My interview with Loni was my first with someone from any of the Pacific Island nations, an area I've been wanting to cover for a while now, and so I was looking forward to hearing her story. She had requested her husband, Peter, be present, and I'm always happy to accommodate people to make them feel more comfortable. However, having another person present can go one of two ways - make them less free to talk, or it may encourage them to recall things forgotten, when prompted by said person.
Anyway, before I discuss more about the interview and share my thoughts, I'd just like to preface it with a few words on the Pacific Islands. A big part of my podcast is sharing stories from cultures and people whose perspectives we don't hear much of. When I was going through my list of nations and breaking them down by region, I realised how many Pacific island nations there were, and in fact Tasmania could be considered a South Pacific island itself. It's a region of great significance to Australia and many of its peoples have migrated to Australia. Yet, we are pretty ignorant of the cultures of this region and how the people may think differently from us. They come here and pick our fruit and vegetables, secure our nightclubs, produce world class rugby players and singers, but apart from that....well, as you will hopefully learn, there's a lot more to Samoan culture than that.
I would have to say that I really felt like we want on a bit of a journey in the course of my interview with Loni and Peter, and I learnt not only a lot about Loni's personal story, but also got a greater understanding of what's important to Samoans and how the way they typically live life shapes their worldview. I also appreciated Peter's contribution, as he let Loni do most of the talking, but was able to add his own insights and the odd injection of humour at some highly relevant moments.
I did this interview on the same day I did my interview with MIchaela, from Madagascar, and there were many similarities that we apparent. First of all, something that seems to be common with all island cultures, is the role of family and community. Family means far more than just the nuclear family, and there is a strong respect for hierarchy based on seniority. For example, in both Samoa and Madagascar, the oldest eats first and the youngest last.
The roles of chiefs in Samoan villages was also interesting, and Loni provides some nice descriptions from her own experience of how this work. Also, she provides a delightful description of how the Minister at the local church would patrol around the village checking for kids not in church, rather like some kind of bouncer !
But when you understand the context a bit better, some of these things make more sense. Living on small island communities with limited resources means people depend on each other and have to find ways to organise and cooperate. Having a system of order and control where everyone has responsibilities and support can be critical.
Understanding what life was like in Samoa for Loni really helped understand her experience of moving out and what a big deal it was, and why it was a bit of a struggle at first, first in New Zealand and then, later in Tasmania. I really appreciated Loni's honesty and vulnerability in talking about some of the challenges she faced, as I believe they are more common than people realise, and therefore important to talk about.
Loni arrived in Tasmania in the 1990s, and, as she points out, there were not a lot of non-white faces around Hobart at that time, and combined with the cold climate, one can understand the mental struggle. It also helps appreciate what Loni, and others, have been able to achieve after overcoming these kinds of challenges, which can be easy to underestimate for many.
Perhaps the most poignant moment in our conversation was when Loni talked about the death or her mother, who died in Samoa, not long after Loni had her first child. Of course, anyone would understand how heart-breaking it is to lose a parent while living far away, but it felt all the more poignant knowing how close and important family bonds are in Samoan culture. It was also interesting to hear Peter's perspective on this - I won't go into in more detail here but encourage you listen to the episode !
All in all, I felt like this was a really meaningful conversation with a mixture of light and dark, and I'm sure people will gain a better understanding and hopefully interest in the culture and life of Samoans, not to mention the challenges they may face when trying to settle in a place like Tasmania.