The theme for Samoan Language Week is ‘Tautua i le alofa, e manuia le lumana’i’ – Serve in love for a better future.

Sadly, at the time of writing this blog post, my grandfather, Tapua’ī Etuale Slade, passed away at the age of 98.

I begin with honouring my grandpa because the theme best describes what he practised as a father, grandfather, and matai (chief). As I think about my family burying him this week and celebrating his life, I reflect on how blessed we have been. It is strange because the sadness I feel is mostly for my mum who has lost her dad. However, I find peace knowing that he did his best to look after his family and his village, guiding them into the future. I also feel happiness and gratitude, especially for the length of time our family had with him.

Think about it: born the same year as Queen Elizabeth II and Marilyn Monroe, he was a child when Black Saturday happened, with the assassination of Mau leader Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III by the New Zealand government. He saw Samoa through its occupation during World War II, and witnessed Samoa achieve independence in 1962, the same year my mother was born. He saw prime ministers and heads of state come and go, observing the world change and his family grow from his village of Sagone in Savaii.

In April, I went to Samoa for a saofa’i (ceremony) to receive the matai title of Polataivao from my mother’s side of the family in the village of Fagaee. Up to that point, I had rejected the request of my family to take on a matai. There were many reasons why, but overall, I didn’t feel worthy. I thought I had not served my family and community enough to be considered for this. While there are varying opinions on the matai system, to me, it was something that should not be taken lightly.

Me and my Parents

Mary and her parents and me

Drinking the ava (kava)

With the Honourable Susuga La’aulimalietoa Leuatea Polataivao Fosi Schmidt (center).

I was nervous before and during the ceremony. There is a part in the ceremony where one receives a cup of ava (kava) and says a few words thanking God and family for the honour, which I was anxious about in the lead up as I didn’t want to embarrass myself. However, Member of Parliament for the district and Government Minister, the Honourable Susuga La’aulimalietoa Leuatea Polataivao Fosi Schmidt, spoke on behalf of us receiving the matai title which lifted a weight off my shoulders. Having the support of my wife, Mary, her parents, as well as my parents and extended family before and during the ceremony was amazing; I could not have done it without them. Two people were foremost in my mind during the ceremony, both of whom had sadly passed away: my aunty Toeolesulusulu Leata Tipi and Member of Parliament, Fa’anānā Efeso Collins.

Aunty Toeolesulusulu, a great pillar of West Auckland and the Pasifika community through her services to education, was the one who put my name down to receive this title. Before she succumbed to her battle with cancer, when I said goodbye for the final time, she said with her usual big smile, “Ulu! Go for it!” referring to the matai title. I wish I had received it positively because, even up until then, I continued to reject my parents’ encouragement.

Me and my wife Mary with Aunty Toeolesulusulu Leata Tipi.

Fa’anānā had a profound impact on my life. I first met him at a camp called ‘Dream Fono’ when I was in high school, and over the years, I got to know him, discuss politics and the Pasifika community, and got caught at the end of his hilarious mocks. I attended the public celebration of his life in South Auckland, and it was during this time of reflection that I unpacked my feelings of imposter syndrome and became at peace with accepting the matai title.

The public service for Fa’anānā Efeso Collins in Manukau, Auckland.

Toeolesulusulu and Fa’anānā’s examples of service and love for the community created a guide for us to strive toward, not only as Samoans but as Pasifika people. It also reminded me that if your family is calling on you to take this responsibility, it’s probably best you answer that call. They may see something within you that you do not.

Fa’afetai i le tatou aiga mo le fa’aeaea (I want to thank my family for this honour). Receiving the title has also been important in my personal journey with my language, learning the fa’alupega (salutation used to address representatives of a family at a formal gathering) for my matai, and becoming more familiar with customs. There was something a matai said at the nofo that was profound: “E le’o le matai e mamalu ai le tagata, ae o le tagata e mamalu ai le matai” (It is not the chief title that will make a person honourable, it is the person that will give the chief title honour and dignity). This is something I have taken to heart, especially with this week’s theme.

As we celebrate Samoan Language Week, let us all strive to serve our people with love to strengthen and sustain the future of our culture and language. It is also the best way for us to honour the legacy of those who came before us like Toeolesulusulu, Fa’anānā and my grandpa, and continue to pave the way for generations to come.

I can see it now: I envision him seated on his wooden chair, looking on while the family organizes his day. Cigarette in hand, with a slight smile.

Manuia lou malaga, Grandpa.

Welcome and warm Pasifik greetings

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