Samoan vs. Hawaiian names

In my last entry, I went on-and-on about the Samoan language, and made a few comparisons with other Polynesian languages, which reminded me of a brief incident years ago that demonstrates the difference between many Samoan and Hawaiian names: [Read more…]

A primer on Polynesian pronounciation…

When I first started learning Samoan in 1965, I soon discovered:

  • It is totally unrelated to English or any other European language, except for ‘upu afakasi — borrowed or “half-caste” words. Please note, Samoa does not have a caste system, but the word afakasi refers to someone or something of mixed heritage.
  • English speakers can handle most of the sounds — except for a couple of sorta’ new ones and some dipthongs (vowel combinations) as well as some completely unusual “swaps” (more on these below).
  • Formal Samoan writing uses diacritic marks which definitely help second-language learners to understand better, but they are not included in most Samoan writing.
  • There is a separate lexicon of chiefly language, bolstered by historical allusions, proverbs and socio-genealogical-geographical knowledge — all filtered through a prescribed centuries-old tradition of oratory — that usually only matai or chief’s learn to varying degrees. Ministers, Latter-day Saint missionaries, and other officials are considered to be chiefly, or just below chiefly rank; and as such, for example, I learned enough to interact with the matai in giving appropriate responses to greetings, addressing chiefs, giving thanks and, of course, speaking in formal situations such as church meetings. But it seemed to me that every skilled Samoan orator considers him- or herself an authority on this chiefly language, and like many foreign-language situations, sometimes one learned just enough to get in trouble. It must also be noted that some references actually say this manner of oratory is a separate language, but it’s definitely Samoan. [Read more…]

A bamboo cannon: New Year’s 2009

First, Happy New Year 2009, or as we say in Hawaii: Hau’oli Makahiki Hou! Those of you who know New Year’s Eves in Hawaii will smile, while those of you who haven’t ever had the pleasure can’t imagine the noise and smoke of the fireworks, plus the enjoyment of the grindz — the food — and fun as families or even whole streets, especially in places like Laie, put picnic tables under easy-up awnings and go at the excitement of burning off thousands of dollars of fireworks. Some Laie families are well-known for their annual New Year’s Eve street parties.

Again, for those not familiar with Oahu, firecrackers up to a certain modest length and quantity are legal (with a permit, from licensed vendors), while almost every store sells the usual fireworks — sparklers, cones, spinners, pop-pops, etc., etc. But the legal limits have never stopped illegal pyrotechnics that also invade the community every year, including window-shaking aerial bombs, bursts and various rockets.

Amid all of this for the first time last night I noticed another noisemaker I hadn’t seen for many years: A Samoan fana ‘ofe or bamboo cannon. [Read more…]