Ellen: March 2008 Archives

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.