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August 5, 2019 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

The house that John brought

Have you ever posted on IG in admiration of your parents or grandparents, who sacrificed so much to immigrate to New Zealand for you… but also mocked someone for speaking broken English in a foreign accent?

Have you ever thanked the Lord for the food on your plate, but not Tagaloa for perfecting the tides and seas?

Have you ever said the phrase, “modest is hottest”?

I hate to break it to you, but it sounds like you have a bad case of colonisation. Careful, that shit’s contagious AND can be hereditary. Now I don’t want to go all “In this essay I will-” on you, but as a NZ-born Samoan, I recognise that we live very different lives from our predecessors and follow very different values. Living in Aotearoa, it’s hard not to face the effects of colonisation that every Captain John, Jack, and Richard placed before us by stepping foot on our motherlands, but some of these weren’t as physically obvious. Some forms of colonisation came in the form of a book, some hymns, and a new faith. Religion was and is (!!) a tool of colonisation used to assimilate indigenous cultures into that of Western society.

Flash history lesson: 1830. Missionaries emigrated to Samoa from Tahiti and the Cook Islands with the intent to convert Samoans to Christianity, perceiving their behaviour and culture to be “savage-like”. Bible in hand and entitlement—I mean, the Holy Spirit—in heart, they came with ever-so-pure intentions to turn us into “functioning members of Western society”. Fast forward to 1918. Under New Zealand administration, a different group of white saviours arrived with pneumonic influenza. Colonisation in Samoa was methodical, more intentional than has been previously recognised, and these practices would be carried out within neighbouring countries too. Pasifika people traditionally had village healers, who cured ailments by using their own body to test out which naturally sourced medicines would work. Westerners—missionaries included—docked in Pacific waters, armed with misleading intentions and diseases, and eventually but purposely infected Indigenous folk. With no understanding of these foreign diseases, Indigenous healers were tricked, and Christianity was employed as the cure. Missionaries revealed their ulterior motives using bibles, telling our ancestors, “If you convert to Christianity, our God will cure you.” The cure for their palagi diseases was only shared after the locals agreed. Quicker than Izzy Folau could set up his GoFundMe page, Christianity swept over the islands. 


Religion was literally a gateway drug, and the gateway lead to—you guessed it, colonisation. This is an early example of what is now coined as the “white saviour mentality”; the idea of feeling the responsibility to assimilate an entire race with religion. White saviour mentality can be seen in modern-day life as well. This only “others” indigenous culture to the point of an individual not feeling comfortable with, or even wanting to engage with, their own unique culture. 

Think celebrities adopting black babies from African countries, students straight out of high school with no qualifications volunteering in “developing” countries where the majority of the population are people of colour—even the movie ^The Blind Side^. It reiterates the negative stereotypes that say people of colour constantly need help, can’t help themselves, and passively wait for help from a white man with nothing but admiration and gratitude.

If we bring it back to the 21st century, the year was 2007 in Beach Haven. I was a nine-year-old with the emotional capacity of a twenty-something-year-old, wondering why Usher’s “You Got It Bad” gave me so many feels.I was in primary school, and my dad would take me and my older brother to the Samoan service at our local Presbyterian church every Sunday. I liked it because it was next to my primary school, and I could play on the playground after the service. My dad liked it because he was able to connect back to his culture and speak Samoan to someone besides his family. I remember sitting in church service for what felt like (and sometimes actually would be) hours, wondering. Wondering what was going on and being said, wondering when I could go outside and play, and wondering why one of the boys at Sunday school had a second thumb on his right hand while also having the audacity to be named Blessing.

Fa’afetai. “Many thanks”—the name of one of my only friends in Sunday School. She was a bit naughty and would sometimes pressure me into spending the coins Dad would give me for tithing on lollies at the dairy. But Fa’afetai was also kind, she would look after me in Sunday School, and hold my hand when I had to read out verses. One day, Fa’afetai and I kissed each other on the cheek, as I had seen women do it to each other in greeting. As any nine year old girls would, we copied and giggled about it. As we both left church that same Sunday, we then thought it would be a good idea to say goodbye to each other in the same fashion. A kiss on the cheek. In front of our fathers. I also forgot to mention earlier that Fa’afetai just so happened to be the pastor’s daughter.

I felt my giddy face drop as I saw Fa’afetai’s dad scream at her, and then at my dad. Knowing who my dad is now, I know he would have laughed it off had it been at home or in a less formal setting. However, being at church was a different story. Surrounded by the local Samoan community, he was more than embarrassed with my premature homosexual encounter. I remember the tight grip of my dad’s hand on my arm as he led me to the car. He didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day, and I never got to play with Fa’afetai again. That day, I learnt what sin and shame felt like.

We forget that before the missionaries came, we prayed to our own gods—many of them. We forget that we come from a nation with a history rich in pride and culture. Religion has shaped Samoan culture in so many ways and is ever-present in our lives in Aotearoa. You are made of more history than you know. Faith is the knot that binds us together as modern-day Samoans, and empowering yourself to learn the history behind your faith, will enable this knot to release and reform over and over. To grow. To choose to unlearn and learn again. Sometimes it’s best to release what you know so that we are better bound together. 


Before John brought his house of God, picture-perfect in a Western world, our ancestors built their fales, bound by alofa in paradise. 



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