‘Do you paint your head?’

Ya gotta’ love Samoan semantics: Not too long ago a Samoan friend asked me, ua vali ea lou ulu? which more literally translated means, “do you paint your head?” The Samoan word, vali, however, can also mean makeup or dye — as in hair dye — so in a kinda’ Samoan way she was really asking me if I dyed my hair.

I have to admit, her question made me think of those cheesy TV commercials where the guy spray-paints a balding head to make it look like a “fuller, thicker head of hair.”

Granted, these days my hair is pretty much gray around the temples, and if someone were to really dig through it they would find a lot more silver up there…but mostly my hair appears brown — EXCEPT when I put some mousse or gel on it, in which case it pretty much appears dark brunette. And the kind of mousse I use keeps it that way most of the time. Hence the question, I guess.

But turn-around is fair play, so I answered her: Leai, na’o le ga’o lava. “No it’s really only ga’o,” the number-one definition of the last Samoan word meaning “lard” or “fat”…

…and since we were both of an age, referring to the good old days when guys used to use greasy pomade that came in jars and tubes, giving rise to the term “greaser” — someone who usually over-oiled his hair and combed it in the flamboyant styles of the day. It also made me think of the can my mom used to keep on the stove where she poured off hot grease and made her own lard when I was a kid. But I digress.

Plenty of guys used to rub pomade into their hair when I was growing up, but I never really cared for it; and while ordering ga’o in a Samoan store back in my missionary days in the mid-60s would get you some cooking lard, even the smallest country stores there also almost always carried fagu ga’o or small glass jars of sweet-smelling, greasy pomade.

Now days by far, I prefer my Paul Mitchell medium-hold coconut-scented mousse in a spray can…even if it does make some people wonder if I “paint my head.”

— By Mike Foley: Originally published on August 24,  2009

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