The theme for Samoan Language Week 2023 is ‘Mitamita i lau gagana, maua’a lou fa’asinomaga’, which means ‘Be proud of your language and grounded in your identity’.
It impresses on us the need not only to understand the Samoan language, but to also use it as much as possible. By being proud of your language and speaking it, it can help ground people in their Samoan identity.
One person, who you will find is grounded in their Samoan identity (although they were born here in Aotearoa) is Ora Toa registered nurse Tepora Samia.
Tepora grew up in a strong Samoan environment and speaks the language fluently. She has worked at Porirua Community health provider Ora Toa since 2005 where she started as a health worker. This role involved serving the Porirua community where she witnessed first-hand how language barriers affected many Pasifika people and eventually their health outcomes. This motivated Tepora to become a registered nurse. After completing her studies, she initially set out for a placement in Wellington Hospital but ended up returning to Ora Toa which she says, worked out for the best.
“Helping my Samoan community, and others, played a big part in me wanting to become a registered nurse. To be honest getting up in the morning is so much easier when you love what you do. Throughout my time working in primary health, I've worked with families from Samoa that have needed help navigating the health system. Being able to communicate with them in the Samoan language made it so much easier for them to understand.”
One important aspect of Samoan culture Tepora shared with us is the malu. A malu is a female-specific tattoo of cultural significance. The malu covers the legs from just below the knee to the upper thigh and is not performed with needles but with a traditional tool called the 'au.
Tepora recently got her malu, alongside her daughter, which she described as one of the toughest things she has ever gone through, but also one of the most prideful and rewarding moments of her life.
“Getting the malu for me was about connecting to my culture and honouring my parents. My husband and my brothers have their pe’a (The Male version) but I sat on the fence for years even though I was encouraged to get it done. But as soon as my daughter decided she wanted to get hers, I knew I didn't want to miss the opportunity to share the journey with her. Six hours and two legs later, done.”
“I’ve had tattoos before, done with a tattoo gun and usually it gets kind of numb and you get over it. But with the malu, by the time we got to the second leg I felt everything. Some of the best advice I received was to “Surrender to the 'au, and everything will fall into place.” You know it is going to be painful, but accepting that and finding ways to get through that pain was key.”
Tepora said not only does a malu bring yourself and your family a sense of pride, but also brings a deeper connection and understanding between Samoans.
There is a shared empathy amongst those who have experienced the malu and pe'a journey. Regardless of whether you know each other personally, when you see or meet someone with a peá or malu there is an immediate connection and an unspoken respect for one another.
Stay connected with Samoan Language Week online by visiting the official Gagana Samoa i Aotearoa Facebook page.