to drive them to better themselves and prove they are more than "pipili" "Ailalafa" or "masa popo". But the reality is, too many of our youth is wasted because that is all they know.
Eh, kai sad lou topic for the day, but I guess we all need a reality check with our attitude towards life and the way we treat one another.
So, what do you reckon? Escape pe leai?
Maybe, maybe not.

salty said...

just noticed you added me... thanks! I'll have to make sure I do a good job now instead of the half-assed one I've been up to :)

Shark Girl said...

Is that Moe as in MOE?


Goddess of Savaii said...

yeah...Moe guku faamaka that used to do the saka at home...heheh...he got the boot though..

supasta said...

hey i read this on TIG..
u on dea too?? mannnnnnnnnn...u
yea look whos talkin huh?
wat happens wen we have too much damn time on our hands (or we jst ignoring the work we suppose to do and blog all day?..)

Shark Girl said...

lol...yeah I thought for a second that he was cute. FOR A SECOND. Haha. So I guess it's one less bandplayer for Satuu's faili.

Goddess of Savaii said...

yes, thats me on tig, same berson, different site, still no lyfe...heheh

if you thought moe was cute, i'm disgusted with you...he was such a ku paipa man...every tay, all ta time!

Goddess of Savaii said...

wow, i just read you guys comments up top,...thanks!!!
yes, im sure you guys know what im talkin' about...and im sure you all got smacked with a jandal at age 5 and all ran around in your chan mow panties hahaha....aua laia le deny iga le true story hahaha....
aurevior mademoiselles...