Ifoga: Samoan Atonement

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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.

He wrote, "This perfectly LOVELY girl, the daughter of one of our best families is in love with a 300-pound SAMOAN! When I first heard this dreadful tale, I thought a 300-pound Samoan was some kind of dog, maybe like a Samoyed, but this is a PERSON."

Caen's administrative assistant confessed there had been no greater response to a Herb Caen column before the incident. And so Herb Caen, the mighty San Francisco icon, apologized in a Bay Area-style ifoga, as documented in "Herb Caen's Samoan Waterloo." Caen apologized to the Samoan Chiefs Council of Northern California in the editorial conference room of the Chronicle.

Just as Herb Caen adapted the Samoan culture to apologize in a culturally-sensitive manner, so Seacology adapts to the cultures of the people with whom we work. We do not assume to know the needs of an island village. We approach our work without selfish interest or ethnocentrism and we collaborate to stem the tide of species extinction, to upgrade the quality of life in island villages, and to share knowledge regarding environmental threats and conservation solutions.

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This page contains a single entry by Ellen Kamoe published on March 31, 2008 9:00 AM.

Island Community Buildings was the previous entry in this blog.

Island Community Buildings Part 2 is the next entry in this blog.

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