Manulauti: “E felelei manu ae e ma’au o latou ofaga”
Proverb/Saying– Birds migrate to environments where they survive and thrive.
My journey to New Zealand begins a little before the day we left. Some of the earlier footage shows me between the age of four years old to 10 years old. There is even a really short clip of me in New Zealand washing dishes with my sisters. I would have been about 4. My story is helped because my father had a movie 8 camera and so the memories of our journey were captured in movie form.
Our travel story began at Faleolo Airport in Apia Samoa. The year is early 1973.
I was born in Samoa during the year of independence. My father was a New Zealander who travelled to Samoa for overseas experience. He met my mother whose father was Danish and whose mother was Samoan. They fell in love, married and had a family there. They lived together in Samoa for 14 years and had four daughters. I was number three. Kathie was the eldest. Dad nicknamed her ka’avale because her initials spelt Kar. Then Astrid, who was known as Aiskulimi, named by my great grandmother, myself Sonya, named after my godmother and finally Biddy nick named after my paternal grandmother, shortened from her real name of Brigitte.
My early years in Samoa were idyllic and I often view those early times with rose tinted glasses. I was able to grab some of those moments of sea swimming, of visiting grandparents each weekend, visiting Savaii and always seemed to be surrounded by cousins and extended family. I love Samoa, my culture, my language and my people. My childhood memories of Samoa are like a long summer holiday by the beach. The sun is always shining and the sounds of everyday life and life smells like the umu, ground oven fires, are vivid. The trees and grass are always vividly green and the sea and amazing colour.
My narrative began the year I turned 10 and our family had an enormous adventure. We were moving to New Zealand for good. We would leave behind an extensive extended family with heaps of cousins and we would also leave behind maternal grandparents and childhood friends.
So this day began at the airport. I was there with my mum, dad and three sisters. We had special outfits made for the journey. Us ladies were all dressed identically in pants suit with a white blouse. The three younger ones wore green. My hair was blonde and short. My eyes were grey more than blue. At the airport, all the extended family were there with us. Included in the farewelling family was my great aunty Else who was visiting my Grandpa. She lived in San Francisco. In the video there are snapshots of aunties and uncles and of course the cousins. Unfortunately I had to cut a lot of dad’s movies because of quality.
Memories I have of that day was the weight of wearing shell necklaces. Also being given American dollars and at the time the total of $5.00 seemed like a fortune. The most I had ever held previously was $1.00 Samoan money.
The biggest conflict we had as a family was deciding what was important enough to take with us. I do not remember much of the decision making, but can remember packing and packing and repacking. Mum had to downsize the house contents. I remember the wooden packing boxes, but little else. The treasures I brought with me were my doll collection, my stamp collection, my Langelinie Danish blue plate and my Hans Christian Anderson book of fairy tales. I cannot remember packing clothes but I must have included clothing.
Another conflict was saying goodbye to everyone we knew. Saying goodbye to grandpa and nana was the hardest because they were such a huge part of our lives.
After saying goodbye to all the family who had come to the airport to farewell us, we flew to Nadi, Fiji. I believe we overnighted there. My main memory of Fiji was being sick with my first migraine and my older sister Astrid taking care of me. She held my hair from my face while I was sick and she massaged the back of my neck. She kept wetting the flannel because I was so hot.
Our next stop was Auckland where we paid a toll to cross the harbour bridge and we stayed with my Uncle Einer and family. Those memories included picking and eating strawberries for the very first time. My aunty Sigrid whipped creme and again this was my first experience. We played and got to know our New Zealand cousins and those early visits remained such an important part of our extended family relationships. This family had a massive pohutukawa tree growing right in their back yard.
Then dad hired a car for the journey south. The car seemed enormous in memory but the video shows not that large. In the car we had our luggage and we all piled in. The memories of that trip included the sounds of the lamp posts whooshing past, like the sound of helicopter blades, We travelled really fast compared to how we would travel on the pot holed roads in Samoa. We saw hundreds and hundreds of sheep. Their noise sticks in my mind and there was a lot of open farmland.
Our next stop was Foxton where we stayed with my Aunty Shirley, my dad’s older sister and her family. We had fish and chips. I had never eaten that before either.
From Foxton we travelled to Wellington and we must have crossed the ferry but I have no memories of that part of the journey or of travelling down the south island to Christchurch.
My next memories were of the motel we stayed at while our house was being finalised. We watched Coronation street and I could not understand what the actors were saying because of the strong accents. Coronation street is an English programme.
We visited my paternal grandfather and he took my little sister and me down to feed the ducks on the Avon river.
Soon we moved into our new home and I remember thinking how small the new house was. There was not much land and the neighbouring houses were really close together. There was the most incredible vegetable garden with several fruit trees growing. The fence supported a massive grape vine with three varieties of grapes. We spent the rest of the summer making friends with the neighbouring children. They were curious about us and us of them. They all spoke so fast that I was continually challenged to understand them. I had grown up in the Samoan language and all of my previous schooling had been in Samoan. Even though we spoke English when dad was around, my English was not as strong as my Samoan language. Another memory I have is the telephone. In Samoa we had to call the operator but in New Zealand we could dial using a rotary dial phone.
Then school began for the new year and I was placed in standard three. (Year 5). My teacher was Mr Syme. I was the oldest in the class because in Samoa I was the generation that began school at six years old. For the rest of my school life I was always the oldest pupil in the class.
During my first week at school, I received an absolute growling because I had run on the verandah. I knew I was in trouble because of the teacher yelling at me. I had no idea what he said, but all I knew I was in big trouble. Luckily my own teacher rescued me and explained what I had done wrong and spoke with the growling teacher. I was terrified. My other memory of school was being asked to read aloud in class. I read the word guinea pig as gunner pig and all the children laughed. My second year of school was much better. I had a really nice teacher called Mr Marshall who helped me heaps with my maths. So I think at that time my maths was not the best. He used to read to us everyday and let us draw. He also played softball with us regularly at lunchtime.
The school seemed so rich with a large swimming pool and we had class lessons every day. My other memory of that pool was ice on the water before we got in. We would swim with the ice if we went in first for the day. The school had flushing toilets and they even had toilet paper. In Samoa we had to take our own toilet paper. The classrooms had windows and the desks were individual. So there was a lot to get used to. One was having lunch at school. Lunchtime at school always felt wrong and really weird because we were not used to that. The school days seemed so long too. In Samoa we began at 8.00am and finished at 1.00pm. I spent many lunchtimes in the library because I felt so odd and the other children would continuously ask me questions. I played softball and was really good at catching long balls. I learnt the violin which was an instrument my oldest sister Kathie played. One of my biggest challenge at school was learning the children’s names. The names were so different to what I had been used to. Names like Carmel, sounding like camel. Robert, Stephen and Nicola are some names I remember.
The other difference was the school we attended was a state school and in Samoa we had attended a Catholic school. Dad bought us each a second hand bike and I was soon riding to and from school. That first year, Canterbury had heat waves and chickens died on the farms. Then that winter we had snow and got a week off school. I had never seen snow before. I biked to and from school regardless of the weather. I biked when it hailed and I biked when it snowed. The winter season was always so cold. I wove a scarf on the school loom that I wore to keep my nose and ears warm and I made myself some gloves from sheepskin. I have no idea where the sheepskin came from but those gloves saw me right through to high school. In those days we did not wear hats at school.
Years later I found out that we had moved to New Zealand for two reasons. One was to be closer to my fathers aging parents and the other was so that we could have a good education and go to the local university.
Dad continued to travel back to Samoa for his work while we stayed in New Zealand with mum. When he returned he always brought island food and letters from Samoa. This was before the internet. On some journey he brought us tape recorded messages and so we could hear our grandparents and cousins voices.
The food was a challenge. I remember eating cauliflower for the first time and at how disgusting it was. The coffee was instant and we were used to bean coffee back in Samoa with heaps of sugar. I missed eating taro and having fresh tree ripened bananas. The store bought bananas took a lot of getting used to, if we could get them. Other than that we were able to buy rice and eat similar food to what we ate in Samoa. We hung out for palusami and ground oven cooked taro when dad came back.
My father’s father passed away in the second year we were in New Zealand. I am glad we were able to spend some time getting to know him. We all had a good education and a couple of us went to university.
Before I know it, I have lived in New Zealand for over forty years. The years have flown by and I now love New Zealand and call New Zealand home. But Samoa will always be my first home.
I still visit Samoa when I can and have taken my own sons back for visits. I still speak Samoan and recently learned how to master chop suey like how my grandmother made it. I have learned to make palusami using spinach leaves, but the taste is not quite the same. I learned to love cauliflower when I discovered that it needed serving with cheese sauce.
Sometimes I do wonder about what might have happened if we had remained in Samoa. I wonder what my life would be like now. I wonder if I should have returned and brought my sons up in Samoa when I had the opportunity. I also wonder what I would take if I moved to another country.
Like the bird in my proverb, I already was grown and had all my markings when I left Samoa. Coming to New Zealand to a new environment does not change who I am. What the new environment does is add to my story.
For you reading this:
- Are you a migrant, or a descendent of a migrant?
- What is your story?
- If you write one, can you please share your story with me?