Dancing the Taualuga

by Allison Ruari

Allison shared the following story with the Constructive Theologies Group in a theological narrative exercise aiming to connect theology and our lived experiences.

I understood exactly two words in the announcement to the Samoan students in the final preparations before hosting our catholic brothers for an evening of fellowship at Pacific Theological College in Suva, Fiji—my name and ‘taualuga.’[1]

Me? Dance? Say what now?

I had worked and planned and saved to spend this semester in Fiji really immersing myself in Pacific culture. It was kismet that most of my classmates were Samoan. I was able to learn with my male classmates and from their wives as well. In the classroom, I knew what the expectations were and that I could live up to them. I knew how to take notes, engage in a respectful discourse, and provide thoughtful critiques And I knew that I could “beat” all the guys in my class.

But to dance? And to dance the taualuga? That was something that terrified me. I knew how to be male and Samoan (thanks, Dad) and knew how to be female and white (thanks, Mom), but had no role model and no clue how to be female and Samoan. And to dance the taualuga would only magnify that. I didn’t speak Samoan, I don’t really look Samoan (thanks, Mom…), and now with this dance, I would be outed as an imposter, a Samoan in name only and barely at that. This was something I knew I was going to fail at and it was going to have much deeper consequences than turning in a subpar paper.

I managed to make it the fifty feet back to my apartment before I completely lost it. Full on sobbing, complete with body shakes, hyperventilating, and vomiting. A full body response to the request to be a fully embodied Samoan. I cried for another fifteen minutes, at which point I called my father. It was 5 am his time. All I could do was sob and in his bleary state “Who is this?” and “What’s wrong?!” After I could finally get out the words, “They’re… going…to…make…me…dance! And… I… can’t! I just can’t!” My dad assured me it was all right. He reminded me that it was an honor to be asked to dance and that it was my birthright, since many of my uncles are high chiefs and my father is a minister.[2] He also assured me that the main reason for me to be there was to do well in my classes while I was over there and that there was a gracious way to get out of it. I needed to go to the ladies (my classmates wives) and gently explain to them that while I was honored to be asked, I didn’t want to disrespect the dance and culture was afraid that I wouldn’t do the dance justice. After calming down, I decided I would sleep on it.

It took me confiding in my neighbor for her to ask another Samoan on campus to help me. And by “help” me, I mean, she picked out the piece of music, choreographed the dance, taught it to me, and helped me practice. The night of the taualuga, after two bowls of kava,[3] I danced it almost perfectly—good enough to pass at least. Everyone was very kind and affirming, and for that one night and that one dance, I was able to fully embody my gender, Samoan identity, and vocational calling. If that was the only reason for me to go to Fiji for that semester, it was enough.

[1] Taualuga is the last solo dance of the evening, reserved for the village princess or minister’s daughter. To dance the taualuga is considered to be a great honor.

[2] Ministers in Samoa cannot hold a chiefly title, but are respected and listened to in the same way that they would listen to chiefs.

[3] Kava is a mild narcotic. It looks and tastes like a muddy puddle and if you drink enough of it, you get stoned.

Allison Ruari is Associate Minister at Vine Street Christian Church in Nashville, TN.


One comment

  1. I can appreciate your fresh perspective. The part of the story that was most powerful for me was the description of your understanding of maleness and Samoan identity (because of your father), as well as female and white identity (due to the example of your mother). After this experience, do you feel like you are growing (have grown) into a fuller sense of your identity?


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