Tag Archives: Alexander A. Willis

‘THE STORY OF LAULII: A DAUGHTER OF SAMOA’ BY ALEXANDER A. WILLIS, LAULII WILLIS

‘The story of Laulii: A daughter of Samoa’ is the memoir of Laulii Willis, the first native born Samoan woman to become educated in and a permanent resident of the United States of America. The book was edited by William H. Barnes.

THE STORY OF LAULII

Summary

Laulii, a young woman of noble birth, has always been a rebellious soul. Eager to learn and help others, she aspires to lead a fruitful life.

When Alexander Willis – a Canadian carpenter – arrives in Samoa, Laulii gets intrigued by this bald-headed white man, who seems to be equally bewitched by her.

As time passes by and Alexander and Laulii get to know each other better, the feeling between them grows stronger. They take vows to spend the rest of their lives together, and soon after that Laulii leaves her beloved country and travels to America with her newlywed husband.

Review

Calling this book interesting would be an understatement. This is a marvelous piece of literature, in which the authors focus their attention on Samoa rather than on their own experiences. Laulii Willis writes: ‘I have been requested to give to the world a sketch of my life, including a description of my tropical native land, together with the domestic customs, habits, amusements and legends of the far-away country of Samoa. In doing so I have a two-fold object: One is to make other lands better acquainted with my people (…).’ Well, she definitely managed to accomplish what she had intended.

To be honest with you, I am not sure if I should say that Samoa serves as a backdrop for Laulii’s and Alexander’s stories, or if it is the other way round. I think I am leaning towards the latter.

The descriptions of the Samoan archipelago are omnipresent – they fill almost every chapter. Even the most personal narratives contain little snippets that show what the South Pacific country was like in the 19th century. Laulii Willis provides invaluable and utterly engrossing insights into the ways of being of the native Samoans. She carefully explains their culture, beliefs, traditions, practices, social mores, likes and dislikes, sparing no details whatsoever. Everything she writes about is so revealing, so thoroughly fascinating that you can’t help but read one more page, one more chapter until you reach the very end.

Even the part written by Laulii’s husband isn’t bereft of the commentary on Samoa and its inhabitants. Obviously, as a foreigner he couldn’t possess the same knowledge of the country as his wife, nevertheless his observations are just as interesting.

One can’t forget though that this volume is a memoir. Laulii’s life story is a riveting account, full of serious reflections mixed with amusing anecdotes. The journeys she undertook as well as the experiences she encountered make the book read like a novel. Laulii Willis certainly was an extraordinary woman – kind-hearted, passionate, bright, talented on many fronts. She didn’t want to ‘just be’; she wanted to make a change, to open doors for other women in her motherland.

As the memoir is written in a rather informal style, it reads very well. Actually, you may feel as if you were chatting to a best friend, who’s done things in her life you really want to hear about. In retelling her story, Laulii Willis is candid, straightforward, and very charming. Her husband is much more matter-of-fact, but his recollections take up only a small part of the book.

All in all, ‘The story of Laulii’ is something you should – must – read if you have any interest in Samoa or Pacific Islands in general. It’s a great – terrific – volume that scores high on all fronts. Buy it! You won’t regret doing so.

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FA’A SAMOA (PART 2)

‘If a man thinks he likes such a girl for his wife, he goes to his best friend, perhaps his brother of father, whom he thinks he can trust, and says: “Now, my friend, I will do anything for you, no matter what it is, if you only do me a great favor. I love, and I will make her happy if she will only be my wife.” If his friend agrees, which he generally does, he goes to the girl and tells her he has a friend for her. She asks “Who?” He says, “I will not tell you his name now, as you might not like him; you might like some other man better.”’

‘When visitors are at the house, children never speak to them until they are spoken to first or requested to speak. They would be punished if, of their own accord, they should attempt to take part in any conversation or express their opinions. When told by their parents, to do anything, they immediately do as they are bidden without for a moment thinking of asking why or questioning authority.’

‘It is not generally understood why mats are so valuable to the natives, but when it is remembered that they represent events and traditions, wars and families, one may realize what they mean to the Samoan.’

‘The turtle is what may be termed national property, and should a man catch a turtle and carry it to his own house and eat it with his own family, without letting the town know and inviting them to partake of it, the finger of scorn would be pointed at him as one destitute of liberality or the true spirit of a Samoan.’

‘It is a tradition and a belief to this day among the Samoans that when they “die” as we call it, they only “go to sleep”, and that as soon as they do so the spirit leaves the body and goes to the farthermost end of the island (some imaginary point) where there is always a large number of canoes that the spirits take. These canoes in the twinkling of an eye transport them to eternity, and come immediately back.’

Alexander A. Willis, ‘The Story of Laulii’

FA’A SAMOA (PART 1)

‘The children’s heads are kept shaved. This process was performed with a sharp stone or piece of bamboo before the white people came and brought razors. The hair was all taken off with the exception of what would be termed here a “beauty lock”, which was left, sometimes in front, sometimes at the side, or at the back of the head; we called this lock “sope”.’

‘Soon after a baby is born the mother presses its head by putting one hand at the back of its head and the other on its forehead, as they do not like projecting foreheads; then the mother pinches its nose between its eyes and flattens the end of its nose by pressing. When the baby sleeps it must always lie on its back, as they think it will tend to heighten the forehead to lie on the side of the head.’

‘The Samoans are a religious people; while they make no pretensions their every act is characterized by a fervent belief in, and dependence upon a heavenly father; here again they differ somewhat from the majority of the inhabitants of more civilized countries. After rising in the morning their first act is prayer, which is always accompanied with the singing of the hymn; no meal, or even the slightest refreshment at any time, is partaken of until preceded by a prayer or blessing.’

‘Our houses are oval. When a man has made up his mind to build a house he notifies all his relatives for miles around, and they all come together and help.’

‘The Samoans tattoo the whole of the body from the hips to the knees, covering the skin so completely with the pattern that it looks at a little distance exactly as if the men were wearing a tight pair of ornamental drawers.’

Alexander A. Willis, ‘The Story of Laulii’