Surf Life Saving NZ celebrates Samoan Language Week

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

IRB.jpg & IRB2.jpg	  -  The Fuluifaga Chan Foung family at Bethells Beach: Mike Chan Foung, Rowena Fuluifaga, Joshua (14 years) and Elijah (19). (Helena, 20, is not shown).

Bringing a Samoan perspective to surf lifesaving has helped an Auckland couple enrich their aiga (family) and club, and this Samoan Language Week they want to share their story, and Samoan language water safety messages (list below).

Rowena Fuluifaga grew up in West Auckland, near Bethells Beach. Her mother hails from the south coastal village of Amaile, in Samoa, near the famous Vai ole tama springwater rock pools. And passed down a deep respect for vai – water, so Rowena says she grew up as a water baby.

Rowena’s husband Mike Chan Foung, a surfer and policeman, proposed to her at Bethells. And when children came along, they enrolled them in Junior Surf Nippers, the children’s programme run by Surf Life Saving New Zealand, so they would learn water safety.

Rowena discovered quickly that many people mistakenly assume Pasifika people are strong swimmers and familiar with the water because they hail from the Islands – but she says it’s not quite that simple.

“We traditionally have a different association with the water, Samoans generally only use the water for mea’ai (kai) – it’s not a playground, it’s something that’s quite revered in terms of respecting the water – and how people utilise the water is totally different. A lot of people don’t swim.

“The Islands are mostly surrounded by reef lagoons, so we don’t have that open coastline, and we don’t have those coastal water safety messages.”

Now that less and less New Zealand schools have pools and don’t teach swimming lessons, more young Pasifika people are growing up without learning to swim.

“That’s had a massive impact”, she says.

2017 Water Safety NZ statistics for New Zealand show 86% of Pasifika drownings are in the 15 to 34 years old age group.

Surf lifesaving isn’t a sport or organisation Pacific peoples have traditionally had a strong association with, but Rowena wants to spread the message that it’s a great family activity.

The Fuluifaga Chan Foung family’s involvement quickly grew from Nippers – Rowena is now a surf lifesaving sports official, Mike is a lifeguard and coaches the club’s Junior surf lifeguards, their two oldest children are lifeguards, and their youngest has just finished Junior Surf Nippers and is in training to become a lifeguard.

“Being Pasifika, being Samoan, young people tend to track toward the common sports - rugby, touch, volleyball or netball… I’ve had lots of questions from family and friends - why surf lifesaving? But it’s really good - you don’t have to travel that far, and as a family we don’t have to run around multiple places and venues, everyone competes on the same day, everyone trains on the same day, and everyone benefits from a life-skill.

“You’re not standing still on the sideline of the rugby field, in the cold. All of your children across all the ages can get involved, and its being part of that with them. And we’ve all benefitted from lots of leadership opportunities within the club.”

“It’s been great. We all love the water, and as a family we can all be involved together. It’s been a revelation - we thought it would just be about water safety skills, but it’s very family oriented.”

The family’s two nanas took some convincing, because training is on a Sunday morning.

“They go to church to save lives spiritually – we tell them we save lives physically,” Rowena says.

Last year, as a 12-year-old, her son Joshua played an important part in saving a man at risk of drowning. He was part of a lifesaving team that rescued five people in trouble in the water off Bethells Beach.

The Fuluifaga Chan Foung family regularly share social media updates about lifesaving with the rest of the aiga (family), and it has generated some interest, Rowena says.

“Through social media we’ve been able to influence a lot of our family across the country – I’ve got nieces who are now in Nippers.”

Rowena says in Pasifika cultures, knowledge and warnings about water safety and local dangers was handed down between generations, but younger generations don’t always have this knowledge now. She would like to see it return.

“[For] Pasifika aiga [family] in Auckland, big family trips to the beach usually happen on the east coast, it’s more accessible, and gentler, easy to forage for food or kaimoana – it is known as the feminine coast, and the west coast is the masculine side – it’s rougher.

“Among Pasifika peoples a lot of my parents’ generation were aware of this, but that message hasn’t necessarily been taught to a lot of our younger generations.”

Rowena would love to see more Pasifika people get involved with Surf Life Saving, and she wants to build more awareness among Pasifika families to be aware of where it is safe to swim. Her top safety messages are to get more knowledge about local risks and rips, be aware of water safety even when fishing from the rocks, - and to swim between the flags where the lifeguards patrol.

Surf Life Saving NZ’s top Samoan phrases to use for water safety:

• Aua le a'au pe fa'ase'e toatasi.
Never swim or surf alone.

• Si'i luga lou lima mo se fesoasoani.
Raise your hand to signal for help.

• Ia e mata poto luga o papa.
Be smart around rocks.

• A fagota 'aua le tua ile sami.
When fishing, never turn your back towards the sea.

• Manatua ia fai lou ofu-fa'aula.
Don't forget to wear your lifejacket.

• A iai se fa'aletonu, aua ne'i alu.
[Speaking to one person] “if in doubt stay out”.

• A iai se fa'aletonu, aua ne'i ō.
[Speaking to many people] “if in doubt stay out”.