Where We Once Belonged
by Sia Fiegel
Sia Fiegel was born in Samoa in 1967 and was the first woman from Samoa to have her work published in the United States.
When I first started reading Where We Once Believed I found it somewhat confusing. Sia Fiegel includes many Samoan words and expressions in the narrative. While there is a glossary not all words are included; however, after awhile it doesn't matter. The context is enough to follow the tale.
This is a story told on many different levels. On one level it is a coming of age tale. Alofa, the narrator of the story, deals with the changes that come with adolescence. Because Sia Fielgel describes Alofa's encounters in great detail, the reader learns a lot about Samoa and Samoan traditions. There are also the discrepancies between what is available to whites and to native Samoans.
On another level the story is a vehicle for a look at the loss of Samoan traditions by the incursion of the West.
Siniva, who has returned to the village of Malaefou from New Zealand, where she has obtained an advanced degree, provides a voice for the loss. Siniva, caught between two societies, is lost.
In the end she cannot live in a society where her identity is destroyed. She commits suicide.
She had said: "Everyone is blinded. Blinded by too many Bibles. Blinded by too many cathedrals...Each time a child cries for coca-cola instead of coconut-juice, the waves close into our lungs."
"We kill ourselves slowly..."
The indictment of the west and its insistence that their way is the way is a powerful indictment.
Where We Once Belonged captured my attention with a narrative that demanded a close reading.