Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Samoan Sayings

I've gotten a lot of hits on this blog where the visitor had searched for Samoan sayings or famous Samoan sayings or Samoan proverbial sayings and the like, mainly because of a couple of posts (here and here) wherein I related a number of them to gospel principles. I hope all those who've landed on those pages were able to find some of what they were looking for.

In the years since my mission to the Samoan islands I've wanted to buy a particular book of Samoan sayings. It's a classic, but it's out of print and I've never gotten around to purchasing an old used (likely beaten up) copy. I'm talking about Schultz's Samoan Proverbial Expressions or Proverbial Expressions of the Samoans, whichever you prefer.

Well, in honor of all those who have landed at this site looking for more Samoan sayings than I had to offer, I now present the mother lode: all 560 of Schultz's collected expressions--all for free.


Here we have the ultimate collection of ancient Samoan wisdom and allusions to their myths, legends, nature, and material culture. Samoan sayings or proverbs are a key component to chiefly rhetoric. This handy-dandy reference is a veritable pearl of great price for anyone hoping to make any sense at all of what chiefs really mean when they say something like,

183. E sau le fuata ma lona lou. When the breadfruit harvest comes, the lou will be found, too.

The lou is a long pole with a crook at the end, used in gathering breadfruit. After the harvest the pole will be laid aside or thrown away. For the next harvest the old lou will be fetched again or a new one will be made. Thus, there is a lou for every harvest.

Upu fa'amafanafana. Consolatory words used at the death of a matai: Every generation has its chiefs and orators.

But, you have to be careful. Schultz's great work isn't infallible. For instance, the following example tripped me up about 18 months into my mission:

375. E toa e [sic] le loto, 'ae pa le no'o. The will is strong, but the hips are broken.

The spirit is strong, but the flesh is weak.

It seems innocuous enough, except that in this case no'o doesn't mean hips, it means bowels. And pa doesn't mean broken, it means burst.

A little background is in order: I was serving in American Samoa at the time and had come down with the flu. After visiting with a doctor at the hospital, my fellow missionary, a Samoan, and I were dropped off by some other missionaries at the furthest point in our area so we could make some visits.

We stopped by one family's place and they had prepared the customary meal for us. I ate but little for I had no appetite. The woman who retrieved my tray of food commented on how little I ate. I attempted to smooth over the insult with an apology, which translates as follows: "In truth the desire to eat a lot was there, but as the saying of old men goes, 'The will is strong, but the hips are broken.'"

My Samoan missionary companion burst into laughter. I was startled somewhat and asked him why. That made him laugh even harder because he realized that I'd made my mistake in complete innocence. He asked me where I had heard that saying. I told him that I'd found it in my dictionary, the author of which had drawn from Schultz's earlier work. He asked me if I knew what it meant. I answered in the affirmative, telling him what its figurative application was supposed to be.

He assured me that in that sense of it I wasn't wrong. It was the literal meaning that I hadn't understood. He asked me if I understood the word pa. Yes, I said. He asked if hips, as in hip bones, burst. I had to admit they don't. He then asked me if I knew what was located near the hips which could burst.

It took me a second to think his question through. Then, in a burst of inspiration, it dawned on me what I had said: "The will is strong, but my bowels have burst."

The thing about Samoans is that they have a splendid sense of humor; fortunately, one that can even accommodate a little inadvertent potty humor from an unsuspecting foreigner.

Enjoy the Samoan sayings.

10 comments:

Katie said...

Hehehe. Gotta love moments like that.

Mountain Man said...

Ahhhhh.... One of the my favorites of your many stories.
Never gets old.
*giggle*
Mostly because I can remember when I managed to tell some of our ward missionaries (in my horrible 2 month new Tagalog) that "I exposed myself to someone" instead of I saw that 'someone' earlier. I repeated myself about 3 times - the driver of the car was about to wreck the car she was laughing so hard.
Aaaaaahhhhh... good times. :)

Nate said...

Oh, man, Dave...er...Mountain Man! I think yours tops mine. That's hilarious.

Carey Ann said...

Malo lava! Love reading your blog. Recipes are good too!

Fai fai le mu and have a great weekend!

Nate said...

Faafetai tele! Ia manuia foi le weekend!

Suzie said...

Love it. We are one of those couples who met you through your blog. We miss Samoa dearly. We'll be in Hawaii for the rededication. We hope to see you guys!

Leao Filipe Tusiane said...

malo lava samoa

Leao Filipe Tusiane said...

Malo Samoa

FSM said...

Why do none of the above links connect to a proverb lol?

Nate said...

@FSM: Hmmm . . . I'm not sure why the links aren't working. Thanks for pointing that out. I'll see what I can do about them.