Cultural Navigation

So — don’t tell anyone — but I was doing a little light research when I read the following passage:

[French explorer de Bougainville marvelled at the skill of the Samoan sailors who knew] how to use the sun and stars as a guide and how to take advantage of prevailing winds. Furthermore, they seemed to have a wonderful sense of direction that would tell them the right direction of travel no matter what strange surroundings they were in. And, like a bird of migration, the Samoan sailors unerringly returned to the island from which they had set out.

And I flashed on this early exchange:


Our PET WRITER and his GODDESS seek directions from the writer’s AWESOME SISTER.


We just want to find the nearest supermarket.


Easy-peasy: you take the first left and you’ll see a KFC on the corner. Drive past it for three blocks until you see a McDonalds, take a right before the golden arches, and you can’t miss it.


... I have no idea what you just said.


It’s okay, I got it.


(off writer and his sister)

... It’s an island thing, isn’t it?

Pet Writer and Awesome Sister try not to smile patronisingly at her.

Wellington, 2008: there’s a KFC two blocks down to the right there.

Good Sick

Pic courtesy

I had a typical 1970s Pacific Islander upbringing: every Sunday began with getting up at what felt like first cock’s crow to attend a church service, followed by Sunday school, followed by an interminable wait for the adults to finish their networking and whatever, then get home for to’ona’i.

Damn those Sunday mornings felt like forever. Still, my parents — bless their jandalled feet — would, on the way home, sometimes stop by a Kentucky or Homestead outlet to pick up some fried chicken to add to the to’ona’i staples of rice, sapa sui, corned beef, taro, palusami and potato salad.

This tradition continued after the Mamea children fled the nest. One Sunday every month, we returned to the family home for to’ona’i, us wage- and salary-earners bringing KFC, fish ‘n’ chips and ice cream while my mother prepared the usual staples. In order to deflect parental interrogations of our lifestyles and lack of family-starting, we kids introduced a new tradition: a family viewing of an action film chosen for its satisfyingly high body count and Old Testament-style morals.

Post-meal, my siblings and I would spread out around the sitting room, half-watching the video*, and moaning to each other about how full we felt. We didn’t call it overeating. Whatever descriptions we attempted were rarely prefixed with ‘over-’ or had the words ‘too much‘; the word ‘nausea’ didn’t enter our minds, either.

We worked with simple, humble ‘sick’.

There was a spectrum to the Mamea post-to’ona’i sick: at one end was ‘bad sick’ which sometimes necessitated sudden yet discreet visits to the toilet; and at the other end was ‘good sick’ where it was acknowledged that that last piece of chicken may have been a bridge too far but so long as we didn’t move or twitch, the discomfort was manageable.

I’ve no idea how it informs my writing.

But now you know there is such a thing as good sick.


* And half-watching our mother exhorting the hero on the telly to Kill them! Kill them all!