It was last year that I was looking for a Polynesian based movie to watch. I went to Amazon Prime and search, “Samoa,” and I had watched most of those. I then searched “New Zealand,” and a movie called White Lies popped up. I didn’t really know what it was about. The description read, “A medicine woman is asked to hide a secret that will protect one life and endanger another. Based on a novel by Whale Rider writer Witi Ihimaera, White Lies – New Zealand’s entry in the 2014 Oscar competition for best foreign-language film – is an intense drama that explores with great humanity and sensitivity such difficult topics as race relations, skin bleaching and abortion.”
I didn’t know if I wanted to watch it, but I also knew I need to watch it. Especially since it had a recent release date. Y’all, I didn’t even know what I was in for. If you haven’t seen this movie, I highly encourage that you do so. It’s one of the few movies out there that displays what it was like in New Zealand during the 20th century. Now, is the time that I’m going to warn you that SPOILERS ARE AHEAD! So, if you haven’t watched it, stop reading, spend about 96 minutes of your day and watch this incredible film. Then come back and join me in this discussion!
In the movie, a Māori woman, Maraea, who has turned her back on her culture, was the maid for a light skinned lady, Rebecca. Her mistress was in trouble because she was pregnant and her husband was away. At least, that’s what the movie wants you to think. Anyways, Maraea enlists the help of a Māori medicine woman, Paraiti, to help Rebecca abort the baby. At first, Paraiti refuses, but because of an unfortunate circumstance, she agrees. What Marea and Rebecca don’t know is that Paraiti intends on saving the baby and mother. Because not only is Rebecca pregnant, but she has been bleaching her skin for goodness knows how long. Which if you haven’t already thought it is extremely bad for her health and the baby’s health. So, what’s the point of all this exposition?
Well, let’s start with the skin bleaching. Cause here’s the kicker – Maraea is Rebecca’s MOTHER. I don’t know if it’s to be assumed that Rebecca is afakasi or if she was just a really light skin Pasifika. Either way, she was “passing” to the point that her mother was willing to put her life in danger in two ways. One the skin bleaching and two if she has the baby it could be dark skin which is putting her life in danger with her wealthy palagi husband who could think she had an affair. This is why we must unlearn colonizing ways of thinking.
Colonization has sent people doing dangerous things just so they can fit into the system’s ridiculous mold. We straighten our hair to where we burn it. We bleach our skin till it makes us sick. We starve ourselves till we develop diseases. We are one of the biggest group of people who deal with mental illness because of this mindset. When will it stop?
Like Rebecca, I’m an afakasi. And, as an afakasi, as some of you know, you either look like you’re Pasifika or you’re ethnically ambiguous. I’m the latter, and had developed a colonized way of thinking because I would say, “I’m passing.” In that, I could pass for a white person. My family has told me how white I am, a cop who pulled me over for speeding put down I was white (he was half correct and I wondered if I only had to pay half the ticket lol), and the list goes on. The point is, I thought it was okay to joke and be like, “I’m passing!” Till one day my coworker, who is Black, pointed out how sad it was that I would say that. It dawned on me that the system had colonized my way of thinking. It had forced me to be worry that I couldn’t really claim I’m Samoan because I was “too white.” The thing I’m learning now is that it’s not the color of my skin that makes me Samoan, but what’s in my heart. The Samoan blood runs through my veins. I carry my ancestors with me and I’m a future ancestor, and as a future ancestor I have to understand what my ancestors went through.
Rebecca’s story is not a new one. In America, there is a history of light-skinned African Americans who would pass as white. So, they were treated better, even declared they were white. The problem was for the women. When they married their white husbands and then had children they weren’t sure who their baby would resemble the most. There’s an American movie called Imitation of Life that delves into this. If you have time, you need to watch it. It’s a part of history that is painful and has heartbreaking consequences. Consequences like not knowing your family tree because it had been erased because of shame.
This is things we must learn from our past so we can unlearn them now.
One with Mother Earth
You know when you feel like the universe is trying to tell you something? Well, that’s been happening with me. One of those things has been to learn how our ancestors lived and how they lived their lives and the circle of life. Let me explain.
I was listening to the For the Qultures podcast and they had two Pasifika doulas talking about pregnancy and how our ancestors worked. What many Pasifika midwives did before us and how they respected the woman, her baby, and the placenta. They also discuss how Pasifika women are treated in the system when they go in for a delivery. It’s unnerving. If you haven’t listened to it, you definitely need to. Maile & Ruta are so wise. They have started a great program in the San Francisco area. You can find out more here.
Then, I was listening to the Planting Seeds podcast. It was an episode about astronomy and how our ancestors navigated using the stars. He also mentions how our ancestors would take the placenta, plant it, and then use it as fertilizer for their food. It’s this circle of life and respect that was absolutely amazing. The respect for the placenta and how it sustains us and flows within us from the food we grow.
On top of both these examples, I was reminded of a scene from White Lies where Paraiti takes Rebecca’s baby’s placenta and honors it by burying it. You see earlier, Paraiti was trying to help a Māori girl with her pregnancy. When she heard that the girl was taken to a palagi hospital, she rushed over. She then found out she was not allowed to go help the girl and the girl and baby passed away. Not understanding the Māori traditions, the palagi nurses and doctors treat the baby, placenta, and girl with disrespect. It’s a scene that is heartbreaking because this may be a movie, but we know it probably happened for many of our ancestors.
These three instances were shouting at me that I needed to unlearn my colonizing ways. That I need to take time to grow my own food. Take time to understand how my body works as a Pasifika woman and prepare for whether or not I will have a hospital delivery or a natural one.
There are so many white lies we have been told since colonization and with many of us being scattered. It is time we unlearn them. We can no longer let them hold us back.
Some of these white lies are how we look. Some of these white lies are telling us we are only able to work in a certain industry. Some of these white lies are telling us we aren’t enough.
But you know what? THOSE ARE ALL LIES!
We are a gorgeous community. I am always going through social media and love how our people look. Especially Pasifika who embrace their whole selves. It’s an inspiration for sure. We all come in different shades, and that is something we need those outside and inside our community to know. We aren’t confined.
Also, we are able to do a myriad of things. We can become doctors, lawyers, business people, etc. Sure we need people to play sports and write music, it’s in our blood, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do other things and be well known for it. For Americans to think that American Samoa is basically a petri dish for the perfect football player is problematic because that’s not the only thing we’re good at. Sure, I think it’s great if that’s your talent and you should go for it, but if it’s not then know that you can be amazing and well-known for whatever your gift is. The colonizer way of mind wants to box us in, but we need to break out.
Plus, we come in different colors. There’s not one shade of Pasifika. We are unique and beautiful. Once our community embraces are similarities rather than the differences, we can then show those outside the community that they can’t divide us and break us. We are one – one love.
And, that my friends is the koko.