Whispers and Vanities in Samoan Indigenous Religious Culture

February 16, 2015

by His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi Efi
 
This paper is a gentle prayer, a faanonomanu [1], to the gods of Samoa who
protect the religious knowledges of my forebears. In daring to speak in print
about these knowledges I gently seek their indulgence and blessings.
 
There is within Samoa a culture of whispers surrounding our Samoan indigenous religion. I remember as a boy thinking why my mentors, the revered custodians of my indigenous religious culture whispered in fear and with guilt when speaking about it to me. Now as a man I am increasingly haunted, especially at this late stage in my life, by the persistence of this fear and guilt. In fact, despite my fervent belief in the core precepts of my indigenous religious culture, I too am guilty of whispering in the same vein when repeating what they had told me.
In preparing for this paper I have been wondering how many others share a similar experience. As a Samoan I have been worried about this culture of whispers for many years. It still worries. In reflecting on why, I have to admit that it is perhaps because I am, by nature it seems, an impatient person and as more and more years pass I fear that I have left my contribution to an address of it too little too late. In thinking about this I have had to take stock of my impatience and reflect seriously on the challenges of speaking openly and in detail about such a topic, about what it is that I am promoting, and exactly what I hope to achieve in doing so.
The short answer is I don’t know exactly. But, generally speaking, I do know that this paper is a continuation of a search, one that began many years ago. What I hope to generate here, as before, is an openness to dialogue about the good and bad of our indigenous knowledges. I hope to reaffirm the need for forums for open and constructive sharing; forums powerful enough to impel a desire amongst teachers and scholars to speak and write with clarity, rigour, passion and pride about the poetry, logic and nuances – the beauty – of our Samoan indigenous religious culture; forums where the not so beautiful aspects can also be probed and debated. Through these forums I hope to generate a culture of informed pride about our indigenous religious beliefs whereby contemporary custodians can impart to those eager to learn the best of what our forefathers had to offer.
Before I delve into the basic tenets of our Samoan indigenous religious culture, let me explain what I mean here by the culture of whispers.
[1] Faanonomanu literally means to seek through gentle persuasion the gods’ blessings (faanono, meaning to persuade gently; manu meaning blessings).
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