The Samoan Studies Institute (SSI) at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) has announced the winners in the annual Gagana Samoa writing competition. Each year, the SSI opens the competition to ASCC students as a means of promoting to literacy in the Samoan language and to encourage its use as a medium of creative self-expression. During a small ceremony last week, led by SSI Director Mrs. Okenaisa Fauolo-Manila, the Institute announced this year’s first prize winner as Ms. Anasitasia Vaitele for her piece "E sili lava Samoa". Four additional student authors, Eileen Pilato, Tausala Leota, Oneata Soi and Marissa Vaatausili, received consolation prizes.
Ms. Vaitele's narrative shares her experience of life in the US mainland during a vacation, and compares it with island life. She observed the vastness of the continent, speed of life, and struggles of raising a growing family with one working parent, which made her sympathize deeply for her loved ones who live away from Samoa. Being cooped-up in a two- bedroom apartment for a month made her appreciate the freedom she had back home to move around. In the mainland, the necessity of money for everything made her think of the reciprocal nature of Samoa’s extended family and village life, as well as the easy access to family land to start a new life. These contrasts, upon her return, played a big part in her response to a parent's query about living in the States, which was, "Samoa is the best."
The four consolation prize winners chose similarly intriguing themes. Eileen Pilato, as the narrator in "O suiga o lo'u olaga (Changes in my life)," speaks candidly about turmoil and youthful adventure in growing up, as well as the abrupt change in her life when parental discipline landed her in the hospital, and forced her to rethink her ways. Tausala Leota’s piece “Na 'ou o'o lava i ai (I actually experienced it)” recalls how, during high school years, she won an opportunity to be one of the local representatives at a science fair off-island. Leota reflects on the experience of sharing information on one of Samoa’s staple foods, the taro, and the amusing response she received from some people who had never heard of it.
Oneata Soi's "Na'o si fasi afa ae tele lona aoga (Just a piece of sinnet rope but it was quite useful)" uses the third person point of view to convey a scenario that follows a sinnet rope craftsman making the rounds in the neighborhood to sell his product. He gets invited to a neighbor’s place for refreshment and ends up leaving with the neighbor's seemingly unwanted grandchild. The presence of the neighbor’s child in his own home compels his family to deal with their grief at the loss of their own son. Marisa Vaatausili, in her piece “O le ola usita’i (A life of obedience)”, bewails her years of rebellion as the narrator’s wild tomboyish ways bring grief to her parents until an accident precedes her acceptance of who she is.
SSI faculty member Mr. Tamari Mulitalo-Cheung, who coordinates the Gagana Samoa writing competition, observed that in the four years since its inception, 2018 marks the third time female students have swept all of the prizes. “In 2017, one male student made the finals,” she recalled, “but thus far the young women have displayed a facility for written storytelling far superior to their male counterparts. I know the guys won’t want to hear that, so I encourage them to do something about it.” Mulitalo-Cheung said some of the winning stories will go through SSI editing to be made appropriate for public listening on the SSI’s FM 92.1 Samoan story program coordinated by Faletua Alofa Nuusila. “The winners who want to present their own stories on-air will also get help from us,” she added.
During the award ceremony, the SSI encouraged the winning authors to continue writing, as this adds to the body of literature in the Samoan language for an increasing number of readers. Assisting with the ceremony were two special guests from the community, Mrs. Afano Faamoe Saau and Mrs. Fesuiai Lili Muagutiti’a, two senior citizens previously assigned to work with the SSI by TAOA who have chosen to stay on to contribute to an ongoing handicrafts project. Both ladies expressed enthusiasm for the work of the young women writers, and Mrs. Saau recalled the Samoan proverb “O tama a tagata e fafaga i upu ma tala (The offspring of humans are fed with words and stories, unlike birds).” She added that through the winners’ stories, the youth of Samoa are reminded to emphasize the Samoan values of obedience and respect, and to be aware of who they are.
For more information on the ASCC Samoan Studies Institute, see the ASCC Catalog, available for viewing online at www.amsamoa.edu.