By the time you read this, the result of the historic Test match between the All Blacks and Manu Samoa in Apia on Wednesday 8th July 2015 would already be known.
Win or lose, no doubt the Warriors of Manu Samoa would have given of their very best against the world champions.
Granted and has already been pointed out by a New Zealand rugby fan, no less than 12 of the players in the Manu Samoa squad were born in New Zealand and so should be classified as Kiwis.
What he does not grasp is that in our pacific Island cultures, our closest family ties extend to our grandparents no less and as such, these players, although born in New Zealand have never been considered, or consider themselves any less Samoan than the children frolicking in the warm tropical waters of Samoa.
Case in point, the Maori All Blacks up against the Flying Fijians today here in Suva; their Whakapaka (genealogy) is an extremely important aspect of Maoridom and to be part of the Maori All Blacks, a player must know how they connect to a Maori ancestor through their Whakapaka.
As part of the team tikanga (protocol) each player must stand and recite their Whakapaka before the team, to conform their place in the squad.
In other words, the player must show his connection back at least through his grandparents to claim his Mana and rightful place as a proud Maori.
In my own case, in Fiji the way the world was before May 1987, our ethnicity was not an issue and being a son of Fiji was never questioned by me or anyone else for that matter. Children of my generation were all proud sons and daughters of Fiji – no questions asked.
However, the nationalistic flame lit by 43 year old Lt. Colonel Sitiveni Ligamamada Rabuka on 18th May of that year changed all that for me, given that three of my grandparents were born in Tonga with only one born here in Fiji.
The other remarkable aspect of our pacific Islands culture summed up so neatly by the saying, “blood is thicker than water” is that once your connection to your extended family is made, you are invariably swallowed up by all your grand old Aunties and the rest is history – you are home.
As a result I have never been more comfortable in “my Tonganess” as I am now with all the considerable extra baggage that comes with that.
So when we loudly and proudly claim all these New Zealand-born and Australian-born rugby players, boxers, netballers and the rest as Pacific Islanders it is simply a matter of definition dating back to when our canoes first landed on these shores.
Back to the rugby – the last time the All Blacks ventured out into the Pacific was over 4 decades ago, on Tuesday 11th June 1976 to be exact.
Except that they weren’t known as the All Blacks for that clash as they didn’t recognize Fiji as a Test-playing nation back then and still don’t do so to this day, along with our Pacific Island neighbours Tonga and Samoa.
However they still played in the frightening black strip of the almighty All Blacks with the white fern on their chests and that was and still is all that matters to us.
The Kiwis were returning home from a 12-match tour of Australia, including three Tests against the Wallabies.
I can still vividly remember racing from Veiuto Primary School with Kepa, Mosese, Marika and Mark like a pack of wild dogs, hot on the trial of our prey, straight through back yards, front yards, teitei, flower gardens and across roads without as much as a sideways glance to check for anything or anyone.
Our 50c entry fee clenched in a vice-like grip in our sweaty little hands, only to be released at the gate with minutes to spare before kick-off; after which we were shepherded to our sideline positions on the grass with just enough room for the touch judge to run the line in front of us.
Then they appeared before our very wide eyes, larger than life, Gods of rugby, invincible in black; the All Blacks a mesmerizing vision seared into our memories for our lifetimes.
The only other lingering memory of that day, apart from the biggest crowd I had ever seen was of the giant Fijian Wing, Ravuama Latilevu thundering down our touchline like a high speed sugarcane train.
The game was up, Fiji had won; then Robertson jinxed and shimmied his way through the Fijian backs to score for Fullback Karam to convert and snatch a win from the jaws of defeat 14 – 13 game over. It was that close.
We meandered home into the sunset, proud as punch not knowing that Fiji had given the almighty All Blacks such a fright that day, it would take them more than 40 years to dare return into the Pacific again – this time to Apia to meet more of our friendly Pacific Island family, “Talofa afio mai”.
The writer is a classic pacific islands coconut with Tongan and Fijian heritage and Samoan family connections, who learned how to play rugby in New Zealand. The views expressed here are his alone and anyone who disagrees with him will have to deal with his Tongan bride.
Official Programme, Fiji versus Maori All Blacks July 2015
– Culden Kamea