Preface to a Samoan Novel
by Jacinta Galea’i

Oa’u o se tama’ita’i lauulu lanuuliuli. Ou te fiafia e lalaga mo o’u tagata. I am a black-haired woman, a weaver for my people from the family of Samoa. My heart burns when I weave measina, treasures, that connect us to our Samoan roots. I was born into a modern American Samoan society that emphasized English words and western culture. So unlike the gray-haired weaver who weaves with laufala strips, I weave with words that express our complex experiences, so palagi, so American, yet still so Samoan—so American Samoan. Ou te faaaogaina upu e lalaga ai tala e faamatala ma iloilo ai le olaga o tagata Samoa i Amerika—ua filogia i uiga faaamerika, faapapalagi, ma faasamoa—faaamerika Samoa.

My first criss-cross pattern reflects my name, Semoana. O la’u mamanu muamua e faasino i lo’u igoa o Semoana. Se, a Samoan prefix added to feminize and enhance moana the Samoan word for blue and ocean. Beyond my name, the patterns reflect the movements of the Pacific Moana—west to east and north to south. These patterns were set in motion by my father’s career as a Protestant minister in American Samoa, my mother’s strong desire to keep her children connected to her family in the northwestern corner of the United States, and my father’s obsession with providing us with a good American education. Thus my story moves northeast, then southwest, then north and south again and again. This meant I rode currents that collided, contradicted, and swayed deeply in opposition to my Samoan culture. For example, one year, I found myself living in a cold urban city, attending a Catholic school with palagi, African-Americans, Mexicans, and Asians, speaking my step-tongue, English, and eating macaroni and cheese. Another year, I found myself living in village, speaking my mother tongue, le gagana Samoa, wearing puletasi and ie lavalava and being a good minister’s daughter. The two locations, cultures, and languages opposed each other. Thus, I learned to straddle my two cultures, including the two opposing temperatures, and am determined to master the channels but especially my two tongues, le gagana Samoa, and my step-tongue, English. Ou te tautala ma manava a’u gagana e lua. O la’u gagana moni, Samoa, ma la’u gaganafai, Igilisi.

Beyond my family, there were stronger currents that shaped my life. Those currents were set in motion by the presence of the United States Navy in my home island of Tutuila in the late 1800’s. America was looking for a place to build a refueling station for her trading ships that carried goods across the Pacific moana. This need led to the birth of my home country—American Samoa—and the importation of American goods, culture, institutions, and language into the village life of Tutuila and Manu’a, which had easily accepted Christianity with the arrival of British missionaries on Samoan shores in 1830. This fusion between American culture, the faasamoa—the Samoan way—and Christian culture provides the landscape from which I weave this story.

But here I must pause and stretch my sleeping leg. Tulou! Pardon me! For I see a wrinkle in my mat—my step-tongue—English, o la’u gaganafai—is becoming distractive in weaving this Samoan mat. Ioe. It’s difficult to tell my story using my step-tongue, Ifilisi. So I will shift to su’ifefiloi, a voice that will unravel my step-tongue’s rules but better express my Samoan story. Se’i liugalua lo’u leo i le leo su’ifefiloi, ona e fefiloi ai mea uma. Su’ifefiloi threads my mother tongue into my step-tongue and my step-tongue into my mother tongue an will better describe Semoana’s world, her people, culture and identity. Semoana is living in America now, but like the curious toloa bird, she always, glances back to Samoa every time she flies too far. Se’i liuliu o’u mafaufauga ma la’u vaai e mafai ai ona lalaga lenei fala ma numi o le olaga o le tama’ita’i lenei o Semoana aemaise ai le tala o tagata Samoa ua su’ifefiloi ma uiga faapapalagi. O lenei tama’ita’i ua nofo nei i Amerika, ae e pei lava o le toloa e lele ae tepatepa lava i le vai.

You see reader, for a long time, I never felt at home in America. I felt like an outsider—invisible—e pei a’u o se aitu e le amanaia pe iloa mai a’u e se isi—because I learned about Christopher Columbus, the Battle of the Alamo, Japanese Internment Camps, Martin Luther King Jr., Emily Dickinson, and even St. Patrick’s Day. But I never learned my story—the one that connected me to this country. Ioe! Ou te le’i faalogo lava o faamatala e se isi la’u pi’itaga i lenei atunu’u. So I never felt connected to America. Instead, I felt so sad, disconnected and confused about my Samoan identity. O le tiga pito i faigata lena ia te a’u. O le leai o se avanoa i a’oga i Amerika e a’o ai la’u gagana, aganu’u, ma la’u talafaasolopito. Only when I entered graduate school at the University of Hawai’i-Manoa in 1998 did I begin to learn the mamanu, patterns, in my story. And what I learned is that there are so many mamanu in my story that I didn’t have the opportunity to learn in this country. O la’u pi’itaga lena i Amerika. A’o o le tele ia o isi mamanu e tatau ona ou malamalama i ai, ma o le mafua’aga lena ua ou punou ai nei e lalaga lenei fala. That’s why I’m weaving this story. To smooth out the wrinkles in my mat, which include our history, culture, genealogy, experiences of being misunderstood as Samoans in America and the Pacific. These experiences are not included in American, Pacific or Samoan books or media. When I weave these wrinkles out, then I won’t feel so invisible, so unimportant and so powerless here in America where I live like many of you whose ancestors came from other countries.

Samoan writer Sia Figiel uses su’ifefiloi in her work. Su’ifefiloi is a combination of the words, su’i, meaning to sew or to weave and fefiloi, a descriptive word that means mixed. Figiel points out that when Samoan composers need to write a long song for a special event, they string together many different kinds of songs to make one long, long song. In her original works, Girl in the Moon Circle and Where They Once Belonged, Figiel threads together Samoan and English and prose, poetry, songs, and even mythology to capture the voices of adolescent girls growing up in a traditional Samoan village. Across the Pacific Moana, in the borderlands of the United States and Mexico, Mexican-American writer Gloria Anzaldua uses a similar form. In Borderlands, Andzaldua weaves her faamestiza into academic English and vice-versa, creating a very intense collision between her two cultures underscoring her determination to maintain her mother tongue. Anzaldua writes, if you want to hurt me take away my language. Fai mai le tusitala o Gloria Anzaldua, a e fia tuia a’u, ona titiga lea o la’u gagana. E faataua lava e lenei tama’ita’i Latino lana gagana faamestiza. Staying rooted to their native tongues and heritage, these writers show indigenous writers and artists how to toss our nets into the deepest parts of the Pacific Moana. I take my hat off to these brave writers. Bravo to them! Malo alofaiva ma le sogasoga, aemaise ai le lotonu’u! I especially salute world-renowned novelist Albert Wendt—o le na mua i malae—the first Samoan and one of the first Pacific writers to light up the international literary radar. Ua emo’emo le radar a le palagi i lau susuga le tusitala, ma i latou uma mai le Moana tele na tu’tutu’u a latou upega i le loloto. Mua ia! Mua o!

Wendt and Figiel’s works are set in New Zealand and the Independent country of Samoa. Though we are one, all from the Sa Moa family of Samoa, my own connections to Upolu and Savai’i were not woven into my life, so I’m still a tama’ita’i from American Samoa. And the connections between the Unites States and its presence in my homeland of American Samoa provide the landscape for my story.

As I’m reaching the end of this section of my story, I must say, Tulou! Pardon me! once again. First, I want to apologize to the Samoan audience for the missteps in language and expression. Afai ua iai se upu ua sala pe pa’opapa i le faafofogaaga mamalu a le aufaitau, ia lafo i nu’u e le aiga. Second, I apologize to our visitors if this story does not fulfill your expectations. This is but one mat, so you will only witness its mamanu. But there are many, many more mats to be woven by Samoan weavers, both old and young, Samoan, American Samoan, Samoan-Hawaiian, Samoan-palagi, Samoan-African American, Samoan-Asian, Samoan-Mexican, and many from America’s diverse people who have woven their stories into our Samoan mats. Many, like me, who were swept away on the Pacific Moana currents and now live scattered throughout the United States, yet still rooted to the islands of Tutuila and Manu’a, American Samoa, Upolu and Savai’i, Independent Samoa, and the entire family of Samoa. They too have mats, beautiful mats that will make us weep, laugh, and even suspicious about us, unusual people from the family of Samoa whose favorite thing to do in the entire lalolagi, the whole wide world, aside from thanking and worshipping God, is to laugh and laugh, then cry and laugh some more until the tears make use breathless, gasping for air.

Mua ia!
Mua o!


Born in American Samoa and grown up in Samoa and Seattle, Jacinta Galea’i has recently completed her Ph.D. in English at the University of Hawaiʻi – Mānoa, in which she wrote a Samoan novel that explores a wide array of themes and voices using a myriad of styles yet all “centered on being Samoan.” Jacinta uses a traditional form of storytelling called su’ifefiloi—mixing of English and Samoan and prose and poetry—to explore voices and experiences specific to being American and Samoan.

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