by Nellie Ikenasio
My parents decided that I should go and live in New Zealand in 1965 to seek a better life and future. I was just 19 years old at that time.
I had heard that Auckland was a large city with many tall buildings. So I was surprised that when we got on the bus at Whenuapai airport we saw nothing but bushes growing on the side of the road. The landscape stayed rural all the way into the city. Then suddenly there were the city lights! It was an amazing sight!
My brother and his wife welcomed me into their home but I found it difficult to live in New Zealand at first because it was a different culture and a different way of life. I missed having my parents around to give me advice. However, I was determined to hang in there, to give it a fair go, and to adapt to the kiwi way of life.
I found a job in a factory making gloves. I enjoyed learning new skills. I was the only unmarried girl working there and everyone else was older than me. I was also the only Samoan; everyone else was a Kiwi. However, the older women took me under their wings and looked after me well.
On Sundays, I used to go to the Samoan Catholic Church in Grey Lynn. They always had a service in Samoan at 11o’clock. Food was not served afterwards. We would go home to have our lunch.
There would be a dance in the church hall on Saturday nights. My brother would encourage me to go along and he would accompany me. A Samoan band would play. It was all good clean fun, and no alcohol was ever served.
That’s where I met my husband. He spotted me and he asked me for a dance. But in those days, it was not the done thing for a Samoan girl to start dating straight away. My brother was protective of me. The boy who liked me first had to ask my brother for permission to take me out. When he agreed we were eventually allowed to go to a movie on our own.
Our relationship blossomed and this was the boy I eventually married. At our wedding there were lots of fine mats but my parents gave me one particularly fine and special mat. It was brown and felt very soft and fine. There was a red feather trim around the edges. These were not the larger feathers you see these days, but were very tiny feathers. Many many hours would have gone into making it. I have always treasured this family heirloom.
We had three lovely children, two boys, and a girl. I would have loved to have had my parents around as they grew up and to have had their support. At times it was hard doing it by ourselves. But they have grown up now and are all in good jobs. The boys work in security firms and my daughter is completing her PhD. I am very proud of them.
My daughter especially is very interested in her Samoan heritage. When she married I passed that very fine mat on to her. I know she will treasure it and pass it onto one of her children. In this way it will be a special part of weddings in our family through the generations and continue to be a link to our Samoan heritage.
At the time we were young we didn’t talk Samoan at home because we wanted our children to be able to speak good English. But they did learn some Samoan language at Sunday School each Sunday. My daughter especially is very proud of her Samoan heritage. She has started a publishing firm and publishes resources for children in six different languages, Maori, Samoan, Cook Island, Tokelau, Fijian, and Niuean. It is her hope that this will help children from each of these cultures to value and learn their own languages.
I think now that this is the right approach and I would encourage parents to keep talking Samoan with their children at home.