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Members of the Samoan Club members say this year’s performance honors the strength and grace of their loved ones

Women bending down doing arm movements while dancing wearing black shirts, black and yellow Polynesian-styled skirts, a white necklace and yellow feathers in their hair with a black background and screen behind them.
Samoa Club's performance during Culture Night 2021.

Remembering the disappointment of last year’s Culture Night cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students from the Samoan Club expressed gratitude for the student leaders who helped organize this year’s event and shared the personal and cultural significance of their performance.

Anna Fogavai, president of the Samoan Club and a senior studying hospitality and tourism management, said last year the club understood the potential effects COVID-19 would have on campus events.

She said this year the real heroes are the leaders behind the scenes. “It’s going to be a smaller-scale Culture Night than normal, but we’ll be able to celebrate these cultures because of those students.”

Fogavai said her club’s performance spoke volumes about their upbringings in Samoa. She shared the first dance for the women portrayed not only the importance of women in Samoan culture, but also their strength. Her grandmother was an example of great strength, Fogavai added.

She explained her grandmother was widowed and raised 10 children on her own. She had no work experience, she said. After her grandfather passed away, Fogavai said her grandmother turned to the Lord in prayer, knowing that relying on Him would help her raise the family.

Fogavai said her grandmother’s faith is something she looks up to. “She was not wise in worldly things, but she knew how to raise her children. That is what we represent in our dance, the strength of women like my grandmother.”

Teila Fisher, Samoan Club treasurer and a senior studying social work, said the performance showed students what separated the club from the stereotypical Samoans being just happy or relatives of rugby or football players.

Fisher said the women’s performance showed women can be independent and strong, yet graceful and calming in the Samoan culture. She said her mother showed those qualities.

Fogavai dances n a tuiga headdress and traditional Samoan clothes with other woman dancers behind her.
Anna Fogavai (dancing in a tuiga headdress) said their first dance showed the strength and importance of women in Samoan culture.

She explained after her father passed away, her mother raised 13 children as a single housewife with no job or college degree by doing handicrafts. These crafts, according to Fisher, included sewing their own clothes and weaving mats, which she sold in their village.

“As a single mother, she was able to make money and still put us through school, missions and college,” Fisher remembered.

She said her mother would help any family or community member who needed it. She added many people went to her funeral because they all got to experience her love, concern and the sacrifices she made in their behalf.

“I realize she could have given up, have us be adopted or just die of heartbreak. Because her will was so strong, her priority was to be the mother for all her children.”

Ian Seiuli, a member of the Samoan Club and a senior studying IT, shared Culture Night is not about just portraying the culture, but also an opportunity to share and learn from one another.

“Culture Night is what makes BYUH unique,” he said. “It’s especially significant this year because we are trying to send a positive, optimistic message that the future is bright for us.”

Seiuli said the male section of their performance represented the masculinity of Samoan men as the protectors and providers of the family. He explained the dance did not attempt to place women in a bad light, but how they share responsibilities in a relationship.

Men wearing blue skirts and white hanging clothe around their calves are clapping on a white stage with a black background with a screen behind them.
Samoa Club men's performance during Culture Night 2021.

He said a perfect example was his mother because she was open minded and optimistic. Seiuli, who is married, said he also recognizes the importance of sharing the load in a relationship. “To accomplish something successfully, you need to work together,” he said. “It gets more difficult when you work alone, and it’s never easy to fix things on your own.”

Steve Vaiouga, member of the Samoan Club and a senior studying social work, said joining the club was a way to connect with his culture and to uplift and learn from others.

He said the club held activities, like family home evening, to keep the club connected. “We have our own struggles, and we sometimes don’t get to share that. Being part of the club gives me that opportunity to share my experiences with others,” Vaiouga said.

Although he did not participate in Culture Night, Vaiouga said the event still taught him to appreciate his culture and to remember his roots. “I love the ability to appreciate others’ cultures at BYUH. Understanding others’ cultures can bring us together, no matter where we come from.”

He said Fogavai exemplifies the Samoan culture of love and respect. “She always goes out of her way to serve others. She also deals with adversity calmly and sees it as an opportunity to think about what she needs to do to bring students together.”

Fisher encouraged students to share their culture by learning about their ancestors. She and her husband made a goal to send their children to Samoa every summer to experience their culture, she explained. “It’s still worth telling people and showing them where your ancestors lived,” she said.

“You can learn the language, but you can’t experience culture through a textbook. You can’t appreciate it until you’ve experienced it yourself.”

Seiuli said understanding culture starts with respecting your parents and learning obedience from a young age. “You don’t learn important values from movies or from other people,” he said. “When you learn from your family, you learn the truth.”

More photos can be found on Ke Alaka'i's Facebook page.