Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Limping Angel

A few years ago, I celebrated the anniversary of my birth by going to watch a Cirque du Soleil show called Varekai. The most memorable performance for me was one called "The Limping Angel” which was performed by a dancer who is almost completely paralysed in his legs. He dances on a pair of crutches to convince a crippled Icarus to rise and attempt to walk after he fell from the heavens. The dancer was Dergin Tokmak. And he was not only magnificent; he was most impressive and inspirational. 
"My message as an artist is to show the world that there is a creative soul in everyone with or without a handicap." - Dergin Tokmak
What captured my interest when I did more research on Dergin was not so much his dancing but his amazing ability to do it considering his history with Polio. Poliomyelitis is a viral disease that can affect nerves and lead to partial or full paralysis. Dergin contracted this virus when he was a child and since then lost complete use of his left leg and most control of his right. He survived by learning to walk on his hands and to rely heavily on his upper body strength in order to move around.

It wasn't until he was twelve when Dergin started experimenting with crutches. He achieved great balance and learnt how to dance by throwing his body around in graceful (albeit limited) motions  whilst supported only by his arms. Soon after, he developed his own form of break-dancing and performed all over Germany under the name 'Stix'. He took part in many competitions, performed on various stages and television shows, and even toured Germany with Run DMC.

Dergin’s story hit close to home for me since my father was also afflicted with Polio when he was younger. He lost the use of muscles in his left leg and some all up his left side including the arm. With his weakened arm, I highly doubt that my father would have been able to dance on crutches but like Dergin, he did not let his condition overshadow him.

Growing up, society tried to make me believe that having a cripple for a father was an embarrassment but I never understood that attitude. My father faced many battles (including discrimination) and I am very proud that he managed to get through them the best he could. This also makes me incredibly proud of Dergin and it truly touches my heart when I read about him being a role model for others who may have been discouraged by a handicap or disability.

I've had some correspondence with Dergin but the language barrier was a bit of an issue. (I should have paid more attention to my dad when he was trying to teach me German.) However I did manage to express to him how he had given me a fresh look at my own situation, having gone through my share of health complexities at the time. He reminded me to focus on the strengths that I had begun to neglect and to build on those in order to become a true survivor.

With each seizure attack I have, I too stand the risk of losing nerve function but that no longer worries me now.  People like my father and Dergin have the willpower to make it through certain difficulties that life had thrown them, and I am assured that I would also be able to deal with the worst that could happen.

Dergin's determination not to allow his disability prevent him from acquiring a successful career in dancing and doing other creative work, certainly serves as proof that anyone has the ability to turn a wish into a possibility. A true inspiration - I have much respect for this man.

Dancing on Crutches - Dergin Tokmak

Dergin dancing in wheelchair and on crutches on remake of James Brown video, Sex Machine

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Burying the Hatchet . . . Samoan Style

I once had a discussion with another Samoan where it was proposed that we “bury the hatchet”. I paused for a moment, then another . . . before refusing. It was only a light conversation between friends including some mock dramatics (from me of course) but it later had me thinking about why I would hesitate to agree to such a thing in a serious situation.

According to my research (i.e. a quick lookup on Google) the expression originates from an American Indian practice, where axes, tomahawks or other weapons are literally buried to signify a peace agreement. This meaning is how it is commonly used in the English language.

However, it may hold another meaning for a Samoan – something not nearly as favourable as a peaceful act. When I heard the expression I was instantly reminded of the famous legend of the warrior brothers, Tuna and Fata, and their preparations in the final battle that drove the overbearing Tongan king and his army out of Samoa for good. The Samoan army (led by Tuna and Fata) buried their weapons not for a peace agreement but as a surprise tactic for an attack. The unsuspecting Tongans watched the Samoans perform song and dance thinking they were going to get a good ol’ entertainment, when suddenly the Samoan warriors retrieved the weapons from where they were hidden in the ground and launched their attack.

So you see how burying the hatchet the Samoan way might be a tad risky. Perhaps it is best to clarify the terms first and consider whether you are asked to bury your weapons for peace or as a warning for a fight. Either way, be prepared :)

Friday, 30 September 2011

Gagana: Possessive pronouns - lo'u/la'u, lou/lau

My previous post about common errors in the Samoan language generated some requests for more tips on Samoan grammar. The most requested topic this week is about understanding how to correctly use the pronouns lo’u/la’u (my) and lou/lau (your).

Possessive Pronouns
These words determine possession. In this blog entry we will only focus on the two: my and your.
The Samoan language has two sets of possessive pronouns. One set is used for the personal nouns, and the other set for the non-personal nouns. The difference between the two is a single vowel change in the pronoun, e.g. lo’u lima (my hand) and la’u taavale (my car).
lima (hand) is a personal noun; taavale (car) is a non-personal noun.

Furthermore, when referring to the noun as a plural (i.e. more than one) the letter l is dropped, e.g. o’u lima (my hands), a’u taavale (my cars).

Below is a general list of categories which may serve as a guide in deciding which vowel to use. There are exceptions, of course, but most nouns are fairly consistant to these lists.

Personal Possessions – When to apply the o  (i.e. lo’u/lou, o’u/ou)

·         Referring to relations, people:
lo’u tinā (my mother), lo’u uso/tuagane/tuafafine (my sibling)
lou tinā (your mother), lou uso/tuagane/tuafafine (your sibling)
Exceptions: tāne (husband), āvā (wife), tama (a woman's child), fānau (children)

·         The soul, emotions, feelings:
lo’u loto (my soul), lo’u māasiasi (my shame), lo'u alofa (my love)
lou loto (your soul), lou māasiasi (your shame), lou alofa (your love)

·         The body and its parts:
lo’u tino (my body), lo’u toto (my blood), lo’u lauulu (my hair)
lou tino (your body), lou toto (your blood), lou lauulu (your hair)
Exception: 'ava (beard)

·         A house and its parts, Land
lo’u fale (my house), o’u faamalama (my windows), lo’u fanua (my land)
lou fale (your house), ou faamalama (your windows), lou fanua (your land)
Exception: faato'aga (plantation)

·         A boat/canoe and its parts
lo’u vaa (my boat)
lou vaa (your boat)

·         Clothing or any garments
o’u seevae (my shoes), lo’u ofuvae (my pants)
ou seevae (your shoes), lou ofuvae (your pants)

Non-Personal Posessions – When to apply the a (i.e. la’u/lau, a’u/au)

·         Referring to language, words, speech
la’u gagana (my language), a’u upu (my words)
lau gagana (your language), au upu (your words)

·         Animals, plants
la’u maile (my dog), a’u laau (my plants)
lau maile (your dog), au laau (your plants)

·         Work, movement, action
la’u galuega (my job), la’u siva (my dance)
lau galuega (your job), lau siva (your dance)

·         Food, drink
la’u meaai (my food), la’u koko-alaisa (my cocoa-rice)
lau meaai (your food), lau koko-alaisa (your cocoa-rice)

·         Weapons and Implements
la’u sapelu (my machete), la’u sipuni (my spoon)
lau sapelu (your machete), lau sipuni (your spoon)

·         Denoting customs and conduct
la’u amio (my behaviour), a’u aga (my conduct)
lau amio (your behaviour), au aga (your conduct)

·         Other property or possessions of every kind
la’u ato (my bag), a’u fagu (my bottles)
lau ato (your bag), au fagu (your bottles)

Hope some of that helps. Ua tau oso le niniva o lo’u ulu, lol.


Sunday, 25 September 2011

Gagana: 5 Common Errors in Samoan

The following points are, in my opinion only, five of the most common grammatical and spelling errors I continue to observe in social gatherings including online sites such as Facebook, Twitter, as well as some independent Islander sites. I assume this may be from a lack of comprehension of the Samoan language so I have included a few notes as guidance. You may either take it or leave it, but I would appreciate if we can share our thoughts in order to increase awareness for those who wish to learn the gagana Samoa (Samoan language).

1.       Misuse of Uso

In English it is understood that a brother is your male sibling, and a sister is your female sibling. In the Samoan language, how you refer to your sibling not only depends on their gender but your own.

For a male: Your brother is your uso, your sister is your tuafafine
For a female: Your sister is your uso, your brother is your tuagane

Put simply, uso is what you call your sibling of the same gender only. I find it hard not to jump in and make this point when a girl calls a guy her uso, and vice versa. Knowing how to refer to family members or friends is one of the first basics one should learn in any language.

2.       Mistranslation of Cousin to be Kasegi/Taseni

Kasegi or taseni means dozen. So when you are trying to convince me that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is your kasegi, what you are really telling me is that he is your dozen.

The proper word is tauusoga. Your relationship with the son or daughter of your aunty or uncle is tauusoga, not kasegi. Unfortunately this word kasegi is becoming an acceptable replacement only because more and more people are now using it . . . erroneously.

3.       Misuse of A’e and Ifo

The use of Directive Particles would normally be a much longer topic in one of my classes, but I will try to summarise and get across an idea with a few quick examples.

a’e: describes something going in the upwards direction, e.g. rising, increasing, ascending, climbing
ifo: describes a downwards direction, e.g. falling, decreasing, descending, lowering

Ou te ala ifo, ua uma le lakapi . (When I woke down, the rugby had finished.)
As you can tell from the English translation, this has a contradictory description and does not make sense at all. It should be:
Ou te ala a’e, ua uma le lakapi. (When I woke up, the rugby had finished.)

setting of the sun - goto o le la
Ua oso a’e le la. (The sun has come up.) I often hear people use oso ifo instead, so in translation they are describing the sun to be rising downwards.

Ua goto ifo le la. (The sun has gone down.) Never use goto a’e together, referring to the sun setting upwards.
Sounds silly in English, doesn’t it? Well it also sounds silly in Samoan, yet it is surprisingly common.

 4.       Incorrect spelling of ma le, i le, a le. . .
I will not go on about the use of prepositions, particles, and conjunctives in the Samoan language. The only point I would like to make is that some people (even some newspaper articles, surprisingly) tend to lump some of them as one word.

Incorrect:                                    Correct:
pusi male isumu                      pusi ma le isumu (cat and the mouse)
male faaaloalo lava                ma le faaaloalo lava (with the utmost respect)
alu ile faleoloa                        alu i le faleoloa (go to the shop)
le taavale ale tama                 le taavale a le tama (the car of the boy/ the boy’s car)

5.       The increasing popularity of the letter W

I am not sure if this is just another one of those spelling trends where people deliberately misspell certain words but I have noticed the increased appearance of the letter W in Samoan social posts. For instance: wa la, awoi, awa.

There is no W in the Samoan alphabet. Some are incorrectly replacing the letter U, which only sounds like the W in the English alphabet. Therefore the words in the examples above should be: ua la, auoi, aua.

What is your opinion of the points I have listed? Do you have other suggestions? What other common errors have you also noticed? Please leave a comment if you agree, disagree, or have a related issue you would like to discuss.

Ma le faaaloalo lava :)


Saturday, 10 September 2011

Who Said I Loved Anything About Samoa?

This is my response to a question raised by another blogger, Lani @ Sleepless in Samoa. Her question was: Why do you love Samoa? Since I felt that an answer to this required further consideration, I chose to move it here as part of my blog so I can elaborate on my thoughts.

My delayed participation in the discussion was because of this: I was not sure whether I truly loved anything about Samoa. There were many aspects of Samoa that I enjoyed and appreciated, but I had to seriously reflect on what it was that I would hold dear about the place where I grew up.

My absolute favourite food
I have not been to Samoa for over 15 yrs because I do not miss anything about it. Honestly, nothing calls me back to the islands at this stage. Of course, I often crave the taste of steamed alili (sea snails), fai’ai gau (dolabella/sea hare baked in coconut cream), and I long for fresh, green coconuts to quench my thirst. Still, as much as I reminisce about food or the beauty of its beaches and landscapes, I just could not be sure what it is that I could confidently say I love about Samoa.

Today, I finally found my answer. The reason why I do not miss Samoa is because I never left it behind. Wherever I choose to be in this world, I always carry within me the gagana (language) and the aganuu (culture) of my ancestors. This is exactly what my soul is deeply engrossed in. This is what I truly LOVE about Samoa.

My cravings for Samoan food and beauty will never match my desire for knowledge of the faasamoa. Without being aware of it, this seems to be the very reason why I have been drawn to teaching Samoan Language and Culture. In sharing my knowledge with others, I share my passion with them in the hope that they also will grow to appreciate the faasamoa  as I do. It is also a great drive for me to learn more, but most of all, is that I feel myself connecting with my ancestors in the process.

The last few days have been an overwhelming experience where I was immersed in this knowledge of the gagana ma le aganuu Samoa via presentations by a professor of Samoan Studies. I had promised a few people that I will give them a summary of the presentations, but I am going to need more time as I am still trying to absorb the information myself. Stay tuned :)