Edited By Irene Gilsenan Nordin, Chatarina Edfeldt, Lung-Lung Hu, Herbert Jonsson and André Leblanc
My Name is Gary Cooper, But it is also Samoan
In 1953, the Hollywood film Return to Paradise was shot on the Western Samoan island of Upolu. The arrival of the leading actor, Gary Cooper, along with the making of the film, to the then New Zealand administered territory was momentous. To commemorate this, many Samoan parents named their children Gary Cooper. As comical as this may seem, naming children after important events is not an unusual practice within the Samoan culture (Fa’a Samoa), illustrating that a person’s name becomes a form of cultural knowledge and oral history. As an example, the Samoan culture is a chief-based culture. The head of a family is normally the family’s titled chief. When a man becomes a chief, his title becomes his name. A chiefly title is more than just a symbol of status. It is a narrative text telling the history of the title, the history of the family holding that title, and that family’s prestige within the Samoan political and social hierarchy and within the Samoan cosmological order. The passing of a chiefly title from one generation to the next ensures a genealogical link from past to present. Every time the titular name is spoken, its history is repeated. This principle can be applied to the term Samoan, which, as a title of identification, has its own genealogy and inheritance.
According to one of the many legends of the origins of the name Samoa, Samoa is an abbreviated term for sa ia Moa (that which belongs to...
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