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Experiment 7

A Memory

page 20

A Memory

I am an old man now, about to die in a foreign land - a land of my own choosing. How well I remember the days of my childhood spent in my homeland, which now seems so far away. A tree grows, blossoms, bears fruit, and after many a blessed year, dies. My life has been like that of a tree. And now I have reached those last unfruitful years. Memories, the last remnants of the joyfilled stream of my childhood, come fluttering into my mind like beautiful white butterflies - now here, now there, and then gone.

I remember Faualo so well, an old warrior and the hero of my first fifteen years. To me he was an endless source of wonderful stories. They flowed from him like a stream, sometimes like a flood, and at times like the silver tingling of water as it rushes over smooth pebbles. And to me, then a child, he would never die, and we would always sit together in the quiet evenings and he would dazzle the moon, the lonely stars, and my listening ears, with stories which echoed the past - a past which I never dreamt before could have existed.

Every morning I would awaken to the glory of a new day with the voice of Faualo as he sang a morning hymn. He always sang as if it was the last song he would ever sing, loud and mournful like the hollow booming of a lali calling the villagers to a funeral. And each green morning I would sit and listen, happy in the knowledge that Faualo was still there.

On many nights as I made my way to Faualo's fale, the moon came with me; large, golden and smiling. The birds were quiet as if they too were waiting for the stories to begin. The wind, the clod, the trees, and the flowers were all bushed, burdened with evening.

One evening as I entered Faualo's fale, he was lying as usual on a sleeping mat, his head resting on a bamboo ali. I can stiil see him now, a lovable, wrinkled old man. His head shiny, as if hair had never grown on it; his hugs body bent and wrinkled like the knotty trunk of the gatae tree that stood behind his house; his eyes bright like the flood-washed pebbles in a stream, and looking so alive and mischievous that one would think they had been trapped into staying in so old and weathered body.

'Good evening, father,' I greeted him in my customary fashion as I walked with bowed head towards him over the pebbled floor.

'Hello, my son. Sit down'. His voice was deep, and page 21his words flowed out with the soft, smooth sound of wind skimming across the waters of a shallow lake. I sat down cross-legged, facing him.

'Always on time, eh? Always on time.' He smiled and his face rippled and lit up with a mischievous glow. 'That white school-teacher of yours must be training you to be punctual.'

'Yes, father. Both sermons and the strap he uses to teach us to be on time. Yesterday he flogged a boy for arriving late, and then he went into a sermon on why we Samoans must learn the value of punctuality,' I said, remembering bitterly that I was the boy who had been flogged.

Then with a thoughtful nod the old man continued, 'The white man is a queer person. He places a great influence on punctuality and always tries to do everything on time. It's funny seeing them compete with time. He invented the clock, and now it has imprisoned them. It's driving so many of them mad.' Then he was silent, and seemed to be gazing into the future, observing with pity the doom that was to come to the white man. Child as I was, I shuddered, and asked myself if my people were going to end up the same way now that the influence of the white man was changing our way of life.

The voice of Faualo eohoed in my ears and I awoke.

'The white man comes to our country on big ships, builds his houses here, and then tries to impose the laws of his own land upon us. Only a few try to understand our way of life, Most come here with the idea that we are savages who should be educated. Yet when he teaches us, he tries to make us recognize his way of life as being superior to that of ours. That's what the white man is trying to do to you young people. They are educating you to fit in with their way of life. A white missionary tried to do that to me onoe and I played along.' He stopped, and I could see him as a boy, trying to imitate the missionary. Then I saw myself, trying to do the same thing. Where was I going to end? I wanted him to talk more about the white man.

'Father,' I asked, 'why is it that the white boy in our class does not want to play with us?'

He smiled, and replied, 'Do you really want to play with him?'

This question forced me to realise that none of us in particular wanted to play with the pale white boy. I stuttered, page 22and had to admit to him that this was so.

'No, father.'

'Then you shouldn't expect him to play with you. Should you?' He smiled knowingly. 'Maybe the white boy senses that you don't want to play with him. Or maybe his parents don't want him to be friends with you. Some parents are like that, son.' He paused and slapped a mosquito that had landed on his shoulder. 'Remember that friendship can never be onesided. Don't look upon differences in colour as a barrier between you and the white boy. If you do, then how do you expect to get on with him. Our colour is only skin deep. Underneath we are all humans together.'

I began to understand as he talked. The wind came up, and I could hear it whispering to the world outside. The moon was giving the world a bigger and brighter smile. The stale smell of the swamp came on the back of the wind into the fale and tainted everything. It seemed as if it was trying to force me not to listen to Faualo.

'Remember never to hate the white man. Never hate anyone. Forgive a person even before he makes a mistake, so that when he does you will not hate him. Hating leads to bitterness.' He hesitated, remembering something. 'I killed a white man when I was a boy, but I didn't hate him.' His eyes lit up like the bright embers of the fire that was burning in the middle of the fale. A cheeky gust of wind suddenly rushed into the fale and gave a new life to the dying fire. A new glow that gave greater strength to everything. Faualo in particular seemed to have gained a new power, a new type of courage. A courage which enabled him to continue his dreadful story. I too felt this new strength. No longer could the stale smell of the swamp divert my attention.

'At the age of sixteen I became houseboy to a white missionary. At first I felt proud and joyful. Now I could dress a white man, eat the white man's food, and sleep in a white man's house. I felt that I was above the rest of my age group. They would look at me and say - That's Faualo, the missionary's houseboy. What a lucky fellow! -

'The missionary's name was Morgan. We used to call him Mokeni. He was a good man, a kind man, and always willing to help our people. And the villagers did not hesitate to go to him for help. The white man's way of life appealed to me at the time, for I was dissatisfied with our own. I cooked, washed, and performed small chores for Mokeni. And above all, I enjoyed the prestige that the young people of the village page 23attached to my position. I learnt how to use English. I began to think I was becoming a white man. Yet deep down, I felt that I would not completely get rid of our people's culture. I still believed in ghosts, and still held on to the ancient beliefs. I had been transplanted, like a tree, and had been nourished in another soil. But by trying to sink my roots into European cultures, I had stunted my growth. One foot stood amongst my native cultures, the other amongst the white man's. I was a rope, stretched tightly between two trees, and if they drifted apart, the rope would break. Very soon the boys of the village began to be jealous of me. In their jealousy and suspicion, they rejected me. My loyalty was split between two things, and I had to choose one if I was to remain sane. I did not want to be rejected by my own people, but I had gone over too far into the white man's world to make a complete return to our own culture.

'One day I had to choose - I was forced to choose. I suppose you have heard of the 'Sa' movement, my son?'

'Yes, father,' I answered eagerly. 'The movement for independence in which a lot of our people were killed.'

'Yes. During this period, my father became one of its leaders but I wasn't attached to it. The cry was for the expulsion of the white men from our country, for there was a lot of bitterness about. My father wanted me to join the movement, but I refused. The time had come for me to choose. The 'Sa' movement wanted the villagers to turn against Mokeni. But he was a good man, and as I have said before, the villagers looked up to him and did not hate him. The movement tried at first to persuade the villagers, but they failed. They argued that all the white men were trying to rule us, to take away our land, and to destroy our way of life, but still the villagers would not follow them. How could they believe this when the only white man they knew was always helping them. So the 'Sa' movement had to adopt another way.

'One evening my father turned to me and told me that the movement had decided to kill Mokeni. I could see that he was greatly troubled. Then he added that the movement had instructed him to tell me that I had to do the killing. I refused, but he pleaded with me. Finally, in anger, he told me that he could no longer look upon me as his son. To me, this meant that I would be known as a Samoan no longer. What else could I do? I chose to follow my father.' His voice had reached a peak. Not only was he speaking to me, but to the whole world as well. He wanted everyone to know why he had killed the white missionary. But there was only a small boy there to listen to his plea, and to share his life-long burden. Tears page 24had come to his eyes, and his old body shook with sorrow and regret. Then I cried, not because I felt pity for this old man, but because of the deep love that I had for him.

'Did I do wrong, my son? Did I do wrong?' he cried, looking for something to hold on to. How could I judge him? With head bent in sadness I remained silent. There was a strained pause. I knew that the old man was trying to get hold of himself. Then he looked at me and saw my tears.

'If you are crying for me, then don't continue. My life is drawing to a close while yours is just beginning. Cry for yourself, because you too will have to choose someday. I chose to follow my father, and I have regretted it ever since. I don't know what choice you will make, but remember always follow what your heart tells you to.' He stopped, and I knew that the storm had passed and he spoke no more that night.

'Thank you, father,' I whispered, feeling a greater love and admiration for the old man.

The wind had become stronger. It rushed into the fale and entangled itself with the fire, blowing up dead ashes and spilling the dying embers on the pebble floor. The fire went out, only the ashes and embers remained. The stale smell of the swamp grew stronger, and tainted everything, even me. I felt unclean and lonely.

'Goodnight, father,' I mumbled. I stood up slowly and left the fale of Faualo.

Outside it was dark and cold. The moon had gone and I felt as if it had deserted the world forever. I paused and looked back into the fale. The old man was wiping the tears away from his eyes.

Faualo was right. I had to choose. Now, looking back on the choice I had made, tears come to my eyes, for I too feel that I have made the wrong one.