March 2008 Archives

Ifoga: Samoan Atonement

|
Samoan culture has strict ways of showing respect to one another, and the ifoga (pronounced ee-FONG-ah) is perhaps the best example of the severity of atoning for one's wrongdoing. The ifoga is a ritual apology where the offending party demonstrates remorse by begging for forgiveness.

Pandanus.JPGBefore dawn, the guilty party arrives at the home of the person whom he has offended and kneels outside the home. An important part of the ifoga is the fine mat, or 'ie toga, considered of the highest value in Samoan culture (pictured at right). Ie Toga.jpg'Ie toga (ee-ah TONG-ah) are woven with pandanus leaves (pictured at left) and take months, if not years, to complete. Fine mats represent the wealth of the weavers' community and are presented as gifts. 'Ie toga are so labor-intensive that they will never be used on the floor. Once those receiving ifoga have forgiven the guilty party, they accept the 'ie toga as a symbol of the atonement and forgiveness. Regardless of any legal action taken by a court, the ifoga remains an essential part of Samoan culture as a demonstration of sincere remorse and respect. More information is available from Samoan Sa'o and Te Papa Online.

On February 20 Samoan police presented ifoga to the family of a 69-year-old man who was killed by a police officer who was driving away from Salelologa Market on Savai'i Island. The family accepted the ifoga and the police officer will also stand trial for the crime.

In 1976 the Samoan ifoga came close to Seacology's Bay Area home. In early September of that year Herb Caen, the famous San Francisco Chronicle columnist who coined the term "beatnik" and wrote in 'three-dot journalism," angered the entire Bay Area Samoan community.

Island Community Buildings

|

Naikorokoro Fiji Center.JPGAs Karen wrote in her last entry, we have a very small staff here at Seacology - only six of us. The result is a pretty efficient group of individuals who all take care of more tasks than what our official titles would reveal. While I spend a little over half my work day processing all things financial, I spend almost about as much time reviewing projects in process and communicating with field representatives and project leaders about the current state of their programs.

Sarinbuana Community Center.JPGOne thing I have found fascinating over the years is the frequent request from project partners from widely different cultural regions to have Seacology provide a public meeting space in exchange for their decision to conserve their environment. The design of these buildings is planned at the site by community members in conjunction with hired contractors and either a Seacology field representative or a project leader. This planning process involves a high degree of cultural knowledge of building techniques that are appropriate for the extreme weather in the particular area as well as what makes sense in terms of community size and purpose. (Above right: Niakokokoro, Fiji Center; Left: Sarinbuana, Indonesia Center)

Many people are surprised to learn that Seacology has a very small Berkeley-based staff.  There are only six of us.  That, and the fact that I was Seacology's first paid employee (I beat Duane by a week), is the reason that my job description is a little odd by some standards.

coral_necklace.jpgI work with our field representatives to help identify good island projects around the world; I reign over our ever-expanding photo library; I create PowerPoint presentations for staff to show to a wide variety of audiences; I am responsible for editing and producing Seacology's annual report and newsletters; and I also maintain our computer network.

One additional duty is to monitor our general email account, islands@seacology.org.  While our spam-blocker catches the vast array of messages touting deals on OEM software, events at Las Vegas nightclubs, and messages from people who have lost their loved ones in tragic accidents and need a US bank account to hold vast sums of money, we get a number of very interesting inquiries and questions.