Adopting cousins from Samoa: An Investment or Liability?
OPINION: I love my parents. What Samoan child doesn’t? When I look back on my childhood and teen years, my parents should have walked around in Superman costumes because they were so set on saving the world and saving other people. Not an uncommon trait with Samoan parents who like to ‘keep up appearances’. Don’t get me wrong I love my parents to bits. And at the time they only did what they thought was the ‘right thing to do’.
I don’t blame them at all for some of their not-so-wise decisions. Their religious upbringing meant that they would take biblical references such as ‘love they neighbour as thyself’ and ‘Give and don’t expect to receive’ to astronomical heights.
When my father decided to bring over his 15-year-old neice, his brother’s daughter, from Samoa to New Zealand, along with two more adopted family members in the years to come, little did our family know that it was going to be the rollercoaster ride of our lives.
Adoptions of family members from Samoa is common. Maori have an official name for it called ‘Whangai’ where a child is raised by someone other than the birth parents, usually a relative. But in Samoan culture, I cannot find a formal term for it. It’s simply ‘Go overseas because there is more opportunity.’
In my own experiences, I have seen these adoptions of family members from Samoa result in either families being torn apart or in some rare cases, one of the best decisions an adoptive family has ever made.
An uncle of mine who adopted his teenage niece from Samoa told me once that he really believed his neice was going to be the next Beatrice Faumuina because of his neice’s big athletic built body and her strength. When they moved house, she would carry a heavy wooden dining table above her head effortlessly and walk like there was no care in the world. It was then that I knew my uncle had big hopes for her and that he had really thought about this ‘investment’.
Sure they adopt out of love of course and also because of a sense of obligation to their siblings in Samoa. But just how beneficial are adoptions of relatives from Samoa?
Up until my cousin Lesi arrived to New Zealand to live with us in the late 90’s, life was fairly good for my family and I. My schooling in New Zealand was going well, my parents owned their own house and everything really was white-picket fenced and stable.
Lesi and I shared a room- something I had to adapt to but was also very excited about. In her first few months she was very homesick which was understandable. She was on the phone a lot but I wasn’t sure to whom. I would empathize and sympathize with her but after a while, the difference in our personalities meant we eventually clashed.
She, being a tough girl from our village in Samoa, meant she was quite the bully. I had experienced slight bullying at school but this was the first time I was exposed ‘Samoan bullying’ which was on another level. Ruthless. And rude! As a shy 14-year-old, I wasn’t quite used to it. My parents would always scold me and tell me to ‘listen to her’ as she was ‘older than me.’ My life and hers was beginning to change – but not for the better.
Then came the three thousand dollar phone bill. On it, pages and pages of calls to Samoa.
Then came the arguing between my parents. My mother slowly became suspicious of Lesi whom she really did not know all too well but being the submissive wife, she had to support her husband in his decisions. All my mum knew from her gossiping sessions with her sisters was that Lesi’s mother back in Samoa had a reputation as a “thief, liar and a ‘pa’umuku.” It slowly dawned on mum that Lesi’s apple behaviour didn’t fall far from her own mother’s tree.
Dad was always defensive and didn’t want to hear it. I remember Lesi asking me to take the blame for the phone bill and to say that it was me who rung Samoa. Um, I didn’t know anyone there who I would have multiple three hour conversations with!
A few years later, Lesi became pregnant at the age of 18. My parents were baffled as to how she would have conceived because my cousin was always home with us. (Because Samoan parents always think about the sex part first!).
Then my mum remembered that one day, weeks ago, when we all went to a funeral in Wellington, my parents had trusted Lesi to look after the house. She didn’t want to come with us. All the pieces in the puzzle had fit. It was like my mother had struck gold. Lesi must have invited the guy over to our place. Mum was grossed out thinking which bed they probably used and was not afraid to say it whilst cursing out loud.
Soon after Lesi had baby, she ran away. Came back. Ran away again. Nothing new. We were concerned about poor baby. We found out later she had flown to Samoa to see her family and we heard through the village grapevine that she had apparently left baby with his father’s family who were living in Samoa, while she spent nights out partying. We never saw our little nephew again. It was heartbreaking and we only prayed he was ok with his father’s family.
Several years later my parents sold our little home in Rotorua and moved to Auckland. Things were looking good and our family was enjoying their peace.
One day there was a knock at the door. It was Lesi. She had found us. Bawling her eyes out, she asked my parents for forgiveness. This time she had bought her new boyfriend with her and their newborn sorn. Things were all good between her and my parents….until the rollercoaster ride started again.
Not long after our reunion with Lesi, we received news that Lesi’s father had died suddenly in Samoa for no apparent reason. He was only in his late forties and seemed like he was in good health. He had collapsed in the bathroom. Dad announced after the funeral, that it was his duty to his late brother that he take care of Lesi’s younger siblings despite his older sisters, my aunties, telling him that the children can go and live with their mother and that there was no need for Dad to bring Lesi’s younger sisters. But Dad being stubborn wouldn’t hear of it.
A month later, Lesi’s sister’s had arrived at Auckland airport and Hurricane Lesi-clan began.
To cut a long story short, the ordeal with our new family members left my parents yelling at them non-stop for getting up to mischief at school and at home; thefts of our clothing and other items were an everyday occurence and my siblings and I became drained having to mother them all the time. But the real bombshell was my parents having to endure a two hour police interrogation. Lesi’s youngest sister had dobbed my parents into the police for ‘abusing her.’ Of course no charges were laid against mum and dad as Police said they had more important things to do then to arrest two good parents.
My story is just one of thousands of familiar ‘adoption stories.’ Those who can relate will recall their own experiences.
All up, I would say my parents have spent well over 50k – 100k bringing kids from Samoa and raising them as their own. Their predicament now as a result of their decisions, which spanned over 20 years, is a very strained marriage and sadly, barely any communication between the two.
As previous homeowners, they now no longer own a home. (The home in Rotorua was only worth measely 40k back then). And being in Auckland in 2017 where house prices average half a million to a million? It would be safe to say that they will never own their own home again. It hurts us to see my parents pick up the pieces and us children do our part to pick up those pieces with them but with a challenging economy in NZ and a housing crisis, we too are trying to keep our heads above water.
In no way do I blame my parents for their decisions. Like I mentioned they only thought they were doing what was right at the time and I wish we had done more for them.
I feel it is important for me to inform parents who plan to adopt relatives from Samoa to really do some research and consider how this will impact their families emotionally and financially before they make life changing decisions.
The Samoa Victim Support Group in Sydney recently shared some great insights into adopting relatives from Samoa from both perspectives – from the adopted children themselves and from children of the adoptive parents:
I understand that life in Samoa is tough, and I get it that leaving New Zealand to come to Australia was for ‘better opportunities’ but I feel that our family have struggled enough already and if we are still struggling it doesn’t make sense to keep on bringing other kids from Samoa.
Our bills are often late, the rent is late and we’ve been evicted from properties before. I can’t concentrate on any hobbies or sports because our parent’s can’t afford it. My school uniform is shabby, I could do with a nice pair of shoes or 2 and because of ‘voicing’ this to my mum I cop a hiding and get told I’m selfish. My ‘adopted’ siblings were brought here for a ‘better life’ but they miss their parents, their ‘real’ siblings and their friends. When they cry they get told to stop because they should ‘appreciate’ the opportunity that has been given to them.
I am a young Samoan woman.Born and raised in Samoa and brought to Australia to care for my elderly family member.
I did not have a choice; I was not asked or offered this opportunity. I was taken to the airport and told I was leaving to go and live in Australia. I was told I should be grateful to be chosen out of all my siblings to be going.
I cook and I clean.. I do this for every member of the household. I do not have nice clothes like my cousins; I have one pair of shoes for school, sports and church. And yes, I should be appreciative. I am 14 years old.
I am tired. I miss my family, my friends and Samoa.
You can read the full stories at the Samoa Victim Support Sydney Facebook Page
I conclude by giving my own advice from what I have learnt and seen of Samoan adoptions. I hope that you will find these valuable and insightful:
-For parents who are considering adopting family members, perhaps its a good idea to talk to your own children before making these decisions. Ask them how they would feel about a new person coming into their lives and the changes they would likely have to face. Are your children currently going through issues at the moment ie school? Is the timing right? Clear communication also means you respect what they have to say too.
-In the adopted child’s defence, I put myself in their shoes. Yes I too would be very upset if someone were to pluck me from my happy surroundings in Samoa, where I was very content and happy with my two happy and healthy parents and then throw me into an environment that is unfamiliar and isolating to me. It is like plucking a wild animal out of their natural habitats. It is cruel. I believe unless the child is in a bad environment, has been abandoned or abused like Samoa Victim Support children, then adoptions can lead to a happy life. But much of the time, family adoptions occur when the child is already in a happy environment. It is selfish to bring them overseas to serve your own agendas whether that be achieving your dream of nurturing the next Beatrice Faumuina or bringing them over to help with the chores.
-We have to understand that adapting to this new life is hard on the adopted children too. Telling them to stop being “ungrateful for this opportunity” and that “you don’t know how lucky you are” is not going to help their situation especially when they were already happy in the first place and don’t know any better.
-My parents love all their children. But secretly my parents and uncle truly believed they were going to see some returns from these adoption “investments.” An adopted child is not a bank. Nor are they the stock market. What some parents fail to realize is that these adopted children do grow up and have their own lives. If you believe an adopted child should give back to you tenfold, then you are going to be disappointed. It is the worst reason to consider adopting a child. Sure they owe you, but they also have their lives to live and they too will eventually have their own families to raise and look after.
-For parents who adopt. Don’t just do it to please your siblings in Samoa and show them you have money in the bank. Keeping up appearances is superficial and causes problems in the long run especially when you cannot hide behind a mask anymore. The process of adoption doesn’t just mean taking children under your wing, but actually doing the job of “raising them” too.
Too many parents adopt children and then leave it to their real kids to do the job of raising the child eventually burning the kids out and leaving them depressed and resentful. It is not your kids job to raise them. Adopting a child means, raising them, paying for their education, giving them all their necessities to prepare them for life. Your children are there to help you and help nurture them but it shouldn’t impact them to a point where they are getting angry and it affects their lives, their self-esteem, their self-confidence and even their schooling in a bad way.
-If you are thinking of adopting a family member from Samoa, it may be a good idea to bring them when they are very young? Nurturing and disciplining children may be manageable at a very young age ie. Under 10 years. From what I have seen, adopting teenagers can be difficult as they are already so used to their previous environment and surroundings and maybe more prone to culture-shock.
-Not all adoptions turn out bad. The above was my only my story. But I know that there are positive adoptions stories out there. Many kids who come from the “tough life” of Samoa continue to carry their hardworking work ethics into their adulthoods. As is the case of my brother-in-law, who says he was bought up the “hard way” by his NZ adoptive parents when he came to NZ from Samoa as a young boy. He says their strict but fair upbringing made him tough and made him learn that nothing is achieved without hard work. With his beloved adoptive father passing away recently, my brother in law makes decisions in his family with his adoptive mother. He is seen as the breadwinner and the “reliable” family member. His great work ethic has seen him being promoted and favoured by his work managers throughout his working life.