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An Account of Samoan History up to 1918

Samoan Terms of Abuse. — Upu Palauvale

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Samoan Terms of Abuse.
Upu Palauvale

Cursing, swearing and the use of abusive terms is common to all nations and races and the Samoan is not an exception. Culture would seem to have no bearing on the subject except that the terms used vary in refinement according to the culture of the people; the lower the degree of culture the coarser the invectives used. All polynesian races including the Samoan are very susceptible to injury as a result of the spoken word. Many serious wars and disputes have had their origin in the unwise use of words and invectives and capital punishment and submission were often involved. Minor offences arising through the use of invectives were settled by the family or village assemblies, and the offender or offenders were ordered to pay a fine of pigs, fowls etc to the village or to the offended person.

Nowadays, as the result of European influence and laws, many offences are brought before the Courts. The tendency is to try the cases according to the white man's law but this is a very questionable procedure. The trial involves the conviction and perhaps punishment of one party and does not bring about that reconciliation which is so dear to the native heart and which has the effect of closing the incident to the satisfaction of all. And again: no European unless he be well versed in Samoan Custom can thoroughly appreciate the real seriousness or otherwise of the offence.

A very common and also insulting term used by the Samoans is “Puaaelo”-stinking pig. The use of this term suggests that the person addressed has parents who have performed dirty work for the family or has for other reasons been given the name “Puaaelo”. It is not an insult to use the word amongst brothers and sisters but is so in all other cases. If the term is used by a European to a Samoan he will probably stand aghast or he might if he be a person of importance or thin akinned, influence other Samoans to avoid the offender. If a Samoan uses the term to an relation excepting brother or sister or to a starnger the offender will probably make discreet enquiries to ascertain whether the term has been previously applied for any reason. page 2 If it is discovered that such is the case the matter will be quietly dropped but if on the other hand it is decided that the insult in unwarranted the faaSamoa will be brought into operation and satisfaction demanded. If the use of the term indicates that the father is referred to similar enquiries will be made regarding him.

The use of the term “E te fai la'u mea e ai” - you prepare my meals for me. This term indicates servitude and is a deadly insult.

“O le tau o le maile oe” or “o oe o le maile” is used to indicate a belief that the person addressed has only the value of a dog and the person offended is very difficult to pacify.

“Pogaua” and “Alelo” signifying throat and tongue respectively are used in the heat of the moment and not meant to insult but merely to express one's feelings against another person. For instance “Lou pogaua” - your throat- indicates that the person speaking is angry and possesses a hazy thought of tearing out the throat of the person who has caused the anger. These expressions are more commonly used amongst children.

“Isumutu” signifying short or pug nose is used to indicate a saucy or cheeky child and is only used towards children.

Fagupipilo - stinking bottle- frequently applied in a scornful manner, is a source of serious trouble and searching enquiries.

“Nifoloa” - long tooth- In the village of Falelima there dwelt a devil who possessed an extraordinaryly long tooth. After his death and burial at Falelima this tooth continued to grow and ultimately extended below the earth to all parts of Upolu. Many people are bitten by this long tooth and the bite causes sores which remain in evidence when healed. People who have been bitten by this tooth are described as “irifoloa”. It is not an insult, people of Falelima may also be called “Nifoloa” as it is believed that the tooth is still in that locality. Should a person who has not been bitten by this tooth be referred to as Nifoloa it is then considered to be a term of abuse and engenders resentment.

“Moetotolo” -one who creeps in the dark- It refers to a man who slinks to the house of a sleeping girl or woman at night - a Don Juan- page 3 If the girl or the woman is in league with the “moetotolo” no trouble eventuates; but if otherwise is the case she alarms the household and the intruder is subjected to a thrashing and is made ridiculous before the village and public generally. Being based on an actual fact or act the word is not an insult and is viewed as one of those events that will happen. It would seem that we have a similar condition in European countries. In Samoa “Moetotolo” is very common and is not viewed with any degree of seriousness.

“Pa'umutu” - incomplete skin- refers to the sexual condition of girls or women and is meant to indicate that a girl of woman has a bad moral reputation. This is a serious insult and often results in trouble.

“Moemimi” - and Moetoi - wetting and soiling the bed. The use of this expression is not taken as an insult but more as an expression of contempt. Two village Taupo of Manono have as their sa'otama'ita'i (titles) Moemimi and Moetoi which would indicate that the Samoans do not view the terms as being serious.

“Mea Valea” - foolish animal- this engenders keen resentment in the mind of the person addressed.

“Mes ta'a” - a wandering animal- applied to someone who wanders about aimlessly. An insult.

“Mea Uli” - black animal- also an insult.

Where the word “Nea” meaning animal is applied to a Samoan it can usually be understood that offence will be taken as it is strictly forbidden faasamoa to class a human being with an animal.

Samoans are adepts at ridicule and enjoy making others appear ridiculous without insukting them. They will frequently fix on a bodily deformity for the purpose of Joking about it : Tuapio-Vaepi -Nifopu - meaning crooked back-limping person-rotten teeth.

Such abusive terms as ai tae, taeava are common amongst the lower classes but are too filthy to be translated.

“Qu te tao oe i le umu” I will bake you in an oven. This is a deadly insult if used against a stranger or as the result of a quarrel.

“Seleolaina oe” - Your life will be cut off- similar to above.

“Aia oe e Moso and Gogolo oe i le fafa” Moso shall eat you and the Nether Kingdom shall swallow you. Moso is an important and powerful page 4 Samoan Spirit who eats people especially children.

“Ou te fasioti oe” - I will kill you- If expressed as the result of a quarrel and accompanied by threats with a knife or some other weapon it is a serious matter.

Ulu'ela'ela - a bastard- a bad insult and the cause of much trouble.

There are many other terms in common use but the foregoing will suffice to indicate the manner in which the Samoans may be offended and it is unwise to make use of any of the above terms unless their shades of meaning and manner of use are thoroughly understood.