Op-Ed: American Samoa- Land of the Potholes: “O Lafulafu a Tama Seugogo”

The Pothole Road that runs through American Samoa, literally and figuratively, can lead to a desirable destination for the people of American Samoa; if and only if we elect and select our next class of leaders wisely. If not, for the next four years at least, 99% of us are screwed… once more.

The story about La’auli comes to mind.

The young man La’auli and his brother Fuaoleto’elau venture out to the greater Falealili area to test their manhood — Lafaito’elau to court Gauifaleai, the daughter of Falealili’s high chief Tuisamoa, and Laauli to the forest to try his hand at the chiefly sport of bird snaring (“seu gogo” or “seu lupe”).

To be as effective a bird netter as can be, La’auli camouflages his appearance by painting his face and body with dirt and disheveling his hair.

Gauifaleai, the subject of Fuaoleto’elau’s courting fancy, went with her sister Totogata and school of maids to bathe in a stream in the forest when they happened upon La’auli, who was hiding in the bush try to snare his first bird. Thinking the worse of La’auli, as a peeping Tom, Gauifaleai chastised and mocked him — “Ta inoino i lou mea mataaitu, ua tatou ona fasioti oe; va’ai i lou ulu ve’uve’ua, valavala, e le selua” (You should be killed for committing such a shameful act; look at your hair, all shaggy).

Startled at first, Laauli gathered his wits and replied, “E valavala ae tu manu” (the fruits of a young bunch of bananas are not well ordered like those of the mature bunch). “Va’ai i lou tino palapala ma le mafugafuga, ma ou foliga lefulefua” (look at you — so dirty and ugly), Gauifaleai said again. La’auli countered: “E lafulafu tama seu gogo” (It’s the dirt of the youth catching sea birds).

Being the daughter of a high chief, Gauifaleai detected the chiefly language of allegory and metaphor spoken by La’auli, and the sport of bird snaring is exclusively performed by ranking chiefs or their descendants. Her suspicion that La’auli was of high chiefly status proved correct when the dirty youth dipped into the stream and came out a very handsome prince.

Long story short, while Fuaoleto’elau and his entourage patiently awaited the return from bathing of Gauifaleai and her maids at high chief Tuisamoa’s guest house, La’auli and the two sisters eloped via the mountain of Olo. 

The villagers, returning from their plantations on Mt. Olo, teasingly queried Fuaoleto’elau what he and his men were doing in the village, when La’auli and the two girls had left Falealili through Mt. Olo. Fuaoleto’elau, realizing his bird snaring brother had netted not only his prized princess but the sister to boot, in concession replied, “E le afaina —lau o le fiso, lau o le tolo; e ala tasi le mauga i Olo. O Laauli, o a’u lena” (Not to worry, all is fine – the fiso leaf and the tolo leaf are but two varieties of the sugarcane species; and there’s one way through Mt. Olo. Laauli’s blessings are mine just the same). La’auli went on to become a prominent holder of the revered Malietoa title.

Fast forward to the 20th century, a local high school on the west side had its graduation bachelorette service at the village CCAS church. The graduating class decided on the Catholic priest of the village, a non-Samoan of novelty and intrigue in the community at the time, to lead the service. 

In his remarks to introduce his Catholic counterpart, the prominent senior minister of the host CCAS church in jest, and in Samoan, decried being overlooked and referred to the chosen one’s appearance as “lafulafu” (not easy to the eyes). That brought sparse and nervous laughter to the graduating class, faculty, parents, and congregation — for many knew the guest priest was an avid and proficient student of the Samoan language and culture; the CCAS minister obviously didn’t, or so it seemed.

Calmly the Catholic priest approached the podium, with a smile shook his presenter’s hand; made the traditional acknowledgments in accordance to Samoan protocol, then brought the house down when he replied: ”E moni lava le Toeaina; ae paga lea, o lafulafu a tama seu gogo!” (Yes, I may not be as pleasing in appearance now, but satisfy you in the end I will). Father Sebastian Chacko went on to deliver what many said was the best message ever presented to a graduating class back in the days, in either Samoan or English. This tama seu gogoserved his God and the Samoan community in the territory for many years, before being moved to Hawai’i where he continues to serve the Lord and the Samoan community there.

The late Monsignor Ioane Vito Fonoti, in his recently launched book called O le Fa’afa’aipoipoga o le Fa’a-Kerisiano male Aganu’u Faasamoa(The intermarriage of Christianity and the Samoan culture) alluded to the La’auli story as an analogy to the story of Jesus Christ, who gave up His glory as God to become human when born to simple and humble parents in a barn. Jesus grew and lived a humbling human life, often ridiculed and abused. Despite the Godly language and teachings He spoke and shared; only a few became believers. Jesus had to suffer the cleansing humiliating judgment process, painful crucifying death where his blood was spilt; then victoriously arose from death in three days to account for the sins of man, before His followers saw Him in all His Glory and realized that indeed, Jesus was the Son of God, the Son of Man, the true Tama Seugogo!

In the Samoa News editorial entitled “American Samoa — the land of the potholes” (8/31/2012), the Editor spoke of the “potholes” afflicting the territory of American Samoa, and the moral vision of Democracy to create The Public (Lakoff and Smith) that the territory signed on to when it signed its treaties with the United States. That is, all of us have the moral obligation to take responsibility not just for ourselves but for each other — to provide basic protection and empowerment for all, not just a few.

No doubt the 2012 campaign has taken an emotional twist, and that usually means the real issues impacting the lives of 99% of the population disappear from the political radar. In the spirit of keeping the political dialogue relevant, I will summarize key issues and concerns in part 2 of this series.

True, the pothole roads and the figurative “potholes” scarring the territory now are ugly and may get uglier before things can get better.  But from this madness, we can only move forward; an inch even. Will we move forward? That’s totally up to us voters.

In less than two months, we will decide which direction our journey as a nation takes. It’s all up to us now. And, there is no doubt in my mind that at the end of the day, we can sit back and say about American Samoa, with potholes and all — “E moni lava, e valavala ae tu manu; e lafulafu tama seugogo.”

God bless American Samoa!


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