I’ve been in Auckland for the past 48 hours spending some much needed time with my mother’s side of the family #Saletele #Fepuleai.
My travel buddy is uncle #1, who is my mums oldest sibling. He is a proud and very wise Samoan man who is shorter than me and small framed but has the physical strength of a WWE wrestler #NoJoke. Growing up I saw him as Pop Eye the Sailor Man, but instead of eating his tin of spinach, his strength and passion for life comes the job he was given by his father to tausi le aiga (look after the family) – combined with his ipu ti and sikaleki that gives him his daily ‘recharge’ he says #LOL🤦🏽♀️.
There is also uncle #2 who lives here in Auckland and has thankfully drove us to all our destinations with cafe stops and tiki tours included. I’ve always remembered him as the big kid and entertainer growing up – One family New Years party in Auckland this uncle rolled up with an actual ice cream fridge (that you find in your local dairies) filled with all the different types of alcohol you could think of on one side for the adults and all the different types of ice cream for the kids on the other side #AlwaysThinkingOfEveryone. His heart is so big he has space for everyone in it.
Then there’s uncle #3, the main reason for our visit. Here from Samoa, his heart is literally on the mend as he is recovering from a heart operation he had here in NZ during lockdown #TYJ. He knows our family history, ties, our connections and is the Sa’o le aiga (head chief of the family). This uncle is ‘home’.
Besides getting quite emotional and crying on the spot at the sight of each other, all three uncles hearts and love for their aiga is what they have always had in common.
Surrounded by their infectious islander laughter, their all night long catch up kalas #LikeGirls, never ending jokes and family phrases #OurFave:AikaeLol I’m in awe of their bond. And it’s not long before my aunty Lei #MyOtherMother who lives here in Auckland, enters the room reminding me of where our strength and close family bond comes from.
I’ve always known being strong ran in our family, but being raised with my aunties as my other mothers, it was obvious that strong women have always ran our family.
For instance, my grandpa Saletele was like all his sons – he was an intelligent, quiet and a humble man (don’t know if he cried as much though?🤔) But he was no match for my grandma Sala, the strong matriarch of the family who wore the pants. In Samoa, Grandma controlled the family home and always spoke her mind with her children developing her nickname of: “Oke woman” (short for “Okeiga” – meaning scolding, disciplining, tough, strict).
But at the same time, she was seen as the glue of the family. She was a connector and always brought the family together, ensuring her family had everything they needed. Clever, witty and funny she was full of love for her children and grandchildren. She was also heavily involved in everything Fa’asamoa and church life, being part of the founding families of our local village church. Grandma was always on the go and couldn’t sit still.
The family mantra was, “Ia tou fealofani”: Always love one another, no matter what. Raised with the universal Samoan rule to always respect your elders, there was another family rule where brothers had to always protect and respect their sisters regardless of age or hierarchy – giving the females in the family a valued position and voice for anything and everything.
All daughters also seemed to have inherited this ability to be natural nurturers, connectors and to always talk straight – being raised by the ‘oke woman’ herself. So when I think about it, I can see how my mother and her sisters in many ways represented the different elements of my grandmother’s heart and strength.
Like my aunty Alaiula was physically strong, not backing down which included backing her siblings up if they were ever in trouble, even her brothers in fights. My aunty Fuamai was verbally strong, standing firm in her beliefs and was the Saletele news reporter, with regular updates on anything and everything involving our aiga. My aunty Mavae, the youngest, has a quiet strength, observing first and then giving feedback later – she loves window shopping in other peoples closets and has also always claimed to be the prettiest one #TrueStory. Then there was my own mother, Lagi, whom I believe was the anchor of these superwomen, having the ability and heart big enough to harness my grandmother’s different strengths in order to be everything for everyone across the different generations.
But as I sit here in the middle of the 6th round of ipu ti (cup of tea), I look around at the happy men, immersed in their hearty island laughs and full hearts that fill the room. I try to take as much as it in as possible, pausing to inhale the alofa and on exhale I feel the spiritual presence of all my aunties and of my own mother laughing alongside them. But most importantly, I feel my grandpa Saletele and grandma Sala smiling down on us all.
#ThisIsLove #Grateful #NoMatterWhereWeAre #Fealofani4Life