“DEATH BETTER THAN SHAME”
There is a saying in Samoan ‘E sili le oti i lo le ma’. Translated, it means “death is better than shame.”
Could this be why in 1994 a Samoan Government Report on the Apia Urban Youth Survey found 55 per cent of youths between 15 and 24 years questioned, considered suicide and suicide-related problems were the most serious health problems youth faced?
Why in 2005 Craig P. Kanalley reported in his paper Investigating Teenage Suicide on a Global Scale our island nation had a youth suicide rate of 30 per 100,000?
The past two decades has seen much research conducted on and in Samoa and many papers written about this topic in an attempt to answer this question.
Still it seems that not much has changed. Our youth are still taking their lives because they would rather die than bring shame to their family.
How did Samoa as a society let this happen? We are progressing forward in so many areas such as education and health – why do we still raise our young people, the future of our nation, to believe that death is better than shame?
Coordinator of Fa’ataua Le Ola, Papali’i Carol Ah Chong says there are a number of reasons today why youth feel there is no other option. She says that while these reasons may be separate – from relationship to financial troubles – the youth often feel that whatever the mistake it will bring shame to their family.
“The saying that death is better than shame was perhaps used once to discourage our youth from doing the wrong thing under our fa’a Samoa,” she says. “However, to me all it has done is pushed our youth away. Our youth are not only our future, but they are people and they will make mistakes.
As human beings we all do, it is how we learn.
“But when our youth make mistakes they are so scared of the consequences – from their parents, their Church community and society – that they feel the only option is to take what is most precious to them – their life.
“Why does the price have to be so high for a mistake? It is not right.”
She says to understand this Samoa as a society must look at the underlying causes that push our youth to even contemplating suicide.
A 1998 UNICEF Report State of the Pacific Youth found different forms of pressure the youth encounter include peer pressure, study, family pressure, religious and culture pressure.