She’s only a woman to me

A culture of violence

The revelation this week that former Manu Samoa and international rugby star Brian Lima had physically abused his ex-wife Lemalu Sina Retzlaff during and after their marriage was alarming but not unforeseen. Sure, no one can foretell the future, but everyone knows the present so let’s face our truth Samoa – domestic violence is a sullied, ignored and condoned part of both our past and present.

They are saying, “There are always two sides to a story,” and yes that is factual. But it’s also true that no one, especially a man, has the right to use violence, particularly against his wife, to force his will upon her or to suppress her own rights. No matter what the disagreement is, the solution is never violence.

Sadly, this is not the exception but the norm in Samoa. Everyone is a witness to some form of domestic violence in Samoa. We are a passionate people, but passion does not excuse us from culpability. Whether we are the antagonist or a witness, we play a significant role in our response to domestic violence.

I was raised to never strike a woman. This was a hard and fast rule in our home with very serious consequences. But as I child I would watch in horror as family members beat their wives in private which in Samoa is pretty much the same as a public flogging because there is rarely such a thing as privacy in communal living. I wondered after the first such witnessed beating, ‘Do grown-up’s get beaten like kids too when they do something bad?’ The sad reality is that bullies will beat whomever they please and bullies don’t need an excuse to exact punishment on their victim.

And that is what all it boils down to. Domestic violence is about control. It is about an irrational man’s primal need to show his dominance and exert absolute power. It is about intimidation. It starts out as manipulation that eventually leads to psychological emotional abuse and in our culture it often culminates in violence.

Some people call it spousal abuse. I prefer the term ‘Unrighteous Dominion’ because it is. As a spiritual, God-fearing people shouldn’t we be asking ourselves the same question we often ask our kids – “What would Jesus do?”

Regarding this most sacred union, President Howard W. Hunter says, “Keep yourselves above any domineering or unworthy behavior in the tender, intimate relationship between husband and wife…Tenderness and respect—never selfishness—must be the guiding principles in the intimate relationship between husband and wife.”

I am hardly the purveyor of good tidings of great joy in my relationship with my own wife every day, all day because we certainly have our trials. But never once have I entertained the thought of striking my wife. The pots and pans and random inanimate objects around the neighborhood on the other hand have occasionally seen a darker side of me.

It saddens, sickens and infuriates me all at the same time. It saddens me that we resort to violence in our relationships with each other; relationships that are sacred and meant to be built on trust. It sickens me that in a day and age when there are so many resources and so many avenues for remediation through services, churches, etc. that we still resort to violence. It infuriates me to hear of any type of abuse. But it incenses me even more when we are content to be witnesses and bystanders rather than protectors and defenders for those who are need of emancipation from bullies and oppressors.

No one could portend that Brian Lima was capable of this type of violence. Yet we revered his cold and calculated demeanor on the rugby pitch and applauded his handiwork when he brought down his opposition with ferocious and impassioned, bone-jarring hits.

No one outside of the walls of Lima’s own home or within the privacy of his marriage and family relations knew the awful truth. Until of course the truth was prominently displayed for the world to witness his proficiency at domestic violence – on Sina’s face.

Sina’s valor on this particular field of play, the one that has proven to be the most difficult and the most serious for Lima is to be commended because it has no doubt been very difficult for a very long time for her as well. There will be more like Brian Lima in the coming days, months and years. Men who whose unrestrained rage causes emotional damage and physical scars for someone whom they should always regard with tenderness and affection no matter what may cause discord.

May we do our best to decrease the number of Sina’s amongst us – women who are subjected to evil in all its various forms. May we also do our best to decrease the number of Brian’s by recognizing the signs of abuse, reporting the abuse and providing both parties with the help that is required.

There are no innocent among us until domestic violence is curtailed; ideally, until it is eradicated.

Stop the violence!

Domestic Violence Assessment:

  • Does he treat you as if you belong to yourself OR does he act possessive of you?
  • Does he seem positive about the attention you get from others OR does he seem jealous of it?
  • Does he insist that you do nothing affectionate or sexual towards him unless you truly feel like it OR does he try to pressure you into doing more than you want?
  • Does he encourage you to spend time with friends and family OR does he does he try to separate you from others who are important to you?
  • Does he take full responsibility for his behavior OR does he tell you he cannot help himself because he loves you so much?
  • Does he encourage you to be independent OR does he try to get you to be dependent on him?
  • Does he do his full share of the work in the house and with money OR does he expect you to pay for him or to do most of the work?

In his other relationships:

  • How does he act towards others?
  • What does he do when he is mad at someone or upset about something?
  • Does he take responsibility for his share when things go wrong with another person, or is his story that everything is the other person’s fault?
  • Does he try to make women feel sorry for him because of all the hard luck he has had with other people?

6 thoughts on “She’s only a woman to me

  1. Any man that deems it necessary to become physical with a woman is pathetic, and very insecure. Relationships are for mature individuals to grow and better themselves and part of the growing aspect is working out problems in a responsible manner. It is scary to think that a Rugby player has such little control and does not know his own strength. No matter what the situation is violence is never the answer. Lets teach our young ones how to treat a woman and make the world a safer place.

    1. That’s exactly where we have to lead our young – to make better, mature decisions with a better outcome. Insecurity is a huge part of the problem. Dealing with the very sensitive and difficult issues that arise within relationships is lacking in many PI homes. We have made some progress, but there is still so much work to do. I appreciate your comments and hope that we can continue the dialogue.

  2. Well said. I have worked with many Polynesian families in this situation. It is a tough cycle to break.

    1. I could never do your job bro. But I’m glad that there are those among us like yourself who have the knowledge and the experience to deal with these complex issues. We support you and work alongside you for a better future for all generations of PI’s.

  3. I completely agree with you on every point. But I also want to add an aspect to this conversation that I know might be sensitive and controversial to some people. Namely, one of the roots of the problem of domestic violence.

    While the act of physically and mentally abusing you partner is an expression of control and initimidation, as you pointed out in your post, the so-called “culture of violence” in Samoa (and many other places in the world) encompasses violence in other relationships and contexts as well – one being the physical disciplining of children. And while this is widely accepted in Samoa (and many other places in the world) and rarely considered to be a problem unless the beatings go overboard, research has shown time and again that children who are subjected (or just witness) to violence in the domestic environment are more likely to either be violent partners or “accept” violence in a romantic relationship when they are grown up.

    This so-called “cycle of violence” can’t be stopped unless we deal with the root of the problem. Of course, there are many other reasons for domestic violence and already so much is being done around the Pacific to prevent domestic violence, but I think it’s more effective to attack the roots of the problem and work with promoting and teaching young boys and girls to show respect towards one another, both in domestic and public settings, such as in school and church. That responsibility falls on parents, teachers, and ministers alike.

    The first step, however, is to talk about it and let everyone know that we do not accept this kind of behavior and that domestic violence is not a matter to be resolved within the family – it is illegal and should never go unpunished. Lemalu Sina is a hero for having the courage to speak up against domestic violence.

    At least that’s my opinion. By the way, thanks for an excellent post, Seti.

    1. Lagi – I couldn’t agree with you more. There is violence on many levels and child abuse is definitely a significant factor in the cycle. I also agree that it can only be solved with awareness and education at the most fundamental level – the family. We must all take an active role in making this change a reality in our homes as well as in our community. Thanks for your great thoughts and insight.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s