Pacific Island rugby is more than a game

I knew nothing about Samoa, my people, my culture or my language. I most certainly knew nothing about rugby. The move to Samoa as a teen provided me with a required crash course in all five subjects.

Before the move to Samoa I knew many things but one thing in particular – I didn’t want to move away from family and friends here in the United States, and that gave me an instant distaste for everything and anything that had to do with that lonely strand of island pearls set deep in the turquoise heart of the Pacific.

Yet after a year of living there, immersed in the Samoan way of life I changed. Or rather, Samoa changed me. I didn’t ask to relinquish my American accent or dispose of my blue jeans and replace it with a lavalava, neither did I ask to become an ardent and vociferous supporter of Manu Samoa rugby. Samoa did that to me and I am grateful for it.

Many years later, everything about me is still defined by three things – my God, my family and my heritage. Even though I am an American by birth and by citizenship, my heritage can never be severed nor will I ever cede it. No matter how many years I spend away from the shores of Samoa the draw, the allure, the pull that my ancestral home, my culture and my people have on me as a person is never weakened nor will I ever falter in sustaining and supporting Samoa and the peoples and cultures of the Pacific.

They say that football is a religion here in the United States. In the islands, rugby is life. Our lust for war was replaced by our passion for sport and nothing ignites our passion for our country and our people like rugby and our beloved Manu Samoa.

The pundits tell us that the men who served our country this month in the Rugby World Cup are New Zealand-born, Australia-born and we should be grateful that they were raised in those rugby-mad nations where they cut their rugby teeth in places like Auckland, Wellington, Sydney or Brisbane. We should be grateful to European nations like England, France, Scotland, Ireland or to Japan for allowing them to play the sport and learn professionalism next to  their own stars and professionals who elevate their game.

But what about the power, excitement and passion that our Pacific Island sons bring to the game?

These things are not disputed. We are grateful to these nations for tutoring our Manu Samoa sons in the finer aspects of the sport, especially in these competitive professional times where the sport is experiencing incredible growth and popularity. But understand this one thing – just like me and thousands like me, regardless of our country of birth, those men who don the blue jersey for Samoa are Samoan when they wear the jumper with pride; they are Samoan when they wear the colors of their respective professional teams; they are Samoan when you see them in the pub, on the street, in your churches schools or your places of business.

In Samoa they say, “E lele le toloa ‘ae toe ma’au lava i le vai.” The literal translation is “The grey duck will fly, but it always returns to the water.” It refers to the foraging trips taken by this native bird of Samoa that sometimes spans years. Yet even after taking its leave, that bird knows the flight path to return to its original home.

I have no doubt that the 2011 Manu Samoa team felt that familiar familial pull to represent Samoa because of their loyalty to their bloodlines. They did it despite the economic frustrations, political instability and financial disparity felt by all of the island nations as compared to the richer rugby nations. Some have said that these men had very little chance of competing with the very best teams in the world. Samoa, and our cousins from Tonga and Fiji have always been relegated to a lower rugby status and are considered second-class citizens in the eyes of the rugby elite. Will that ever change? I hope in my Manu Samoa, Pacific Island heart that it does, but I’m less than optimistic that it will.

I am, however, optimistic about the future of Pacific Island rugby. I have a renewed sense of pride in the efforts of our Pacific Island teams and hope that we will continue to compete at the highest levels and prove the pundits wrong. I am especially grateful for the pride and passion displayed by our hero’s in the 2011 RWC.

Mahonri Schwalger led his troops with calm and zeal, lifting them when they needed direction and encouraging them when they were down. Tusi Pisi, Kahn Fotuali’i, Alesana Tuilagi, Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, Maurie Fa’asavalu, Paul Williams and the entire Samoan squad played with true determination, pride and passion for Samoa and Samoans, not for the expectation of monetary rewards or financial gain although I am confident that each one of them will be justly rewarded by professional teams who have seen their abilities and acknowledged their talents. In Samoan households their names are as familiar now as family member who have gone on to battle and returned with glory despite losing the war. The same can be said of the warriors who played valiantly for Tonga and Fiji.

As an after thought, this RWC has given a people hope. It has given us faith in our own abilities to live with passion and pride. Not the pride that spoils us, but the pride that lifts to fulfill our capabilities rather than burden us with our inabilities, just as Manu Samoa, Ikale Tahi and Fiji have proven on the rugby pitch, so to can we accomplish such feats in our own professional and personal lives.

I wonder if a boy or girl who was raised outside of Samoa, Tonga or Fiji can ever come to understand the passion and fierce loyalty we have for our people. I wonder if a young man of Polynesian descent living in the inner city understands that his true nature and potential lies within his innate warrior spirit passed down for generations, and not in the temporary satisfaction of drugs, alcohol and gangs. I wonder if the young woman struggling to find her identity realizes the significant role she plays in molding, nurturing, modeling, edifying, loving and sustaining future generations of Pacific Islander youths? I wonder if the young father down on his luck or the young mother desperate for a reprieve from the daily pressures of life understands that they are the guardians and curators of lore, customs and language perpetuated by their ancestors and imparted to them through generations.

Pacific Island rugby in the 2011 RWC has reminded us of our islands, our heritage, our pride. Faafetai tele lava, malo ‘aupito and vinaka vaka levu to the island warriors of the Pacific. Your fierce determination and passion is commendable. I owe you my gratitude for giving me pride in my heritage and people.

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36 Responses to Pacific Island rugby is more than a game

  1. Sepa'i says:

    i need a copy of this pls how can i get it ?

  2. Anonymous says:

    What a wonderful and moving piece of writing.. I stumbled on your blog through a friend’s page and boy am I glad I did! It brought tears to my eyes and instilled an even great gratification in me knowing that the performance our boys delivered last night represents me and future generations!! If you don’t mind could I please share this on my wall??

  3. Anonymous says:

    thanks for sharing this article Seti, really enjoyed reading it….so true….

  4. TYRONE ARAUJO SEEI says:

    THANKS FOR SHARING IT. I’VE ALWAYS BEEN PROUD OF MY CULTURE AND SHOWS THROUGH MY KIDS. THOUGH THERE ONLY HALF SAMOAN , THE BLOOD RUN THROUGH THEM STRONG. ILL MAKE SURE MY KIDS READ THIS. GREAT WAY TO START MY DAY. ALOFA ATU.

    • Seti Matua says:

      Faafetai Tyrone – Ultimately it is our goal to teach our kids the pure and untainted things of our culture. I commend you and thank you for being a great supporter of my blog.

  5. Lita Sagato says:

    Beautiful write up. You speak for many of Samoans outside of Samoa. We may not have been born or raised in Samoa but we have that passion and love for Samoa. My roots are deeply instilled within me and I’m very proud of to come from a long line of Warriors. Manu Samoa played with love and pride for their nation and people. I hope we can immulate the courage and determination that was shown on the field in our daily lives. Malo le ta’alo!!

    • Seti Matua says:

      Hey Lita, thanks for all of your great efforts in promoting and supporting our Manu Samoa. Your passion is evident in the things that you do to bring the community together. Malo le fa’amalosi ma le lotonu’u.

  6. Anonymous says:

    great read Seti. its a difficult decision for these boys to chose between earning their true potential somewhere else or take a pay cut to rep our people and country. our country can really stand on its own but we are still behind vs other countries against their funds on training and nourishing players. our teams of the past has conquer these big teams before, wish it could have happen this year too. im glad you once live in our small country once upon a time.
    Arona.

    • Seti Matua says:

      My thoughts exactly Arona. It is a very difficult decision for our boys and we will support them regardless. They must do what is best for them and their families. We will always be Samoa mo Samoa.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I hope you dont mind me commenting on your beautiful peice but i happened to notice it thru my cousins the (Sagatos) on the newsfeed. I cant help but feel more impowered more driven and more in love w/my culture. I have never been to our homeland but wish one day i may make the journey. Through out my life of living in the states my parents have always instilled in us (my siblings and i) to always embrace and love our culture. Rugby has always been a big part of my fathers life, the man is pretty much obsessed w/it but who can blame him he was born in N.Z .. As these few weeks have gone by and seein nothing but an outrageous outpour of love for Manu Samoa on people’s statuses i have taken an even more interest into Rugby. What i have found has left me w/nothing but admiration for our people and hope that they will exceed in all things. I am reminded by your blog the reason why i am so proud, happy and grateful anytime i see our polynesian people bettering themselves or making a spot for us out in the world. The quote “The grey duck will fly, but it always returns to the water”. I cant help but be able to relate to that. Even though i havent been or have lived in Samoa, at the end of the day i know who i am, i have pride in the blood that runs thru my veins and i will be forever grateful of the knowledge i have of my ancestral home 🙂 It was a pleasure to have read this.. Keep on keepin on 🙂

    -Victoria Taula (Independence Missouri)

    • Seti Matua says:

      Thank you so much for your thoughts and opinion Victoria. Reading your comments brings me great hope for our people. It is what motivates me to write about Samoa. Though I had the blessing and advantage to live in Samoa for a very short time, I believe it is important for all Pacific Islanders to visit and become better connected with their ancestral homes and the roots. I hope that you will continue to visit my blog and I’m always open to topic suggestions and encourage comments. Malo ma ia manuia!

  8. Iose Tafaoialii says:

    Thanx brother for your wonderful writeing. I am greatful for all the effort that our boys put in the game. Hope young samoan, in USA have same spirit . Not get invovle to gang member .

    • Seti Matua says:

      Iose, I sure hope that we can urge young people to rise above gangs, drugs and other pervasive worldly influences through the valuable lessons of our cultural past. Faafetai lava le tapua’i ma le lagolago sua.

  9. Harry Lee says:

    It’s not often that one comes across a patriotic statement that is presented in an honest, educational, warm and in a manner so penetrating as your blog, Seti. This is the best antidote for anyone who is feeling fememea’i and le mautonu in life. I have never come across a piece that is so well laid out and delivered. Your intelligence and humbleness surely oozes out through the seams of your beautiful and pacific story. Please do not restrict your testimony to Rugby. You have the gift to write more on other aspects of life from our tropic shores. Seti, take this as my standing ovation to you.
    Finally, I would be grateful to have your permission to receive a certified copy of Le Folauga.
    Ia manuia lau folauga, Seti.

    • Seti Matua says:

      Thank you so much for the virtual standing ovation. You are too kind. I think we all have stories to tell and I know that together we can provide our children and the future with a brighter outlook of who we truly are as a people. Thanks for visiting and hope you’ll do it often.

  10. Anonymous says:

    wow…this is amazing…don’t know what else to say that will differ from the commments above. you’ve just expressed exactly how i feel and am glad that i came across this…i see that you don’t mind if we share it with others so….will definately share it…(sorry)..!!

    thanks again and looking forward to more from you….God Bless!

  11. Anonymous says:

    I was at a dinner tonight with some friends and family. My sister in-law who is a big Manu Samoa supporter pulled out her phone and read your blog to all of us at the table. She and quite a few of us became teary eyed. You put to words all the emotions we have been feeling during the past few weeks. I’m so proud of our heritage our culture our roots. Manu Samoa did more than play rugby…they’ve woken up my thirst for culture and everything Samoan. Watching my small children get excited about rugby and being Samoan and wanting a flag and asking for koko Samoa and bread (they think that makes them more Samoan) is a majical feeling. Thank you for your words.

    • Seti Matua says:

      I’m flattered that you would read it with family and friends. Like you, Manu Samoa has given us national and cultural pride for the next four years just as our sevens team gives us a boost on an annual basis. I’ll follow your example and give my own sons a little lesson as often as possible over warm bread and koko Samoa. Soifua ma ia manuia!

  12. Audrey says:

    Your incredibly moving writing brought me to tears. You describe perfectly why the past 4 weeks have brought my life to a standstill. Its been all about Manu Samoa! Their pride, passion, the will to survive regardless of the obstacles placed before them. Our Warrior heritage has been showcased to the word. Manu Samoa has united us as a People. It is that pride, passion and determination that has persuaded me to return to New Zealand after 12 years. To return to my roots and help pass on that feeling of pride to our next generation through my experiences. Your blog has inspired me even more. Fa’afetai lava. Samoa mo Samoa.

    • Seti Matua says:

      Audrey, I envy that you are moving back to NZ but I know that those who still live on ‘foreign shores’ can show our pride and educate others about our people and cultures. Thanks for your support and I hope that you will visit my blog on a regular basis. Manuia!

  13. daniel says:

    Well said<3

  14. Anonymous says:

    This article brought me to tears.Thank you I miss the Manu Samoa more now..

  15. Val says:

    Set, this piece is on fiyah– all the way around! Ur the hottest stalk on the newsfeed my brother! Love from the LBC!

  16. aitahm says:

    Thank you! All the frustration, hurt and anger that have been simmering in the hearts of all have been so eloquently scribed here in your post. Somehow, what you’ve written has given this heart somewhat of a temporary closure to what has been transpiring. It’s your post here that has brought me here to wordpress. You have a unique style of writing that’s captivating. Thank you!

    • Seti Matua says:

      It was very therapeutic to write it. It always helps to get my thoughts down on paper and I’m happy that it has helped. Thank you for visiting and I hope you’ll do it often.

  17. Marilyn Hopkinson says:

    Just beautiful……I can’t wait to see my 6 year old grandson again so I can read this to him.

  18. Fa'afetai Su'a says:

    Well said brada, I a’m encouraging you to write more of your people especially for men in blue…I love reading it and am so impressed with this great article of yours brother. I’m asking if you can send me a copy of it pls. Thank you and keep up the good work.

    Fa’afetai lava!

    Tai

    Tai

    • Seti Matua says:

      Faafetai lava le saunoa Tai. I’m glad you liked enough to share it with your friends. Please feel free to share the link with your friends and family. I’ll be sure to email you a copy.

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