Discerning Samoan Truths

O Togafiti Anamua e maua ai le Upu Moni

1. O le tasi tu sa masani ai Samoa i aso o le vavau, a fai o se mea ua sa’ilia, a ua tupu ai se fa’afinaua’iga a se to’alua, ona aumai ai lea o le popo. Ua fa’atuina lea popo i luga o le fala ona u lea i lalo le muli, ae u i luga le mata. Ona fa’apea ai lea o le matai: “O le a ou vili nei le popo. A fai e u atu le mata ia Pai, e fa’afiti fua o ia, ae pepelo lava ia. Ae a fai e u le mata ia Lāfai, e fa’afiti fua fo’i ia, ae pepelo ia.” O le fai o le vili, o le tasi togafiti lea e fa’ai’u ai finauga a Samoa; aua ua matua taofi mau Samoa i na onapō ua vilia le popo e le aitu o le matai. O le aitu fo’i lea sa na fa’a u tonu le mata i le tagata agasala. O lea fo’i na fa’afiti fua le tagata na u i ai le popo, auā ua leai se tasi na talitonu ia te ia. E seāseā fo’i ona te’ena le i’uga e se tasi, auā ua ia lagona a fa’afiti o le a atili ai lona fa’asalaga. O lea la, ua le tautala lava o ia, a ua talia le sala ma le onosa’i.

2. O le tasi fo’i mea e fa’ai’u ai finauga ma fa’amaoni ai tala, o le tagisaga lea. A fai e finau tagata e to’alua, a ua le iloa se fa’amaoni, ona fesili ai lea o le tasi i le tasi, “O ai e ‘aina oe pe a fai e te pepelo mai? E te fa’amaonia fo’i lau tala ia ai?”

E fa’apenei mai le tali a le tasi: “E ‘aina lava a’u e Moso pe a fai e pepelo la’u tala. Ou te fa’amaoni ia Sepo, le aitu o lo’u aiga”, ona uma loa lea o le la finauga. Ae a fai ua tupu se pefea i le tagata na fa’amaoni lana tala ma le tautō, ona lauiloa ai lea e le pili ma le se o ia o le tagata tautō pepelo. O lona mālaia, po’o i gauta po’o i gatai, o le fa’asalaga lea a aitu ona o lona le migao ia te ia.

I na onapō sa mata’u lava tagata i le mana o aitu. O le mea fo’i lea sa latou fefefe ai i le pepelo, ae maise o le pepelo ua fa’amalosia i le tu’i. Ae pe fa’apefea i nei onapō? Ua fa’atauinosia le pepelo e le Atua ma tagata; ae ui ina o lea, o lo’o fai pea lava. O le tele o pepelo; o le fa’ailoga lea o le tagata pala’ai.

3. O le Tautō, o le tasi togafiti anamua lea e maua ai le tagata pagota. Sa masani Samoa i po o le vavau i le tautō e maua ai se tonu. A fai ua gaoi se mea, ona fa’apotopoto ai lea o ali’i ma faipule uma o le nu’u e fai la latou fono tautō.

I onapō ia, ua tofu lava le aiga ma lo latou aitu e atua i ai. O isi na fai mo latou aitu se i’a o le sami; o le isi aiga na latou tapua’i i se manulele, e iai le lulu po’o le matu’u; a’o ni isi na latou filifili i se tasi manu fetolofi e fai ma fa’atusa o lo latou aitu, e iai le pili, po’o le mo’o, po’o le uga. A fai fo’i e maua le manu po’o le i’a, po’o le pili ua pe, ona tanumia loa ai lea ma le fa’aaloalo e tatau ai i le sauali’i e le tagata na fai mona lea aitu.

Ina ua uma ona potopoto ali’i ma tulāfale, ona aumai ai lea o le tanoa e fai ai le ava ua aumaia e le aumaga.

Ua sa lava ona tautala se tasi a’o fai lea ava. E leai fo’i se pati-lima ina ua usi le ava, a ua na o na faia le lapata’iga a le ta’ita’i fono. Ina ua uma ona lapata’ia tagata ua i le maota, ona fa’asoasoa loa lea o le ava e pei ona masani ai i so’o se tasi saofa’iga.

A e tasi le mea, ua sa i le ali’i po’o le tulafale ona ia taumafa le ava, se’i vaganā ona mua’i liligi ifo sina ava ma fai lana tautō. O le ava na sasa’aina o le taulaga lea i lona aitu. A’o le tautō, o le talosaga lea i le aitu lava lena e fa’atō ifo se mala ia te ia po’o se tasi o lona aiga, pe a fai o ia o le pepelo ma le gaoi ua sa’iliina. A uma ia upu, ona taumafa loa lea o ia. Sa fa’apena lava ona tautō o’i latou uma ua i le fono. Ina ua tu’ua le fono, ona ta’ape lea o ali’i ma tulafale atoa ma taulele’a na vala’auina e auai i lea fono; ma ua ta’ito’atasi ma alu i lona aiga e fa’atalitali ma le popole i se mea ese a tupu i so’o se tasi o’i latou. O le tasi aso ua logo atu ua ‘ai Pai e le malie, po ua malemo le tulafale o Lāfai i le sami, ona iloa lea ua maua ia e le aitu o lona aiga. A fai fo’i o se tasi na utia e se manu i le vao pe pa’ū i se niu umī, pe to’ia e se la’au po’o le faititili, pe oti fa’afuase’i i se ma’i faigata, ona fa’apea ifo lea o tagata, “E le taumate, o ia o le tagata pepelo ma le gaoi na matou sā’ilia i lea fono tautō. O lona malaia e aliali mai ai le mana o aitu. Ta fefe i le tautō pepelo, aua ua tuliloaina lava le tagata tauto pepelo i mala se ia fano ai.”

Discerning Samoan Truths

In preface, in the early days, spirits were believed to be everywhere. They were integrated into daily life, and actively present in all events and in the fate of every person. These spirits most often took the form of an animal, and could often change forms. Every family had its own aitu(ghost, idol, or god) which they worshipped. For some, their god is a fish of the sea; other families worshiped a bird, like an owl or ibis; others chose an animal that crawls to have as their god. Like a lizard, a tiny lizard (skunk or gecko), or a hermit crab. If an animal or fish or lizard was found dead, it was buried with respect in accordance with the customary wishes of the aitu (head god or aitu) the family worshipped. As such the aitu were essential to discerning the truth of statements and personal responsibility, both fundamental to the stability of society and relationships.

1. Spinning the Coconut:  In one tradition, in the earlier days of Samoa, when a resolution finding of fact was needed to resolve an important dispute between two people, one so important it required the presence of a chief or council, a coconut was often used to determine who was truthful and who was not, or at least, who was more in the wrong. The coconut would be placed on a mat between them with the end on the bottom and the eyes facing upwards.

Then the chief would say, for example: “I will now spin the coconut. If the coconut’s eyes turns to Pai, even if he denies it, he is telling lies. But if the eyes turn to Lāfai, even if he denies it, then he is telling lies.”

Spinning the coconut was one of the traditional methods of resolving Samoan conflicts; for in those days Samoans strongly believed the force of the spinning of the coconut was animated, driven and directed by the aitu or spirits of the chief. Once the spinning stopped, and the eyes pointed to one person, this revealed who was untruthful or in the wrong. The people gathered were entirely confident that it was the aitu or spirit who had identified the wrongdoer or liar. Once the coconut, driven by the aitu, had determined the truth, even though the chosen individual denied or protested loudly, no one would believe him, since the aitu always spoke with finality. It was extremely rare for anyone to reject or deny the verdict. To deny the determination would risk offending the spirit, and risk raising the sentence and making the punishment much worse. Therefore, one did not question or object, but, instead, received the verdict with acceptance, patience and obedience, if not respect.

2.  Reliance on the Question, “Who will eat you?”

In lesser disputes not requiring public resolution, when two men question one another, and they do not know the whole truth, or whether the other is being truthful, then they might demand an oath, and ask one another “Who will eat you if you are lying to me?” Or “Are you being truthful in your statement and your story?” In response, one might swear an oath to the aitu of their family or house.

If one replies, for example: “My faleitu Moso will eat me if my story is not true,” or, “ I will be true to Sepo, the ghost of my family” the oath is made. While swearing that oath of affirmation brought the abrupt end of their argument or disagreement, this event lacked the presence of the chief and the public and ceremonial finality of the spinning of the coconut or the ava ceremony (below). Therefore, while hostilities might cease, the oath might have established only a temporary truce, since an alternative or contrary truth might still be revealed later, through the actions of the spirits meting out justice on their own.

Should something terrible, painful or disastrous later happen to the man who had made a false statement when asked “Who will eat you?” this could reveal he was lying. Even the lizard and the tsetse fly could overhear, while scurrying and flying around him, and they would know that this man was false in his oath. The consequences were inevitable: his punishment will be his banishment from his village, and he would either be sent inland or off the land by the spirit for the man’s disrespect to him.

3. The Ava Ceremony: An oath is another method used in the old days (ancient times) of identifying the guilty person or perpetrator. A common practice in Samoa was to use an oath to find a resolution. If, for example, something is stolen, then the chiefs and village council might gather together to hold a council or meeting (fono tauto) in which a statement or testimony with oath is heard. Such an assembly always began with prayers and drinking of the kava (ava).

After the men and the village council have gathered, a kava bowl was brought to prepare the kava, a task relegated to the untitled. No one was allowed to speak during kava preparation, and there was also no clapping of hands when the kava was ready or while the leader of the meeting said the warnings. After the people in the house were warned, they would distribute the ava as is usual at a gathering.

The order of the ceremony did not vary. It was forbidden for the chief or the orator to drink the ava, unless he first poured a small ava onto the ground and made an oath. The ava that is poured out (spilled) is a token offering to his aitu (god). In terms of the oath, it is a prayer to the aitu for mercy to remove a curse from the person and his family if he is found to be a liar and a thief. Only after all is said, the person may have his drink.

Likewise, it’s the same oath process for everyone at the meeting. When the meeting was finished, all the chiefs, orators and other young men, even the untitled who had been invited to the ceremony, would depart. Each went to his own house, anxiously awaiting to see if something strange was to happen to any of them. One day, it was told that Pai was eaten by a shark, or perhaps Lafai the orator drowned in the sea, then it was revealed he was found by the aitu of his family. If one was injured by a wild animal or fell from a tall (or very high) coconut tree, or hit by a tree or thunder, or died suddenly of a serious illness, people will say, “No doubt, he is the liar and the thief we sought in this oath meeting.” The power of the spirits is revealed in his demise. We are afraid of making false oaths, for a liar will be plagued with a curse until his destruction, even death.”

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Translated and prepared by Tracey Pritchard Evans and Vaeva Lei-Sam Pritchard, August 18, 2019.

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Notes: Several Samoan myths display how spirits reside in the coconut. For example, Sina plants the head of her besotted, but sad and regretful defiler, the King of Fiji, who has changed himself into an eel, and forever after coconuts grow with their two truth finding and truth telling eyes. The coconut is spun by Salamasina to decide who will stay alone with her in the forest, a fateful choice which determines her first love and sexual encounter with Alapepe, and was used to decide whether to go to war: Lemana and Alipia receive the Octopus God Fe’e and spin the coconut before entering the A’ana war at Leulumoega against Malietoa.  See, “Gathering Clouds,” Lafai, pp. 81-83.

*aitu – aitu, spirit, god/idol. More likely ‘god’ in this story but used aitu
* unsure of ‘tagisaga’— tagisai- to protest; taigasiga- protestation criticism
* fono tauto – a meeting with oaths, possibly a version of court

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