3 Jun 2017

Celebrating being Samoan from a world away

1:00 pm on 3 June 2017
Anita Purcell-Sjölund in Falun, Sweden.

Photo: Anita Purcell-Sjölund

As Samoan language week comes to an end in New Zealand, we meet three Samoans living overseas, and find out how they celebrate being Samoan.

Anita Purcell-Sjolund

Anita Purcell-Sjolund lives in Falun, Sweden, a town of 52,000 people. She's lived there for more than 10 years with her Swedish husband, Peter, and is the only Samoan in town.

Ms Purcell-Sjolund lectures at the local university, and is also working on her PHD in London, where she travels every few weeks.

"I'm really lucky my husband is keen to learn about my Samoan culture," she said. "I try to cook variations of Samoan food; sapa suey, pani popo, but I really miss taro."

Peter Sjölund (L) and Anita Purcell-Sjölund. (R)

Peter Sjölund (L) and Anita Purcell-Sjölund. (R) Photo: Anita Purcell-Sjölund.

"It can be lonely, and I do miss things I took for granted in New Zealand, and it's not until you find you are the only one in a situation like mine [that] you really come to appreciate culture."

"My parents raised my sisters and I as typical New Zealanders not really Samoan, and while language is important there are aspects that can connect you to the Samoan culture."

"Things such as food which is very symbolic for me, or Pacific art which I have in my home or just reading literature from Pacific writers, Samoan writers, those are all very important for me to stay connected when I'm in such a foreign environment."

"There are many Samoans living abroad, and in countries which Samoans wouldn't traditionally migrate to, and there are Samoans throughout Scanadavia. We are all over the place but the interesting aspect is that it's not just traditionally NZ-born Samoans but you also have German-born Samoans, or Swedish-born Samoans, and they won't know the language at all but yet they have a connection."

"I have a cousin who lives in South Sweden and her children are Swedish-Samoan, she tries to connect them to the Samoan culture, not neccesarrily through the language but through other cultural ways -- song, dance, food, family connections -- the importance of aiga (family) is very important, so it's not necessarily language, even though it is important but because you have a lot of say European born Samoans, they have to find ways to connect to the culture and to feel Samoan."

Siliga Sani Muliaumasealii

Ava Ceremony opening of the origins festival 2013

ORIGINS is about showcasing cultures that are truly different from our own – cultures from which we can learn a great deal. Photo: ©GAFA Arts Collective (GAC)

"Being Samoan is a celebration its self," according to Siliga Sani Muliaumasealii, a long-term resident of London who in 2012 started GAFA arts collective.

"We do work theatre, opera and all our work has a Pacific flavour, mainly Samoa stuff, and that's how I keep my Samoan-isms going.

"We are taking part in a origins festival and we are opening with a ava ceremony, and I've written a play for kids called "Bubba the bad baboon" that talks about Tokelau and the rising sea levels, and talks about poaching and how it affects everyone,' he said.

In 2012, Siliga Sani Muliaumasealii started the GAFA arts collective in London.

In 2012, Siliga Sani Muliaumasealii started the GAFA Arts Collective in London. Photo: Supplied / GAFA Arts Collective

"Our arts collective loves to provide a platform for Pacific performers, and we look to create a aiga (family) feel to every piece that we do, and we often get that feeling when people leave, who say, this is life a family, and I say yeah, that's how I was raised, loto fealofani, (a heart full of wanting to help) loto alofa (a heart full of love) and tautua (service) which is very, very important."

"This is my version of a version of Fa'asamoa that my parents brought from Samoa in the 1960s, some of it may be out of date or classic in some cases but because I'm leading it, it always has to have this Samoan element to it, and I guess just being Samoan remains part and parcel of the GAFA collective."

Last year, we started Samoan language classes, and we hope to continue those classes later on this year, the classes are really important to me as it reminds me of the great things that we have as a culture."

Margie Samoa

Margie Samoa

Margie Samoa Photo: Margie Samoa

Margie Samoa is half-Italian, half-Samoan who has lived in Rome for 19 years.

Ms Samoa, who was born in Samoa, says having her brothers live in Italy has helped her connect to her heritage, and catching up also with the few Samoans in Europe.

Margie Samoa with family and friends

Margie Samoa with family and friends Photo: Margie Samoa

She said there are occasions where I have to explain to people where Samoa is.

"My brothers and I still speak Samoan to each other and we try to go back to Samoa to visit, as we also host any Samoans who come to Europe."

"Another thing also is connecting through music, in my office, I very often put Samoan music on in my office. And Samoan food obiviously, we also have people visit and bring koko Samoa and taro chips," she said.

She said there were a few Samoans in Rome, mainly priests and nuns that work with the Catholic church, "so we meet up with them once in a while whenever we can or if someone brings over koko (cocoa) Samoa or taro chips, we call them up and we have some of you too, so we meet up, and that's always nice."

"We also listen to Radio Samoa from New Zealand, and when you live so faraway, even small things like when people call up the radio station and say I want to wish my 2-year-old a happy birthday, we laugh as we think that's so Samoan."

"I think the longer I'm here, the more privileged I feel to have my Samoan background because I realise that the Samoan mentality, of just smiling and not taking things to seriously is beautiful and for me it's an honour to have that background."

Margie Samoa with family and friends

Margie Samoa with family and friends Photo: Margie Samoa