In the Samoan culture, many sayings are derived from the material culture, everyday tasks, myths and legends, and the various trades of Samoan men and women. As missionaries, we would often use these sayings, or proverbs, to enrich our teaching about Jesus Christ and His gospel. The following examples I penned after my mission but represent the spirit in which we used ancient Samoan wisdom to connect with the people we served.
One such saying or proverb reads E ui ina poto le tautai ae se lana atu i ama. It means literally that although the master fisherman is skilled, [sometimes] his bonito fish will wander off to the outrigger side [of his canoe]. In fishing from a Samoan outrigger canoe, one desires to pull the fish up the right side of the craft to make the retrieval of the fish easy. If the fish strays off to the outrigger, or left, side, the risk of losing the fish is greater.
A master fisherman isn’t likely to lose many fish but remains, nevertheless, fallible and subject to losing an occasional few. We are all prone to making mistakes in our earthly sojourn. One who has truly mastered himself here in mortality possesses not the ability to be perfect. Rather, it is his ability to recognize his mistakes and correct them that makes him a master of himself.
God, our loving Heavenly Father, knows the fallibility of mortal mankind. In His infinite wisdom, He knew with perfect clarity that we would make mistakes in this life. NO system subject to the telestial laws of mortality can maintain a state of flawlessness. Mortal systems all experience entropy, sin, and failures of one sort or another. But in His ultimate love for His children, in His greatest act of mercy extended to mankind, God provided the means by which all the effects of mortality would be overridden. He provided the way whereby corruption is raised to incorruption, and fallible men and women can aspire to become infallible and like God. In giving His Only Begotten Son as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of all mankind, Heavenly Father brought an eventual and complete redemption to the system that He created. Therefore, we needn’t be so concerned with being perfect in this life as we should be concerned with the one thing that we can do perfectly: namely, repentance.
Another saying goes like this: O le vaivai o le fe’e. The implied meaning of this particular proverb is that although an octopus appears to be harmless and weak, it is actually incredibly strong. While serving in Samoa, I once had it explained to me that men who fish for octopus like to search for the smaller ones. I asked why they do not like the larger octopus and was answered that they are too dangerous. If a larger octopus caught hold of the leg or arm of a fisherman and also held onto the reef with another of its many tentacles it would most likely spell the end of that fisherman’s life.
I relate the subtle strength of the octopus to that of temptation and sin. We are confronted daily with opportunities to sin. Oft times, the things that tempt us appear to be harmless and quite tantalizing, as a large octopus might to a fisherman concerned with feeding his family. However, we cannot afford to flirt with disaster. Experimentation with sin can only lead to a life of misery and, ultimately, disappointment when we finally realize the truth of Alma’s words to his son: Wickedness never was happiness (Alma 41:10). The Apostle James put it this way, “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:14-15).
I'll share some more of these in the time to come.