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Why ‘Items’ Are The Quintessential Subtle Mixed Samoan Trait

"Show them what you can do, or we’ll make you rub our feet."

Every family has their distinct quirks. My family are afakasi Samoan, which means mixed. My grandmother brought most of her family members to New Zealand from Samoa, some went further to Australia.

But no matter what country we're physically located in, there is one common thread in my grandmother Fafoga’s line that ties us together: Whenever there is a family gathering — be it Christmas, Easter or milestone birthdays that bring my aunties and uncles all the way from New Zealand (or even further from Perth) — we do a talent show called ‘Items’. 

I don’t how far back the tradition of ‘Items’ started; I don’t even know who coined the term 'Items', but I do know that from the moment we could stand (or talk, if that came first) performing an 'Item' was required. 

Yes, it might sound traumatising. And in some ways, it was. But if you wanted to express yourself, show your talent and be showered with encouragement and support regardless of the time or effort you put in (admittedly, sometimes very little), ‘Items’ was the time and place for it. 

While 'Items' was our own family tradition, other Samoan families at gatherings might do a siva, a traditional Samoan dance where the women or girls begin by doing a dance and the males enter after some time.

A man holding a flaming baton performs a siva.

The siva requires training, practice and also a natural talent for dance. In fact, the siva was and is the apex of performance and if you get to witness one, you know you’re experiencing a special event.

Our Fafoga's line expanded on the moment where a siva would be performed and evolved into any ‘Item’ — be it large or small. However, the love and honour behind the act you performed held similar weight. 

In a backyard with the banana and taro trees in a suburb next to Parramatta, a suburb in Sydney, Australia, we got to experience a slice of Samoan heaven. At our gatherings, you would watch the entertainment and ‘Items’ while eating your palusami and chop sui with fresh Vietnamese rolls from the bakery up the street. 

You’d find Aunty Lina going through younger family members to lomi lomi (massage) her feet. Uncle Andrew might be on the guitar playing with a distinct chinka chinka rhythm and the same four chords which, surprisingly, fits a lot of songs.

If my Uncle Fraser was in town for a gathering he’d usually ‘MC’ the event, another nod to traditional Samoan culture wherein someone in the family who has the gift of verbal communication will be deemed the ‘orator’, the mouthpiece of the family at formal events. 

Sometimes family traditions can be stifling, expectations can be placed on you that are a matter of culture and not the one of the country you are living in. Our family put an afakasi spin on Samoan traditions and as such, we could perform a dance to "Tragedy" by Steps or bomb a magic trick, but with the safety net of a loving and supportive audience.

We’ve lost a number of family members who kept these traditions alive, but, even so, when I share anything with a crowd, nerves could be getting the best of me... And then I feel the nudge of my ancestors telling me, just like when I was a kid “give them your item, show them what you can do, or we’ll make you rub our feet”. 

Tippi Coulter is a creator currently living in Melbourne (Naarm), Victoria.


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