New book explores Lāuga, Sāmoa’s premier cultural oratory practice

In early June, Dr Sadat Muaiava from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Languages and Cultures launched his new book, Lāuga: understanding Sāmoan oratory (Te Papa Press).

The book launch
Dr Sadat Muaiava speaks at the book launch

Lāuga, or Sāmoan oratory, is a sacred ritual that embodies all fa‘asāmoa (Sāmoan culture) represents—identity, inheritance, respect, service, gifting, reciprocity, and knowledge. Lāuga is enjoyed by many, but many Sāmoan people, particularly those who live outside Sāmoa, have little experience with either practicing or experiencing lāuga.

Dr Muaiava’s book combines his knowledge with the knowledge of 19 guest writers to explain lāuga intricacies and practices. The book aims to both share knowledge and help those who may be called upon to speak at significant occasions.

Dr Muaiava says this book started not as an idea, but as a seed.

“It is a seed that was planted in me by my parents, grandparents, and family, was watered daily, and led to the growth of an admiration and passion for Sāmoan oratory.”

Dr Muaiava also believes that there is no use in having knowledge if you do not share it. Growing up in Sāmoa, he was fortunate enough to have plenty of exposure to lāuga, which many Sāmoan people in New Zealand have not had.

“There’s a Sāmoan saying that goes ‘o le uta a le poto e fetāla‘i, ‘a‘o le uta a le vale e tāofiofi—a wise person shares while a fool withholds,” Dr Muaiava says. “I want to help others on their journey learning and understanding lāuga through a text that is accessible to them.”

He hopes that Sāmoan people who live outside the homeland of Sāmoa will find comfort and understanding in the book, as well as the courage to make their own connections with lāuga.

“We believe that our ancestors continue to speak to us. Their speaking to us comes through their lifetime of work and tautua (service), which inform our speech in the present day. Our work will inform the next generation. So, to me, lāuga goes beyond one’s lifetime.”

“The idea of sharing this work with the world makes me proud of the book and the journey as a whole,” Dr Muaiava says.

The book launch was held at Te Papa Tongarewa. As well as the author himself, key speakers included the Minister for Pacific Peoples Hon. Aupito William Sio (who also contributed to the book), Assistant Vice-Chancellor Pasifika Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban, Caren Rangi from the Te Papa Board and Chair of Creative New Zealand, and Nicola Legat from Te Papa Press.

The launch featured cultural performances from Dr Muaiava’s students and Tautua Dance Group at the event, which was attended by contributors to the book, Sāmoan high chiefs, orators, clergy, representatives from the Ministry of Pacific People and the Ministry of Education, Sāmoan language teachers, University staff, and current students and alumni from the Sāmoan Studies programme.

“I felt that the book launch went very well, particularly in regards to how lāuga (Sāmoan oratory) and fa'asāmoa (Sāmoan culture) was honoured on the night,” Dr Muaiava says.