#SLW2020 Learnings Part 1: So what now?

Is it just me, or was Samoan language week on another level this year?

Busy with Teine Sāmoa and our Mila’s My Gagana Series promotions, I couldn’t help but share my new discoveries with educators, principals and interviewers.

It just seemed like everywhere online something was happening, someone was sharing, people were showing and some of us were launching things that were all in support of promoting Samoan language, culture and identity.

So either the lockdown provided some really good space for us all to reflect, create and build up a massive ball of cultural energy to put into this week, or was it something else? People waking up to the now or never? A turning of the tide maybe?

Whatever the reasons, this year’s Samoan language week has left me hopeful in knowing the potential and power that today’s generation has to claim, value and sustain our culture for future generations to come.

And now that I’ve had some time to sit in my thoughts from the week I wonder if you noticed the following too:

1.) Samoan language week’s online game was on fire.
I couldn’t keep up with the quality content that was being produced and shared, everyday and some days every hour across different platforms –
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

Individuals sharing live pese, creating their own gagana and aganu’u content, library online storytimes, the release of new books, academics releasing research that some of us never knew existed, ‘The Samoa Family’ comic, Samoan Dance Groups providing free online tutorials and even Aganu’u Fa’asamoa 101 class going online for the first time ever (which I joined just to take me back to my Samoan Metotisi days) – And all this doesn’t even include all the hard copy gagana resources created and made available!

2.) There was also a clear generational divide.
The same traditional groups and organizations, usually headed or dominated by our older Samoan generation, followed their usual annual polokolame of speeches, lotu, tatalo and discussion panels. But many of our younger generation placed themselves on the front line and really got in the thick of it – creating and sharing practical resources, gagana tips and even online programmes as mentioned above.

Was the divide necessarily a bad thing? I don’t think so.

Although I believe the younger generation’s content had a bigger reach due to wanting to develop confidence and greater accessibility, there will always be a demand for a spectrum of resources and content that meet the diverse needs of gagana learners. And the traditional approaches can be just as appealing to some of our people according to feedback I’ve received over the years.

3.) We also seemed to have moved past just sharing and learning the language this year too.
A major trend I noticed was individuals and groups sharing their personal reflections, articles and books #TeineSāmoa, highlighting the challenges we face as Samoans as well as being Samoan, living outside of Samoa – not being feeling confident, supported or accepted as Samoan.

Then in the second half, racially charged national and global events cast a shadow over our language week #GeorgeFloyd #Blackface, which just couldn’t be ignored and deserves it’s own space for further discussion #SLW2020:LearningsPart2ComingTomorrow. These events further highlighted the importance and need for more education and understanding between people, cultures at all levels and nations – which is at the core of what our Pasifika language weeks are about really.

So what does this all mean?

Firstly, if we go by this year’s Samoan language week – ONLINE platforms will play huge roles in passing on cultural knowledge and learning languages. I believe our national and global lock downs may have positively impacted our language week this year by being predominantly online, making huge leaps in terms of accessibility.

And although the preferred method by all of us is face to face learning in a supportive environment to learn and pass on cultural knowledge – our realities show that these cultural experiences are still limited and not accessible to everyone. For many of us there is only a handful of people (or none) in our immediate worlds who have the capacity to create safe learning environments, package and deliver knowledge effectively to meet our diverse needs, all while making it accessible to all of us – especially in the busy and demanding world we live in today.

Secondly, it was also very clear that our generation today has spoken: We want more of our language and culture in every single platform available to us. Access is key. Safe and supportive environments are even more important. It really showed the true potential in developing cultural confidence and sustaining our culture through providing access and availability through online programmes and tutorials.

Thirdly, I am always in awe of how naturally gifted and talented our people are, proving once again that there should be nothing about us or for us, without us – look at our capabilities and what was produced just this week alone. #MyHighlightOfTheWeek.

These brown spaces were being created by everyday Samoan people who were passionate about our culture and feeding the masses, who are so hungry for our language and culture in safe and supportive spaces. People who saw a need and have created products to help fill the huge gap that is clearly evident in building cultural confidence and cultural understanding for Samoans and non-Samoans.

Finally, the level of engagement, participation and feedback online seemed to be very high, but what was the impact offline, in the real world?

I reached out to some schools and early childhood centres I’ve worked with over the past year to find out.

The consensus was that their Samoan students seemed, ‘to have more ‘mana’ this week’, as one teacher put it. Another described their Samoan students, stepping into their own and opening up’, about his lavalava and ula he was allowed to wear to school. My favourite was the teacher who teared up talking about her student who said ‘fa’afetai lava Miss for helping me to know more about who I am and where I come from’, after they discussed the Mau and the journey to Samoan independence in their class.

The teachers themselves said the resourcing online has been amazing and were the preferred go-to instead of the Ministry of Education’s resources within their school, especially with many schools not really knowing about all the MOE Pasifika resources available to them and/or how to effectively use them.

Also efforts across school staff were basically ‘inconsistent’ – varying from a few teachers just using greetings to a fully integrated cultural classroom programme that covered language, culture, values, and history. This inconsistency was due to schools’ priorities, individual teacher confidence levels and having little or on-going support from Samoan staff or advisors providing resourcing.

So now that our Samoan language week has officially come to an end, we have to ask – So what now?

Based on past years, the majority of classrooms and homes return to their norms of ‘hello’, teachers’ move on to the next event on their school calendars, with our tamaiti falling back into line, feeling not acknowledged, supported and valued for who they are – until their school cultural concerts or Lotu Tamaiti in October, or in the saddest cases, until next year’s Samoan language week.

But just imagine.

Imagine if the Samoan spirit that was awoken last week and that ‘mana’ in your tamaiti you saw was encouraged, supported and built upon?

If we continued culturally responsive practices beyond our national language weeks with a goal of embedding them in our homes and schools – helping to develop the cultural confidence levels of everyone. Not only empowering our tamaiti, but also ourselves and others to understand why we are and who we are.

If we consciously chose this option. This path. Then maybe we could start a more effective journey of succeeding as Samoan, by taking the first steps in understanding what it means to be Samoan.

Since it’s inception in 2010, Samoan language week has grown from a circulated email advertisement to a national week where we openly celebrate all things Samoan. A decade on, don’t you feel that we – tamaiti, parents and teachers/schools, are at a stage where we could start making real steps towards taking our Pasifika language weeks out of the ‘tick box’ zone, by building on the gains made from these weeks?

So as we move back into our realities next week, please join me in thinking about the following questions:
* Will we wait every year at the end of May, to show the world our true colours and be openly proud of who we are?
* What can we do in the other 51 weeks of the year to help our tamaiti understand who they are and to feel successful as who they are?
* How will we support and develop the cultural understanding and confidence of others within our families, our schools, our workplaces?

Feel free to keep me posted on your plans and journey ahead by commenting below – Ia manuia lou malaga!

Author: Dahlia Malaeulu

dah·li·a (dah-lee-ya) / noun: a flower that is widely cultivated for its impact and coloured personality / adj: abundant, bright, bold, fresh, ready-to-bloom / human form: daughter, mother, wife, educator, problem solver, creative, teine Sāmoa / working on: creating more brown spaces in the world / currently: moving in the write direction.

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