Every year around this time it’s the same question, “What are you going to be for Halloween?”
“The same thing I was last year.”
“What would that be? Oh yeah, a boring Polynesian dude with no imagination? Yeah that’s getting old.”
“Why do we have to dress up?”
“Because that’s what makes Halloween fun. Dressing up is what Halloween is for.”
“Not in Samoa…”
And that parting phrase is usually what gets me in a whole world of trouble no matter what the topic of discussion. ‘Not in Samoa’ is a blanket statement and excuse for everything that I don’t want to do, or when I’m trying to avoid a subject that is foreign or uncomfortable.
I’ve made it clear to my wife over the course of our courtship and marriage that we Samoans just don’t do things the way the rest of the world does things. Think about it – we are just inching past the two hundred year mark of the acceptance and proliferation of Christianity and organized religion in the islands. Before that, we lived in a pseudo-Halloween world where superstition, our beliefs in life-after-death and worshipping our pagan gods. In our everyday life there are still long held beliefs and superstitions that are hard to overcome because we grow up listening to tales of aitu (demons and ghosts) and how sometimes the dead still roam the earth.
I still recall all of the scary stories told around the dining room table, or during a youth camp-out that left an indelible impression on my mind. I’ve tried recounting the stories to my own sons over the years and even the retelling sends a shiver down my spine. The kids and Super Mom love it; I still can’t stomach it because I’ve witnessed firsthand on several occasions what can happen when you set a place for evil at your table.
I recall walking from my mother’s village through the dense tropical forest in the middle of the day and feeling spirits lurking about in the muted silence and the claws of fear raking your back, your mind numb and your body willing your feet to move faster. In the evenings on moonlit nights, walking the same path was ten times scarier than any Nightmare on Elm Street because that feeling that you were not alone and the pale light of the moon played tricks on your eyes. Living in a concrete jungle where chaos and a sea of bodies keeps your mind focused on the fun gives a city dweller a whole new and entirely different perspective when the only thing you can hear are the sounds of your heart beating in your ears and shrill sound of your own ragged breaths as you quicken your pace in search of another breathing, living human being.
So now when I go to a ‘haunted house’ where skinny dudes with hockey masks chase you with a chain saw and gory maidens in wedding dresses sulk about in the shadows – I laugh. I’m amused because it doesn’t quite inspire as much fear as what I experienced in the islands. And dressing up is just as ridiculous to me because is there anyone alive who is really afraid of a five-year-old Britney Spears look-alike? Is there anything more humorous than Power Ranger minions running up and down your street?
Back when I was a kid in Samoa we tried to get into the spirit but the concept still had not caught on even after I had moved back. There were only a few expatriate families in Samoa at the time who were familiar with the tradition so when we dressed up, the rest of Samoa looked at us with puzzlement and then amusement. Then it became funny for the locals to taunt and ridicule us.
Trick-or-treating in Samoa was a funny affair too. The first dilemma was, what do you do if a house doesn’t have any walls? Traditional Samoan fale are open air with no walls, just stilts holding up a roof. Then there’s the matter of explaining at the homes of people unfamiliar with Halloween, what it is they should do when we show up at their house.
“You’re supposed to give us a treat….”
“What’cha mean give you a treat?”
“For Halloween you give us a treat or we’ll….haunt you!”
“Oh, I don’t want that…I don’t have any treats though. Can I give you a taro? A coconut?”
Exasperated, we would return home empty handed except for some loaves of bread with gobs of butter or a two-liter bottle of Fanta. But after a few years, we started hosting our own Halloween parties and eventually, as more and more began to celebrate Halloween, it became a much more enjoyable time for us.
Dressing up is still a major undertaking for me. Super Mom starts hinting at what I should dress up as in July every year. I begin the grumbling and complaining at the very same time she brings it up. I’ve found in my old age that it has become more enjoyable for the little Lady Gaga’s, princesses, vampires, ghouls and Transformers. Some of my friends would of course argue that there is no costume or makeup scarier that the natural mask God gave me at birth.
I got a reprieve from dressing up this year since Super Mom is out of town and we’ve been too busy to really think about it. But I’ll be at my normal station by the front door, waiting to give kids and parents a scare tonight before I drop candy in their bags. I may be the biggest party pooper in history on Halloween, but I’ll still find a way to make enjoyable for the kids.