If we were living in Samoa, my children would dance the traditional Samoan siva at school and it would be no big deal. Because everybody does the siva in Samoa at some point, either for a school culture activity, or church/community/village event. And sure, I would go watch them and clap and cheer for them – but only because I’m their mum and that’s what mums have to do. Watch their kids and clap enthusiastically when they perform nice things in public.
As a kid, I had to dance the siva all the time, even when I didn’t want to…*sigh*…for my father’s village, for school culture day, for Independence celebrations, for taupou duties and even for a “Miss Tausala Soccer Pageant” (ugh, don’t ask.) It never occurred to me that dancing the siva was anything very special, because everybody did it. Every body HAD to do it at some point…kinda like riding a bike or making a flower ‘ula’ lei or cutting grass with a bushknife machete. (You’ve ALL done those things, right?!) So how could it be special then? How could it be a real skill? How could it be a true ‘measina’, a true cultural treasure or precious part of my Samoan heritage – when it was no big deal??
Then I grew up and discovered that actually, lots of people don’t know how to dance the siva. (Just like lots of people don’t know how to make a flower lei, or cut grass with a bushknife! No way…serious?? ) And lots of people go take lessons from experts so they can learn how to dance at their weddings and stuff. Hmmm, interesting…
And then we moved here to New Zealand and I realized, my children probably weren’t going to absorb the Samoan siva out of thin air or via cultural osmosis and if I wanted them to be halfway useful at a cultural event – then I’d better teach them myself. So two months ago, I started teaching the daughters how to dance the siva. Even Bella was in the lessons. They weren’t always very enthusiastic about it and I wasn’t always very excited ( or loving and kind) about it either. But, we persisted and sometimes we actually had fun with it.
Tonight, for the first time, we danced the siva together in public, in front of other people. I thought Bella would chicken out at the last minute but she stuck with it and bravely danced the entire performance with the rest of us. She stayed very close by my side and looked up at me as a guide for her hands, feet and heart, carefully patterning her dancing after mine. She was afraid, nervous and at times unsure – but she trusted me to show her the way. In that moment I realized, I am a mother literally handing down heritage to my daughters. Generations of taupou before me have learnt the same siva from their elders – grandmothers, aunties and mothers and then danced to the same song that we danced to. And maybe, hopefully, one day, Bella will teach the siva to her children, dance alongside them – and have them look up to her as a guide for their hands, feet and hearts.
I had to try really hard not to cry up there – because I was so very proud of my three daughters and so very grateful I could be dancing with them, in a shared ‘cultural’ experience. I have danced the siva many many times in my life. But tonight, for the first time, I felt like the siva was truly a ‘measina o Samoa’, something precious and essential to who we are as tamaitai Samoa, Samoan mothers, daughters and sisters. Something that links us to the women who walked before us and ties us to those who will come after.
And in a funny sort of way, I have New Zealand to thank for this experience because if we were living at home in Samoa, I would have left the siva teaching of my daughters up to cultural osmosis and the siva would have been just another ordinary thing everybody in Samoa does. Nothing special. Nothing skilful. Nothing precious at all.