The Orator: A movie review by Tim Brian Tufuga

O le Tulafale

The movie release of The Orator: O le Tulafale was for Samoans throughout the globe a very touching nostalgic journey of the Fa’aSamoa and for the non-Samoan a window into the pecularised Fa’aSamoa culture.

The Orator: O le Tulafale

The opening scene sets the ambient surrounding of a tropical backdrop, the mountains silhouettes and acts as a juxtaposition to a deep iridescent blue skyline. The heavy foreboding pelting of the tropical raindrops spashes upon the Yam leaves blotting the brown earthiness of Samoan soil. It is sometime during the spasmodic rainy season. The Samoan Pacific Isolation seems to be emphatic with the social isolation of the protagonist character, whom, paradoxically, is not the Tulafale, but, rather, it is the wife of the Tulafale. Although the protagonist is meant to be the Dwarf Orator, Fiaula Sanote, the overarching theme is one of belonging and the sense of ‘lotonu’u’, (village loyalty) ma ‘lotoaiga’ (loyalty to family), a theme which was not overly recognised by many outsider movie critics. The overarching theme of love and family bonds seems to have been articulated well and truly within this movie. The motif of Matai Authority is emphasised with the denial of vestiges of power to the Dwarf and his emasculation due not only to his physical size but also to the lack of  cultural, fa’aSamoa, (Samoan Culture), authority being a commoner and a son of a deceased chief. The only exception to the rule is for amalgamated chiefly status (O le Aiga O Tupu, the royal highness titles). The central theme of bequethed hereditory authority, ie, inheriting customary landrights, is not a particular aspect of the Samoan culture which is clearly revealed in this movie. Why is this a central aspect of the Samoan culture? It is likened to the right to chiefly status, in that, the right to rule is earned, “O le ala o le pule o le tautua”, (The right to authority and rulership is through service rendered).  As was clearly indicated in this movie, the Dwarf was a son of a high chief whom had died and was buried as was revealed throughout the movie. The dwarf is not afforded the same rights as was bequethed to his late father and was denied the customary landrights. The dwarf’s wife, Va’aiga, played by Tausili Pushparaj, is in fact a banished woman from a distant village, she displayed a very strong will which was considered as unacceptable by the patriarchical chiefs of her home village. She is considered as a very strong willed woman and very articulate, but, she is sickly and is dying from some incurable disease. She is adamant in never returning to her family, in part due to her banishment, and, in part also, due to the fact that she is married to her Dwarfish husband. Unfortunately, Va’aiga, is a flawed character, she is ashamed of her dwarfish husband, whom remains hidden when her brother, Poto, a Tulafale, an Orator, and the family, arrive to cajole her back to her home village. Va’aiga consider’s her husband as a perceived  ‘Luma’, (a public humiliation), due not only to his Dwarfish appearance but to his emasculation impoverishment.

The Orator, is also a story of the emasculation of manhood, and the strength of the faletua, (wife), which strengthens the espousal bonds to empower the aiga, or the wedlock househod from the paroxysms of an inimical environment, the loss of customary landrights is indicative of Samoan cultural emasculation. The rite to power for a Samoan is to claim their landrights which can only be proffered through the fa’amatai (Chiefly status) of all heads of the family, albeit, the husband. The Samoan culture is made of two distinctive groups, the feudalised Chiefly class, the Matai, and the commoners, the untitled men and womenfolk, or the (Aualuma (women)  and Aumaga (men)). The Chiefs, are divied not only the seniority but also of specific roles, the Matai Ali’i is a High Chief and the head of the village council of chiefs, he or she, is not considered as an Orator but is the sole ruler of the village. The Orator, (the Tulafale), is the talking chief, whom stands armed with the symbols of office, Fue, (the fly whisk), and the most important symbol of all, the talking staff, (Le To’oto’o). The talking chief can not address the village chiefs and or a village audience with any authority without having these symbols of office especially the staff, for it is the manifest symbol of the talking chief. The conferment of oratory chiefly status can only be achieved through the appropriate saufa’i (or chiefly ceremony), this is ritualised through the kava ceremony and the blessings by a quorum of village chiefs especially the high chief.

The Samoan people, like many cultures, are as facile and materialistic, and this is indicative with the cultural Oratory bartering exchanges, and in particular, with the passing of wands of dollar notes, indiscretely placed in fattened envelopes, and given to each respective Orator (Tulafale ma le ‘au malaga) and his entourage, but, what makes Samoans unique, is the valued significance of fine mats( I’eToga) and a mysterious exchanges, which is considered culturally valued moreso than the fattened wands of notes in envelopes. The malaga will come barring gifts, or si’i, which is expected to be reciprocated by the hosts, that is to say, the host is expected to give something for them to return to their village with as a gesture of shared burden or celebration.

Perhaps, the most puzzling aspect of this movie is the Ifoga ceremony, (forgiveness), which has been considered as somewhat of a slight exaggeration, with the thugs remaining outside of the house of Saili (the Dwarf) until he allows them to be pardoned for attacking him with rocks. The failure of the audience to understand this scene is in part due to the lack of understanding of the Samoan justice system. When a criminal culpable act has been committed the victim, upon the approval of the council of chiefs, may have the power to enforce the law of the village, which may be through an enforcement of a sala, or punishment, or a fine, and at worse, the perpetrator of the crime or malfeance, may be banished (Tuli ese mai le nu’u) from the village. The ifoga, is the process of reparation and forgiveness, which may include monetary compensation likened to western societies, or if not the ifoga requires ietoga and other compensatory means so as to recompense the loss of property and or bodily harm to the aggrieved.

The complication of the plot of the movie seems to have been emphasised with the coincidental untimely death of Va’aiga whilst the ifoga was taking place. This climatic moment seems to have confused the audience because the ifoga ceremony was unrelated to the inadvertent death of Va’aiga.

Va’aiga’s death becomes the climax of the story and the cometh the man of our protagonist Saili. The somewhat macabre fight for her corpse for buriel seems rather bizzare from a Westerner perspective. Samoans, value their loved ones in life and in death. The Samoans would bury their dead in monuments in front or around their homes as a symbol of connection of loved ones with their land. It is unusual for Samoans to cremate their loved ones it is almost considered as an insult to cremate anyone unless it is an enemy.

The motif of the ‘Ie Measina’, a finemat, woven so meticulously which takes months and even sometimes years of arduous and tidious work primarily by women is considered of the highest cultural symbol for not only the Samoans but also to the Tongans. The exhibition of the Ie measina is displayed likened to a Picasso painting for the villagers to admire. The finer the woven mat the more valued it is. Throughout the final moments of  Va’aiga’s life she spends weaving the fine mat, it is her message to her people and a passing gift to her family and village, a testament symbol of her legacy of her lasting commitment to her family and her village to the very last gasp of her life.

The shortcomings of this movie may be considered as few from a Samoan point of view, from a non-Samoan point of view there are some demystifing nuances and aspects of the Samoan culture which may be considered particular to the Samoan. Absent from the storyline is the overwhelming influence of Judeao-Christianity which is very central to the Samoan culture.

Overall, Tusi Tamasese has done an unprecedented service to the Samoan culture and to the diaspora of Samoans throughout the world whom can identify so acutely with the nuances and peculiarities of the Samoan characteristic.

Finally, the Margaret Mead School of though would find some very identifiable sexual license truism of the Samoan behaviour which is also revealed ever so subtley in this movie.

Ma le fa’aloalo lava

Fa’afetai

Tim Tufuga

Brisbane

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  1. #1 by Nicholas O'Brien on November 17, 2011 - 2:21 pm

    Interesting review, I’ll have to check it out!

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