Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What you didn't know about Albert Wendt.

Not long ago, I talked about how sometimes we read books and want to ask the author questions, right?

But the problem is that the book we were reading was borrowed from Nelson Library, and it is frayed, dusty and the cover is missing. OR, the inside pages are scribbled with "I love you Paimalafa, my pody grow with yams when I looking into your eyes" But more so, almost all of the time, the author is a someone from England or Canada or somewhere you have not heard of.

But there was an exception, our mother gave us Leaves of the Banyan Tree to read. I hated it at the time, because my teenage brain was geared more towards SweetValley High and ahem, other  shallow things. Pugi.

Later on, I had to go back to Leaves and many of this author's work because I was doing Anthropology and Pacific papers in uni, and I finally came to appreciate and understand what Albert Wendt was on about.

The thing is, I needed to get away in order to understand and appreciate it. Because I was living in his story the first time I read it.
Reading it from afar gave me clarity and made me question what I knew and everything about Samoa, about Samoan men, about culture, about greed, about Samoa.

But even more meaningful to me, was that this book was written so ...hmmm, what's the word, so much that I could smell the umu on the Sunday morning, and see that beat up truck in my head, I could feel the warmth of Pepe's strong chest (even though I was a virgin, ea?).
It also felt awkward at times because the things that the male characters were doing and thinking were 'tapu' to my virginal mind. At times, I had to stop and exclaim "OMG, Mom is letting me read this? whoohooo!"
So my message is, if you see the critic in my blog sometimes, its not me speaking, blame the writers that have influenced me.

And on that note, I (and with the help of my facebook family) had the opportunity to ask the man himself, some questions.
But, not academic, literary questions, rest assured (exhale now)'s the questions you too would have asked without thinking....over a cup of koko samoa and pagikeke lapokopoko.
Better yet, the answers he gave made pagikeke taste like cream will be suprised to see below, that there's even more to the man than you think.
The first question was offered by my cousin Mele Mauala, so thank you Mele for the question (:

Fesili muamua: Why were you such a tough rugby coach?

I love this question. You one of the few interviewers who has ever asked me about my passion for rugby and the time I was a rugby coach and selector. Wonderful! Because people believe I’m a writer and academic I don’t like sports! And for years I tried to cultivate that image too. But I eventually couldn’t deny my passion for sports and rugby. Through the practice of writing and painting, I’ve learned how to be disciplined and committed. I’ve applied that to sport.

I played rugby for many years in high-school and then at the Athletics Club in Wellington and then on my return to Samoa in 1963 played for Apia and was later a selector for the Samoa National Team.

When I was at Samoa College I coached schoolboys’ rugby and the First Fifteen and then the Samoa College Old Pupils Senior Rugby Team. I absolutely loved doing it. People who know me well know I tend to be obsessive about the things I love. I want to be the best at those! And I hate losing! So I just work and work at those. Practice and practice and practice. I also loved teaching young people, inspiring them to be the best, to realise their full potential at whatever they’re passionate about. I learned early that if you want to get the full potential out of individual players you have to get the full potential out of the whole team. And vice versa – does that make sense? I also learned from my students that they’re good at sports because they’re bright intellectually. And at Samoa College we had the brightest students from all round Samoa. Top sports people, I have found to be also very bright.

By committing myself wholly to the team and rugby I inspired my players to do the same. Once you’ve got that, they’ll do the rest. I knew each player well – their strengths and weaknesses, and used those to develop a team that would be courageous and thinking and daring and committed. It was wonderful to watch a game and see your team/match plan working out on the field! I can read a game quite well even today!

It is probably true I was a tough coach. I didn’t hesitate leaving out players who were not putting their best into the game. But Samoa College and my players were and still are proud that we dominated First Fifteen and Senior Rugby in Samoa for at least four years.

Footnote: Though I still love the game, I’ve always believed it is only a game! There are more important things in life!

Fesili Numera Lua:  When I read Ola, I saw myself in her, obviously the part where she is intelligent and amazing etc (:,...was she inspired by a real woman, women you have met,,...or were you just making it up as you went)

Ola was inspired by the life of my grandmother Mele Tuaopepe-Trood. She was a remarkable person who was bilingual and an authority on our way of life, history and oral stories and traditions. She wasn’t a business or overseas educated person like Ola. But I gave Ola her personality and ways of behaving etc. Mele inspired me to tell my own stories and be who I wanted to be. I also let Ola develop in the novel the ways she wanted to! Ola is also a lot of me. I give her a lot of my experiences and travels.
Today if you look at the people running our departments and organisations in Samoa most of them are women and most of them have better university qualifications than the men! It’s a pity this is not reflected in our Parliament where there are only two women MPs! Ola preceeded this marvellous generation of Samoan women. If you look at NZ universities, there are more Pasefika women than men, especially in the graduate programmes!
See what I mean??? Isn't he amazing?

Fesili Numera Tolu: What questions are you SICK of answering?

Questions about the biographical facts of my life and the bibliographical details of what I’ve written. Why? Because the interviewers should know that before they come to interview me. If they don’t know those they can get them off Google! Also asking me to tell them the contents of my book they’re interviewing me about. They should read the bloody book before they interview me!
Thank you Albert Wendt for gracing my blog with your presence, manuia le aso.
You can buy the book Leaves of the Banyan Tree by clicking on this link. or it should be in MOST libraries in NZ.
Or "Like" Albert Wendt on Facebook for updates on his recent works.
Check out more fascinating answers from Albert Wendt coming up tomorrow (:

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