How did our life of fa’alavelave become a source of pain, suffering and sorrow?

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

This much is undeniable. When it comes to excessive spending on fa’alavelave, whether its church, family or village obligations, we are all guilty. 

Yes we know we should be spending a lot less, especially since its money many of us don’t have, but we continue to go out of our way to find money, whatever it takes, to keep up appearances.

No is certainly a very difficult word to spell for a Samoan when it comes to these things. And often, we would do anything to find the money. All this happens much to the detriment of our finances, economic prospects and eventually family lives. 

We have seen this time and time again. We’ve seen families destroyed, fathers, mothers, daughters and sons being jailed for it. It’s a vicious cycle.

Which is why the call made on the front page of the Weekend Observer under the headline “Don’t give what you can’t afford, Budget Advisor cautions” is timely. 

The call came from a former Policeman and Budget advisor, Samuga Vili who said he has seen the suffering Samoan people have gone through because of our fa’alavelave mentality.

Over the years, Samuga said the trend in terms of fa’alavelave spending has gotten worse.

 “Funerals can cost upwards of NZ$60,000 (T$102,112) but they can be done cheaper,” he said. “In my work, I talk to people about ways to do funerals cheaply, and not spend more than you can afford.”

According to Samuga, the problem is not with the fa’asamoa or the fa’alavelave but rather the pressure to spend money that doesn’t exist.

“Our people sometimes feel they need to show off that they can afford those expensive funerals, but if you can’t handle it, then don’t do it,” he said, adding that taking out loans to pay for funeral expenses can result in long-term problems for families, thanks to high interest rates from companies not concerned with your financial wellbeing.

“Those loans are good for the finance company, but they are not good for you,” he said.

So what’s his solution?

“If you can’t afford it, don’t spend up large on your fa’alavelave,” he said.

“I worked with families on budgeting to pay for the priorities first. Pay your rent, buy your food, keep your phone going for emergencies, and don’t forget all of those things just because you have a fa’alavelave due.”

He also came up with an interesting idea. One of the ways families can ease funeral burdens is by making plans and settling decisions while a loved one is still alive.

“It’s okay to talk about this stuff, and ease that stress for afterwards when they are gone. It’s time to choose to be smarter and do things the cheaper way. Then, we will see generations of young Samoans who are less stressed about those cultural demands.”

Lastly, he suggested that to reduce expenses, Samoan funerals could be kept simple by offering tea and biscuits instead of lavish meals and the whole works that come with it.

Easier said than done of course. 

You see this is not the first time someone has raised this issue and these wonderful ideas about keeping things simple and affordable. We keep hearing about it in conversations but it’s so hard to do. Say a high chief of a village passes away and people turn up to his funeral only to be offered tea and biscuits, it would be absolutely shameful. 

That said let me say this again that the Samoan culture is the most beautiful culture in the world in my eyes. If you understand the essence of Samoan culture enough, you’ll know why it is beautiful. It’s a culture that thrives on honour, love, respect and the principle of reciprocating alofa with alofa. 

It is about caring for one another, placing others above yourself. To an extent, one can argue that it is a Godly culture because the emphasis is always about honour, love, respect and putting others first. These are the core qualities that make our Samoan culture so beautiful in my opinion. You might disagree but that is okay.

Sadly, the reality is that for years now our culture, when it comes to fa’alavelave has been the target of fierce criticisms.  The focus of such criticism is often and always about abuse and exploitation, motivated by foolish pride and vanity.

Who made the Samoan culture bad? And how did our fa’alavelave become such a source of pain and sorrow when they are meant to soothe and provide comfort to the afflicted? 

The answer is simple. Each and every one of us need to stop and look in the mirror. We are all responsible; we cannot blame anyone else but ourselves. At the end of the day, it comes down to being truthful and learning to deal with our uncontrolled pride.

What do you think? Have a great Tuesday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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