I am a Samoan – but not a Samoan
To my aiga in Samoa, I am a palagi [foreigner]
I am a New Zealander – but not a New Zealander
To New Zealanders, I am a bloody coconut, at worst,
A Pacific Islander, at best,
To my Samoan parents, I am their child. 1
This verse encapsulates the paradox of identity for many New Zealand-born Samoans. In Samoan communities they are not ‘Samoan enough’; they are ‘fiapalagi’ (wanting to be like a European). In the wider New Zealand community Samoans have been taunted as ‘not New Zealanders’, ‘coconuts’, or ‘FOBs’ (fresh off the boat). These see-sawing perceptions may end for some in a secure self-identity, but for others in a state of confusion.
Many young Samoans talk about having time out as a reaction to the dilemma of identity. This usually involves leaving the church and rejecting parental authority. It can include experimentation with drugs, alcohol, and marginal lifestyles. For those ready to return to some form of stability, the church often provides the anchor.
Many New Zealand-born Samoans exploring alternatives take on the PI (Pacific Island) identity. Combining elements of their parents’ customs and society with urban influences, this is a new culture with a distinctive patois, music, fashion and customs.
In the 1960s and 1970s, this decidedly Polynesian identity included young Māori. However, strengthening Māori identity led to a separation of Māori from the Polynesian group. The PI culture emerged as the focus of identity for non-Māori Polynesians. As separate Pacific ethnicities begin to demand their own recognition, the all-inclusive Pacific Island framework may be replaced by separate Samoan, Tongan, Cook Island and Niuean identities.
The PI identity has been adopted mainly by younger, New Zealand-born Pacific Islanders, who feel a greater bond with one another than do their island-born elders. Bolstered by inclusive PI groupings in schools and institutions, it provides a broader identity than ‘Samoan’. It also offers a larger peer group, more easily adopted by those not comfortable in their parents’ languages or cultures.
However, Samoans in New Zealand have distinctive experiences and values which they do not share with other Pacific Islanders. Differences of culture and language outweigh the commonality of the New Zealand experience. In the end, New Zealand-born Samoans are bound more strongly to their family than to their transient cosmopolitan acquaintances.
PI identity is a phenomenon of young people. When they mature and have their own children, Samoans tend to return to their ethnic identity. For those of mixed ethnicity, Samoan identity is passed on to younger generations by the stories and instructions of their mothers or grandmothers, or by fathers who have been influenced markedly by their mothers.