CONTENTS 84 Running Late 94 The Birth of The Cool 104 “If Hitler Had Been a Hippy, How Happy Would We Be” 112 Millennium Heist 118 Glass Eye ... Glass Soul 128 The Grime of It All 132 Banished by Exiles 138 “Pedigree Chums” 146 Meeting Ronnie Kray 150 Vertigo of London
Words Stefanie “Schui” Schumacher 13º 35’ S, 172º 20’ W. These are the coordinates of Samoa, a group of volcanic islands in the South Pacific covering a range approximately the size of Rhode Island. American Samoa, part of the chain of Samoan islands, is the only US-held territory south of the equator. Samoa and her sister islands are located about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. Despite the occasional typhoon or active volcano, Samoa is home to some of the most stunning sites of natural beauty on the planet. Rock samples tested with radiometric technology confirm Samoa to be roughly five million years old. Scientists have confirmed that Samoa is indeed on the path of a volcanic “hot spot.” The Samoan archipelago was born out of an ancient hot spot–a
stationary, deep-seated mantle plume that slowly rises from within the Earth to create a seamount. As the tectonic plates move, volcanic structures migrate along the path of the plate motion and create a string of seamounts that can rise above the surface of the ocean. When they do, the result is tropical paradise: Samoa. Volcanoes also exist and erupt entirely underwater. A recently discovered
and continuously growing undersea volcano near American Samoa has been dubbed Eel City. Hundreds, if not thousands, of foot-long eels can be found swimming in the nooks and crannies of the newly formed lava. Though unsure why the eels congregate there, scientists suspect they may be feeding on microbial life in the warm waters of this hydrothermal vent. Samoa is surrounded by beautiful water. The island has some of the greatest marine biodiversity on the planet. Shored up by massive coral heads, it is home to a seemingly endless variety of coral species thriving in turquoise and azure blue water. Home to vibrant schools of fish and pods of whales, Samoa’s waters also host a thriving population of sea worms. From the deep blue depths, islanders harvest the palolo worm, a favored delicacy. During breeding time in October and November, the worm releases its sexual organs into the water. These pink and blue spaghettilike strands wriggle around, releasing eggs and sperm for the creation of new worms–if Samoans don’t scoop them up first! Known as the caviar of the Pacific, palolo worms are eaten raw, sautéed or deep-fried. Above ground, there’s something special about living on a volcano. For Samoans, life depends on a delicate balance of making plans, going about daily activities, building a life for oneself, and always keeping in mind that things could go up in smoke. A volcano is truly a portal into the inner Earth–it is an opening, or rupture in the Earth’s crust, through which the deepest inner rumblings of the planet can vent. Samoans, however, live in harmony with the threat of potential volcanic activity.
Several unique rock formations can be found on the island and make for great day-trip destinations. The Piula Cave Pool is crystal clear–take a dive and swim your way through gorgeous natural cave formations to exit on the other side. Waterfalls abound. The Papapapaitai Falls plummets 500 feet into a volcanic crater in the midst of a rainforest. The Taga Blow Holes are also spectacular. When waves crash onto the shore, surging plumes of water are forced through the lava tubes to form some of the most breathtaking blowholes in the Pacific. Samoa is also a surfer’s paradise, with epic waves off the north coasts in summer and the south coasts in winter. Samoa has two distinct seasons: the rainy season from November through April, and the dry season that runs from May to October. Average annual temperatures range from the mid-70s to low-80s. Lush, dense rainforest blankets the volcanic mountains and is a sanctuary to a variety of flora and fauna: slow-growing hardwoods, giant fern trees and numerous orchid species. Flying foxes, also known as fruit bats, are key pollinators that dominate the rain forests of Samoa. Samoa is also a destination for seabirds such as boobies, frigatebirds and shearwaters. In time, Samoa and the related islands will erode and sink back into the ocean. Waves will wash away the volcanic rock and rivers will gouge out the terrain. Due to the high density of the volcanic rock itself, the islands will gradually sink back to the ocean floor, and a fresh volcano will emerge in the fullness of time to replenish the Earth’s beauty and continue the natural cycle of renewal.
Words Nicole Velasco Maps courtesy of The University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin Tasi. Lua. Tolu. Fa. Stroke by stroke, a group of Polynesian seafarers dug their wooden oars into the Pacific blue as they sailed towards an utopian archipelago just east of the international dateline. Nestled halfway between Aotearoa and Hawaii, these half-verdant and half-volcanic islands waited patiently, all ten in a row. By way of the stars, birds, and the swells of the sea, the Polynesian navigators arrived at the islands as a proud people. The Samoan people began when their fleet of va’a docked on those sun-washed shores over 3,500 years ago. Known as the “Happy People” among their Polynesian cousins, the Samoans quickly established a sophisticated and hierarchical society of chiefs and commoners. Though rigid in its structure, all politics were pervaded by the fa’a Samoa, or traditional Samoan way–a communal way of life founded upon a common sense of respect. With these basic principles, life in Samoa hinged on collaboration with little privacy, an attribute best represented by the open-air architecture of their fales, or houses. The well-established fa’a Samoa met a worthy adversary when the “White Man” set foot upon those same sunwashed shores. The first visitor from afar was Jacob Roggeveen in 1722, a Dutch explorer and author of the earli-
est recorded account of Samoa by a foreigner. After Roggeveen’s visit, the European obsession with the “savage” South Pacific erupted and soon the shores of Samoa were flooded with missionaries, whalers, and traders. One of the greatest cultural impacts came with the arrival of John Williams and the London Missionary Society (LMS) on August 24, 1830. Eager to share his teachings, Williams went straight for the source and docked at Sapapali’i in search of the paramount mata’i, or chief, named Malietoa. The two men finally met at a large community gathering, during which Malietoa announced the acceptance of the London Missionary Society and John Williams, who Malietoa fondly renamed Ioane Viliamu.
As the LMS grew popular in the hearts of the Samoans, Samoa grew popular as a commercial and diplomatic pursuit for Great Britain, Germany, and the United States. By 1870, the scramble for global territory spurred all three international powerhouses to send troops and lay claim to Samoa. This sharp influx of foreigners devoid of the fa’a Samoa made the Happy People very unhappy and drove them to war with the White Man. Undisturbed by the discontent of the locals, Germany, Great Britain, and the US tightened their grip; Samoa was a geographical gem
to be used as a refueling station for coal-fired shipping. With imperialistic intentions, the White Man turned the “savage” and “warlike” Samoans on each other; a manipulation that plumed into full-fledged civil war. For the eight years that followed, the powerhouses supplied training, troops, and arms to war with each other via the Samoan people. Graver consequences seemed imminent when all three nations launched steel-gray warships into Apia harbor on the island of ‘Upolu. Just as
Samoa Islands 1889 from the Scottish Geographical Magazine.
the obliteration of the faâ€™a Samoa appeared on the horizon, a massive storm pummeled Samoa, destroying the warships and thus ending the military struggle. When the shores of Samoa calmed, Germany, Great Britain, and the US attempted to smooth the wrinkles between them with the Treaty of Berlin, known in the South Pacific as the Anglo-German Samoa Convention. Signed on November 14, 1899, the treaty declared the western portion of the archipelago property of Germany and the eastern portion property of the United States. Great
Britain withdrew its occupancy of Samoa in return for Fiji and a cluster of Melanesian territories. Upon the ratification of the treaty on February 16, 1900, Western Samoa and American Samoa became two separate countries. In 1904, the mataâ€™i fully ceded the eastern islands to the US, who bestowed American Samoa to the Department of the Navy. Assimilation of the new regimes proved less difficult than expected. Displeased with the outcome, many Samoans were forced to accept their
acquiescence to a non-native authority. At the end of the war, it appeared that all parties were satisfied: Germany ruled Western Samoa, the US ruled American Samoa, and the Samoans were finally at peace. Yet on August 29, 1914, the British government, not content with their share of the loot from years past, dispatched troops from New Zealand to ‘Upolu and seized control of Western Samoa from German authorities. For the next half century, New Zealand controlled Samoa via a trusteeship organized through the League of Nations. What followed was a pair of catastrophic incidences resulting from wayward Kiwi administrators. The first incident was the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. The fragile Samoan immune system–a result of geographical isolation in the South Pacific and minimal foreign contact–could not stand up to the strain of pneumonic influenza brought in by Kiwis aboard a ship named Tahune. On November 7, 1918, a mere seven days after the arrival of the Tahune in ‘Upolu, the influenza became an epidemic that ripped voraciously through Western Samoa. By 1919, one-fifth of the Samoan population lay dead in its wake. Britain’s Royal Commission of Inquiry reported that the outbreak occurred due to a misjudgment by the New Zealand administrators who allowed the Tahune to dock at ‘Upolu, in breach of its quarantine. After the epidemic ceased, Germany relinquished its rule of Western Samoa to New Zealand. On the other side of the divide, the US established a firm grip on Pago Pago as a critical naval base. The constant struggle for power over Western Samoa and the growth of the US government’s influence in American Samoa demonstrated that
these political affairs occurred with little consideration for the Samoans themselves. In the 1920s, Kiwi administrators committed another misdeed during a demonstration by the newly developed Mau movement (Mau translates to “strongly held opinion”). Upset with their mistreatment by New Zealand, the people of Western Samoa took up a non-violent protest, popular among the generally good-natured Samoans. On December 29, 1929, High Chief Tupua Tamasese Lealofi led a group of Mau supporters to a peaceful demonstration in downtown Apia. A struggle began when a Mau leader resisted arrest by a Kiwi police officer. Despite the peaceful nature of the demonstration, the melee escalated to the point where the officers opened fire with machine guns to clear the fray. As he called out to his followers for peace and stillness, High Chief Tamasese was shot from behind. Ten other Mau supporters were killed and 50 more were injured by bullet or police baton at the end of what is still referred to in Samoa as Black Saturday. Over the course of the next ten years, the Mau movement blossomed, developing a chapter in American Samoa, which was largely suppressed by the US Navy. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, American Samoa grew in importance for rear staging of US offensives in the South Pacific. The US military came to American Samoa in droves, eventually outnumbering the locals. During WWII, many young Samoan men were trained and enlisted as soldiers, medical personnel, coders, and maintenance workers. Although much of the US military withdrew at the end of the War, its impact on Samoan culture remained. The 1960s brought drastic political
changes to both Western Samoa and American Samoa. After repeated attempts, Western Samoans finally gained independence in 1962 and signed a Friendship Treaty with New Zealand. On the eastern islands, American Samoa resisted incorporation by the US and instead developed the American Samoa Fono, a local and bicameral legislation that still congregates in the village of Fagatogo. On July 1, 1967, American Samoa drafted and signed a constitution that allowed them self-governance. Eleven years later, the first locally elected governor took office. The faâ€™a Samoa was properly restored, with both countries under Samoan rule. In recent years, Western Samoa (renamed the Independent State of Samoa in 1997) and American Samoa
have developed distinct cultures in light of their proximity, shared ethnicity and language. Based on Samoaâ€™s fork-in-the-road history, Western Samoans typically immigrate to New Zealand while American Samoans typically immigrate to Hawaii and the US mainland. Cultural influences correspond with these immigration patterns. It is for this reason that rugby and cricket are popular in the western islands and American football and baseball are more popular in the eastern island. While many contemporary Samoans find themselves far from the islands, their common history and shared sense of pride remain as strong as the vaâ€™a that first brought them to that utopian archipelago.
Interview Frank Green Photos Estevan Oriol The early 1980s saw a new era of rap music dawn in California. Hungry for the spotlight, it was not long before West Coast talent shined as brightly as their East Coast predecessors. Alongside heroes like Snoop Dogg, Ice-T and N.W.A., Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. played a pioneering role in the development of gangsta-rap. Consisting of six Samoan-American brothers (Ganxsta Ridd, Gawtti, Godfather, Kobra, Monsta O, and Murder One), Boo-Yaa boasts eight LPs, a slew of side hustles, and decades of West Side experience. Frank151 talked with Kobra about Boo-Yaa’s roots, their influence on rap culture, and what’s next. Frank151: What’s Boo-Yaa’s connection to Samoa? Kobra: That’s where the forefathers are from. A lot of them moved to America after World War One to come and better themselves and sprout out. Over the years, from the ‘60s, the ‘70s, until now, they’ve been coming just with bags, and hopefully they can find a life here in America. The American dream. F151: Most of them come to Carson, California? K: The mecca of Cali is the city of Carson. That’s where everybody comes first. Carson is kind of like the airport. That’s the drop off. Now, they’re spreading out further, from San Diego to Seattle, but they’re starting to move
out to Utah and Vegas. The community is getting bigger and bigger. F151: How important has family been for Boo-Yaa? K: Our uncles and our family had a big impact on us. Really a tight-knit family. We were practically always at church, through the whole week. I can say that the church had a big impact on us. We went to school, but the impact also came from our family–trying to be like them and them struggling and working hard and looking out, being a really happy family. We would also bring a lot of kids in who were runaways and didn’t have the things we had. My father was a minister, but he was also like a counselor, trying to help all the kids that
didn’t have a place to stay. All the runaways would end up being with me and all the brothers.
and the Hispanic community. Now, we’re doing our thing and bringing our culture back into the community.
F151: You guys go way back with a lot of the people we’ve been interviewing. K: It’s funny you say that. It used to be a joke that every Samoan was related. But as I got older, I realized it really is connected like that. In Samoa, they have a book and it goes from the Chief from the big family, to the small family. And they can detect what village you’re from, and that’s how they narrow it and see how you’re related to certain families from certain villages.
F151: Is it true that Samoans introduced a certain style of hair braiding to rap? K: We were known for our long hair when we first came into the rap game. We wanted to grow our hair like our brother, who passed in ‘88. He would always braid his hair so that it would be out of his way when he went to conduct street. They used to call them “war braids.” When we play our music, we braid our hair and go into war on stage. Along with the tattoo image, it’s a strength. F151: Would you say that rappers like Snoop and members of Bone Thugs picked up on that? K: Definitely. There’s a connection.
F151: Growing up, was most of your family still in Samoa, or were a lot of them around you in Cali? K: Both. Like I said, we had a large family. After they came out of prison, my father and his brothers built a church–my dad being a minister, my uncles being deacons, one being a piano and organ player. F151: That leads up to you and your brothers getting into music. K: Yes. Playing for the church. It was natural. All the uncles played instruments, so we picked it up from them. They were really talented. I had one uncle who would teach us how to read music and another uncle who would teach us how to sing, always trying to bring the best out of us. When I was young, I saw how hard they worked. I saw that happening with us growing up, as Boo-Yaa. We always had to work extra hard, growing up with the Hispanics and the Blacks and the Whites, so we would fit in. We really didn’t have an identity back in those days. All people knew was that we were big kids. “Aw! Big Samoans!” It took a while for us, but we learned from the Black community
F151: In 1997 you released Angry Samoans, which was a little harder, a little more metal than anything you had done before. Was that spur of the moment, or was it something you had wanted to do for a while? K: I think it was more the direction we wanted to go. Number one, we love metal. We just love how metal fans party. Metal and rap really got that funk. We like funk. Metal, it takes you a little higher. Like back in Europe, we’ll be a rap group, but we perform with a couple of metal groups and we see how the crowd lets their hair down, and they start slamming, and it has a whole different vibe. We just like to get in there when they start doing all those whirlpools. Plus, we love to party and have people rage. Let’s go this route. Why not? We always wanted to try some metal funk and try to hit those people and let them know how it is in LA. Suicidal Tendencies are from LA. Fishbone…those are a lot of our friends. They’ve been here over the years and they still tour. They still
sell out and do their thing. We wanted to go that route too. Keep it hard. F151: Where are your favorite places to tour? K: We love Paris. We love Amsterdam. And Germany. In Germany they really like it hard. They like that old-school hip-hop; they don’t like none of that R&B singing. Out here in America, it’s a shame that you have to water it down. When you go to Europe, they want that Compton, N.W.A., in your face, Ice-T, Body Count kind of thing. So for Boo-Yaa, we always keep it retro in Europe. F151: Are you currently working on any collabos? K: Right now, we’re really excited. The music business has, from what I’ve heard, been kind of slow. But I don’t believe in that. Music is music. If you can make a crowd move, you
won’t have no problem with sales. People are always trying to blame it on the Internet. I don’t believe in that. If you got what it takes, like Lil Wayne, and Kid Rock, a good friend of ours, and Game, another good friend of ours, who are selling, it makes sense. So for Boo-Yaa, we’re looking forward to working with them–Lil Wayne and Kid Rock and Game. Especially with the new generation. We wanna collab with them and make this music, and have some fun with it. F151: What else does Boo-Yaa do, aside from music? K: We have clothing, Ganxsta, named after Ganxsta Ridd. We started some other businesses. My brother Gawtti, he has a security company. Then I got my brother Monsta O, he does production. We got those little things. We have our bodyguard thing on the side for anyone who comes to Vegas. And
just doing our family. We’re all family men. We have kids. Taking care of mom and dad, and keepin’ it pushin’. F151: What can people expect next? K: I want people to know we got a DVD comin’ out, and then after that we have a movie coming out about our life in Los Angeles. The whole shebango, what we went through. That’s where we’re aiming right now. We got Ganxsta Ridd coming out with a solo project that he’s working on with DJ Skee. He’s gonna do a mix-
tape. Then he’s gonna drop his solo album. So we’re gonna throw a little curveball out there with him and then we’ll have a Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. reunion album, and push it from there. F151: Anything else? K: Right now I just want to thank Frank for giving us the chance to express ourselves to the world and to let people learn a little bit about the Uso Card and our people. It’s tremendous. I’m really happy about that.
Words Filifotu Va’ai Photos courtesy of Samoa Tourism Authority, Image Lab Samoa Many of us have seen it: the postcard picture of the dusky maiden from the South Seas, adorned with flowers, a smile, and a cascade of hair billowing in the breeze while she dances on a beach. Now picture ten of these smiling, dusky maidens standing on a sandy runway. While that might be mistaken for a raunchy dream, it is in fact a typical scene at the annual Miss Samoa pageant in Samoa every September. But don’t be fooled, the exotic-beauty part is only a small factor in selecting a winner since, let’s face it, exotic beauty is not hard to come by around these parts.
Featured as a main event in the nation’s annual Teuila Tourism Festival, the Miss Samoa pageant has become a tradition in Samoa. The pageant was created to select a Samoan representative to send to the Miss World and Miss Universe pageants. However, after the Miss Samoa pageant lagged for a few years in the early 1980s, a committee charged with assessing the pageant’s continuity concluded that the Miss World and Miss Universe pageants were not marketable avenues for Samoa’s limited resources. What resulted was the birth of the Miss South Pacific pageant, which is a South Pacific-wide contest customized to focus on the cultures, current issues, and marketing of the region.
The use of a sandy runway, leaf sashes and an island-esque stage help to set the Samoan theme of the Miss Samoa pageant, but the culture is most evident in the pageant categories. There is a sarong category in place of swimsuits, in which contestants demonstrate a unique variation on tying a sarong. Instead of evening wear, contestants don traditional Samoan dress, which in recent pageants has been more of a contemporary interpretation of traditional garments while utilizing mostly traditional materials and motifs. Similarly, the talent portion features a contestant’s interpretation of her culture, and the range is always a diverse mix of traditional and contemporary approaches. Not surprisingly, a growing number of aspiring designers and choreographers have seen the
pageant as a platform to showcase their work, including Samoan boutique designer Mena and up and coming designer Lindah Lepou. While Miss Samoa’s role is primarily to be a Samoan ambassador–promoting tourism and raising awareness of issues important to the country –the pageant is also a great opportunity for young Samoan women to learn more about themselves and their culture, all while making a difference. Ah yes, the world peace aspect of the pageant is certainly not amiss, even here. The pageant has evolved over the years as particular categories won or lost favor with the committee. Categories that have come and gone include Ofu lau la’au (showcasing clothing made from Samoan plants) and Siva Samoa (traditional Samoan dance). Perhaps one of the more eccentric categories to have made the cut is the Coconut category, in which contestants use an actual coconut to depict some aspect of their culture. It gets quite creative, trust me. One year, a contestant made a turtle shell from coconut fiber, and showcased it by strapping it to her back and crawling across the runway. She won. The addition of the Miss Internet category (the contestant with the most online votes) and the online coverage of both Miss Samoa and Miss South Pacific, show that the pageants are moving forward with the times. The interview category, like most pageants, expects the contestants to be well versed in current events. I recall one pageant when a contestant stated that her strategy to address the growing AIDS problem in Samoa would be to “stay away from those areas.” While reminiscent of Miss South Carolina’s bombing of the map
question in Miss Teen USA, this particular contestant won, and went on to do a lovely job in her reign. To be fair, these mishaps, while fun for the spectators, are minor compared to the work many of these girls do, attending trade shows and hosting charity events. Many contestants and winners of both the Miss Samoa and Miss South Pacific pageants are educated young ladies that conduct themselves with the utmost decorum. When asked about any negative experiences, several of the contestants complained about the unreliability of pageant organizers and overall lack of organization. There was also admittance to the cattiness involved when putting a dozen young ladies in a room for a week. “I got the sense from some girls that this was just an opportunity to strut around Samoa without having any ‘practical’ goals to achieve during their reign, if it were awarded to them,” said one contestant. Suffice it to say, there have been a number of “surprise winners” over the years, stirring controversy around the winners and calling into question the integrity of the judges. Which is the reason, in my mind anyway, that I often hesitate to describe Miss Samoa as the epitome of the Samoan woman, though by and large the pageant does accurately portray us. And that’s really the beauty of it. These dusky maidens are not just dusky, with long, billowing hair and a pretty smile. Nor do they walk around in swimsuits and high-heeled shoes or need to be a particular shape or size. The pageant is really a rich celebration of Samoan women, as well as the beauty of Samoan culture and values.
Courtesy of George Handy Bates Samoan Papers. University of Delaware Library, Newark, Del. In 1886, President Grover Cleveland made George Handy Bates a â€œspecial agent to investigate conditions in Samoa.â€? While studying the history and culture of Samoa on behalf of the United States, George Handy Bates took more than 140 photographs. These, along with the rest of his Samoan Papers, can now be found in the Special Collections Department at the University of Delaware Library.
Words Kobra You got the Mexican Eme, the Black Guerilla, the Aryan Brotherhood, and then you have the Uso Card. Uso means “brother.” If you’re Filipino, Chinese, Guamanian, Japanese, Tongan, Fijian, and so forth, and you step into any of the penitentiaries in California– let’s say San Quentin–you will go under the Uso Card. It means you’re protected by our culture when you walk in. We had to work hard for that name. Samoans are the front line that protects every Polynesian that comes into any penitentiary. We’re proud of that. It’s still present, it’s still strong, it’s still flying.
Words Alyssa Menegat Photos courtesy of Samoa Rugby Union Le Manu Samoae ia malo le fai o le faiva Le Manu Samoae ia malo le fai o le faiva Le Manu Samoa lenei ua ou sau Leai se isi manu o le atulaulau Ua ou sau nei ma le mea atoa O lo’u malosi ua atoatoa La e fa’atafa ma e soso ese Leaga o lenei manu e uiga ese Le Manu Samoa Le Manu Samoa Le Manu Samoa e o mai Samoa The Manu Samoa, may you succeed in your mission The Manu Samoa, may you succeed in your mission The Manu Samoa, here I come There is no other Manu anywhere Here I come completely prepared My strength is at its peak Make way and move aside Because this Manu is unique The Manu Samoa The Manu Samoa The Manu Samoa reigns from Samoa Picture 30 men standing in front of you, each at least six feet tall, average weight, 245 pounds. One starts to yell and soon the others join his rib-shaking chant, which is accompanied by a series of potentially violent arm motions, punctuated by thigh slaps. Then, to really heighten the
experience, they begin to advance… towards you. And why are they doing this? Oh, just to psych themselves up so they can kick your ass. Welcome to Manu Samoa rugby. Rugby refresher: two teams, each comprised of eight defensive players
(the pack) and seven offensive players (the backs), attempt to take the ball down the field to the end zone without being tackled. Points can also be won by kicking the ball through the uprights on the line between the field and the end zone. The ball can only be passed backwards or kicked forwards. Players engage in rucks or mauls to gain control of the ball when it’s on the ground. And all of this occurs without pads or helmets. Toss in some other specifics like penalty plays, line outs, and scrums, and you have a fascinating display of controlled chaos that makes you wonder, “Do they have any idea what’s going on?!” And then a player will do something amazing, like dropkick the ball down the field and sprint to catch it, and you know, yup, they’ve got it down, and they’re totally badass. There really is a method to their madness. No team embodies this logical madness more than Manu Samoa. Rugby was first introduced to Samoa in 1920, about three centuries after the game was developed in England. It was four years after the arrival of rugby before the Samoans played another country, and it wasn’t until
1974 that they took on nearby powerhouse New Zealand. Though the development of their international play was on the slow side, the late 1980s and the 1990s were successful years for Manu Samoa. They found themselves battling Scotland in the 1991 quarterfinals of the Rugby World Cup, a massive achievement. In 1995, the Samoans made it to the quarterfinals again, but lost to South Africa, who went on to win it all. During the Rugby World Cups of 1999 and 2003, Manu Samoa showed their strength and solidified their status as a force to be reckoned with. What can be responsible for the rapid development of Manu Samoa rugby? Could it come from their name, taken from a Samoan chief who lived ten generations before the team was formed? Perhaps the formidable size associated with Pacific Islanders? Maybe just luck? Or could it be the Siva Tau, the Samoan war dance performed before each game–the chanting, pounding, hair-raising ritual described above? Honestly, who cares?! They’re clearly here to stay, and you won’t see me out there challenging them.
1978. Tom Ah Fook. Triangle Road, West Auckland. Suâ€™a Suluape Paulo, Tufuga Ta Tatau.
Words Eli Dvorkin Photos Mark Adams Kicking back the melting pot that is New York City–where street vendors peddle gyros and roti, and beer comes from la bodega–we are accustomed to peppering our speech with phrases from around the world. But how many words in the English language traveled more than 7,000 miles from the Samoan Islands? “There aren’t many,” quips Charles Reeve, a curator and professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design, “but there’s one that everybody knows.” Tattoo–tatau in Samoan–is a pillar of Samoan culture. The practice of the tufuga ta tatau (tattoo artist) is an honored profession which has been passed down through two Samoan families, Su’a and Tulou’ena, since the 19th century. However, the roots of tatau extend deep into the bedrock of Samoan mythology. Legend tells of two sisters, Taema and Tilafaiga, who long ago brought the first implements of tatau to Samoa from the island of Fiji. As they paddled east across the Pacific, the twins sang to themselves: “Tattoo the women and not the men!” Nearing the shores of Samoa, one sister chanced to spy a beautiful shell shining dimly on the sea floor. The
sisters dove down to the bottom of the ocean where they wrested the shell loose from the sand, and swam it back to the surface. Upon climbing back aboard their canoe, the sisters began their song again, but mistakenly changed the words. “Tattoo the men and not the women!” they sang as they paddled to shore. That original male-only tattoo came to be known as the pe’a–a complex series of black-inked patterns from the bottom of the ribcage to the thigh– which is created by hand-tapping serrated bone tools for hours at a time over the course of several weeks. Challenging to perform and difficult to
1982. Uli. Farwood Drive, Henderson, West Auckland. Su’a Pasina Sefo, Tufuga Ta Tatau.
receive, the pe’a has served for centuries as a permanent inscription of outer beauty and inner strength. Although the pe’a is a male-only tradition, the practice of tatau is not limited to men. Despite the mixed-up song of the Fijian twins, Samoan women have traditionally received tatau as equals. Known as the malu, this female-only pattern is inked in sparse, symmetrical lines across the knees and thighs. Its power is reflected in its name: malu means “to protect.” Like the pe’a, the malu is central to the construction of a Samoan identity. Yet, tatau has never been confined to the shores of Samoa, as emphasized by the myth of the Fijian twins. Like the word itself, the patterns of traditional tatau have circulated across the globe.
In 1769, Captain Cook first recorded the practice of tatau in his journal. By then, some European sailors may have already borne the marks of the tufuga ta tatau. Likewise, tatau has long been practiced on non-Samoan Polynesians. As Reeve explains, “In Tongan culture, tattooing presents a problem: drawing blood from a chief is a capital crime. Yet somebody’s gotta tattoo this guy. So for centuries, it has been the responsibility of Samoans.” This is the legacy of tatau: brought from elsewhere, mastered in Samoa, and shared with the world. The latter aspect of tatau is a potent source of controversy, as the popularity of the artform continues to spread. Following Western Samoa’s independence in 1962, tatau attained a new significance among younger Samoans
1983. Uli. Farwood Drive, Henderson, West Auckland. Su’a Pasina Sefo, Tufuga Ta Tatau.
who sought a corporeal connection to the culture of their ancestors (although most experts agree that the artform has never been in decline within Samoa). From Auckland to Oakland, many children of the wide Samoan diaspora sought the pe’a and malu as means of connecting with a cultural identity they were often encouraged to forget. Meanwhile, the increasing visibility of tatau in the international body-art community sparked a surge in attempts by foreigners to be inked by a tufuga ta tatau. By the late 20th century, the tradition rested in the gifted hands of Su’a Suluape Paulo II, a direct descendent of the Su’a line. Suluape Paulo was vocal in his support of giving the pe’a and malu to non-Samoans, many of whom traveled thousands of miles
to be inked by the tufuga ta tatau. To Suluape Paulo, tatau was a selfselecting process that protects itself; if you are willing to seek it out and to withstand the pain, then you are worthy of its inscription. But tracking the master down was never easy. “He made people work for it,” says Reeve. “On the one hand, he’s right. But on the other? Well, you can see why he would rub people the wrong way.” Reeve, whose gallery recently exhibited a major collection of tatau photographs by New Zealand-based artist Mark Adams, is keenly aware of the tufuga ta tatau’s precarious position. While some criticized Suluape Paulo’s willingness to tattoo outsiders, others found fault with the degree to which the art had become concentrated in a single man. As Suluape Paulo’s fame
1982. Faiga Mamea. Farringdon Crescent, Glen Innes, Auckland. Su’a Suluape Petelo, Tufuga Ta Tatau.
continued to increase, so did the tensions surrounding his work. Under constant, conflicting pressures (Share it widely! Keep it Samoan!) and with demand for his talent at an all-time high, Suluape Paulo died suddenly in November of 1999. He left behind his younger brother and only successor, Petelo, along with a host of unanswered questions. Two questions in particular seem to linger. The first, I pose to Reeve. “What really happened to Paulo?” “Not to seem overly dramatic,” he says, gesturing at my tape recorder, “but you’ll have to turn that off.” He tells me that Suluape Paulo’s death was a violent one, a fact that has been
carefully avoided in most discussions of the tufuga ta tatau’s sudden passing. “We want to speak of people as representing their cultures in a broader context,” suggests Reeve, “when very often within that culture, people are asking, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ It happens a lot. And it happened with Paulo, in a very dramatic way.” The second question, Reeve poses to me. “When we imagine a cultural tradition as untouched, as somehow ‘pure’–what’s really at stake?” Ask anyone inscribed with tatau–whether an elder in Apia, an artist in Amsterdam, or a Samoan-American in LA’s South Bay–and expect an answer as storied as the ink itself.
1985. Jim Taofinu’u. Chalfont Crescent, Mangere, Sth Auckland. Su’a Suluape Paulo, Tufuga Ta Tatau.
Interview Sir Frank Photos Erik Ian Inspired by Samoan tatau, Q is one of few artists who has successfully contemporized the traditional island style. Frank151 talked tattoo with Q while he applied fresh ink to UCE Car Club founder Kita S. Lealao Jr. Frank151: What’s your background? Q: I was born in American Samoa, but I was raised in Hawaii. I come from a family of artists and I’m the only one that pursued tattooing. The others were graphic artists, all kinds of different media. No longer do they do art, just me. It all started off needing money for beer and cigarettes, and I didn’t wanna work. So I tattooed for them, and I’ve been tattooing ever since. I’ve been tattooing since 1989. That was the first tattoo I ever did. That was a needle and thread. Then
I moved on with a little bit better stuff, like a homemade machine, back in the early ‘90s, and kept on going with that until a friend of mine actually fronted the money, and we put up the firstever tattoo shop in American Samoa. F151: What was it called? Q: Q’s Tattoos. And we did that for about a year. Believe me, it didn’t work, because Samoan people ain’t tryin’ to pay for tattoos, and the economy there ain’t so great. And everything there had to be shipped from the US, and it’s considered international, I
think. The majority of the companies then was like Huck Spalding, and those guys are all close to you guys, like in New York. There wasn’t really too many suppliers. F151: How was a contemporary tattoo shop received in American Samoa? Did people frown on that? Q: No, no. In fact, there was more excitement about it than frowning on it. When you grow up around that traditional kind of stuff, you always get excited for change. I was the one changing it around. I would still use the traditional patterns, but I would give it more detail, because you can only get so detailed with those tools. Those are made for real broad tattoos. F151: Do you have a traditional tattoo? Q: No, not yet. I’m gonna get one, though. I’ve just been too busy. But Suluape is actually part of my family, too. He always flies to Hawaii and he does them. You can’t really get too detailed with it, so everything stays traditional, which I like. That way, we don’t kill tradition with more modern stuff. F151: How are you related to Suluape? Q: My Grandma’s dad is Suluape’s dad’s brother. So my grandma and Suluape were first cousins. Every time the old man comes here to Hawaii, I always go by and see him. Everybody tells me I should go get one because, you know, I’m part of the family, but I say, “Nah, I’ll get it for the right reason.” You know what I mean? For you to get an actual tattoo like that, you gotta know everything about your culture. Some of these guys out here are getting the tattoo and don’t even know how to speak the language. That is frowned upon. Any funeral or any wedding, anything that has to do with those big deals, they call upon the people with the tattoos to do everything. And if you step up and you don’t
know how to do it, then it’s kind of a disgrace to your parents’ name, or something like that. They will say, “Why did this kid get a tattoo and he doesn’t know how to speak, and he doesn’t know how to do this?” You gotta know your culture. I speak the language fluently. I was in Samoa for close to ten years. But I still feel that I’m not worthy of it yet. Plus, I gotta lose a little bit of weight. So I came back to Hawaii in 1998, worked at many shops here in Hawaii, worked in Waikiki, and then I finally put up my own. I joined UCE Car Club back in 2000, the Hawaii chapter. And actually my wife is second cousins with Kita. F151: Who are your influences? Q: Probably one of my main was Su’a Suluape. There’s a lot of actual traditional artists back home in Samoa, but Su’a, he’s up there. I’ve kind of looked at his style, and then I’ve looked at other people’s styles, and the Su’a style is by far the best one I’ve seen. I’ve never seen a hand so straight, trying to tap something in. I try to take all of that and put it into my artwork. F151: What’s your tattoo shop called? Q: House of Ink Tattoo. I wanted to give it a more universal name, instead of a Polynesian name, ‘cause I wanna hit every type of client. Like a marine would walk by my shop and he probably wouldn’t come in if it had a Polynesian name. You know what I mean? So I gave it more of a universal name. But most of the work done that comes out of here is Samoan traditional, stuff like that. But then I also tackle all the other stuff, the neo-traditionals, the color bombs, the Japanese stuff. So that way we stay alive, you know? www.houseofinktattoo.net
Words Frank Lee Photos courtesy of Konishiki Konishiki Yasokichi’s career, fame, and generosity rival his massive build. As a prolific musician, an accomplished actor, an avid philanthropist, and one of the most recognizable athletes in the world, everything he does is big. From quiet beginnings as a Hawaiian-born Samoan to international mega-stardom, it would seem that there is no achievement Konishiki Yasokichi cannot fit under his belt. Frank151: I heard you’re good friends with Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. Konishiki Yasokichi: They were in Japan during my sumo career. They knew about me and they found me one day and we’ve kept a brotherhood since then. We stay in touch, very much. In fact, I was just talking to Gawtti a couple of days ago. He’s the one that joined sumo. I picked him up from LA when he was graduating high school. F151: So what role does Samoan culture play in your life? KY: It plays the biggest and the most important role. And the one thing I’ve noticed about Samoan culture is that it is kept wherever we are. You go to LA and you see Samoan churches all over the place, even in San Diego and Seattle. There’s Samoan churches here in Hawaii. It’s a tight culture. F151: Is Christianity important to you? KY: Yeah, I was brought up in church. I think every Samoan was brought up in church. It’s part of the culture.
F151: Do you have a lot of family in Samoa? KY: Yeah. I’ve visited Samoa three or four times in my life. I visit the villages that my mom and my dad are from on the American Samoa side, in Pago Pago. I have a lot of family still there. I think every Samoan has a lot of family over there. F151: You spent most of your childhood in Hawaii. What about after that? KY: All my life in Hawaii, until I was 18. Then I left to go to Japan. F151: That’s when you started sumo. How were you recruited? KY: They saw me roaming around and stuff in Hawaii. They saw me in football. They approached me, a guy who knows a lot of sumo people. F151: Were you a big guy back then? KY: Yeah, I was like 300 pounds already. F151: Wow. Once you got to Japan, how different was the culture? KY: Oh, it was completely different. Everything I know about Japan I had to learn in Japan. Adjusting is just a matter of being mentally ready,
telling yourself that you’re going into a different culture, knowing that there’s nothing American about it and just accepting what they had for me on the plate when I got there. F151: Did sumo dominate your life once you got to Japan? KY: Yep. All training. That was my life for 16 years. F151: Did you enjoy it while you were doing it? KY: Oh yeah. It’s something different. I’m glad I did it. I learned the culture within the culture. And not even Japanese people are familiar with the culture inside sumo. It is a very unique, very cultured sport. F151: I read that your birth name is Saleva’a Fuauli Atisano’e. Where did “Konishiki Yasokichi” come from? KY: It’s my professional name. You know, like all professional wrestlers got ring names. In sumo we have a given name that belongs to the family stable or club that you’re from. F151: What was your stable? KY: It’s called Takasago. It’s one of the oldest sumo schools in Japan. F151: As you began to win matches and gain titles, is that when you started to become a celebrity? KY: I can’t walk the streets with no one bugging me, so I don’t walk the streets. F151: Even in Hawaii? KY: Hawaii too, but Hawaii is my hometown. It’s much easier at home. Back in Japan it’s more drastic. People are walking up to you and grabbing you, having the cameras in your face. F151: That’s serious celebrity status. Was it strange at first? KY: Oh yeah. Everything was strange. I’m a typical local boy. Status was nothing I really dealt with. We’re just typical people who try to make it through life.
F151: What are you up to now? KY: Well, presently I have one of the best children’s shows in Japan, so I am very popular with the kids. It has been on for four years now. I also have a radio show and I run my own restaurant. My radio show is called Kony Island. It’s www.fmyokohama.co.jp. And my music label is called Kony Music Edutainment. F151: Was it difficult to transition from sumo to music and acting? KY: More natural, ‘cause I grew up singing in church and stuff. So it’s a natural thing for me. F151: Are you still making music? KY: Presently I do tours in Japan, singing and stuff. Just came out with a new album. I’ve done nine albums since 2000. I’m also working with some musicians, and I’m a producer for one of my nephews who is very popular in Hawaii right now. We have a lot of music here that people don’t know about and I hope it gets some status on a national level. It’s not just typical Hawaiian music. We have our own sound. It’s kind of R&B, it’s kind of reggae, but it’s something that we definitely know is not in the States. What me and a couple of my partners are trying to do is get people to start recognizing the music that comes out of Hawaii. Our music company is called Lost Coast Sound (lostcoastsound.com). Check it out as we give you a taste of a new vibe of music coming straight out of Hawaii. F151: Who are the artists? KY: There’s three artists that are very known right now. One of the artists that has made the breakthrough for this kind of music is named Fiji. Then there are two new artists who are just banging walls right now in Hawaii, on the West Coast, and anywhere that has a Polynesian community. One is called J Boog, and the other is my nephew, Laga Savea. We also have
three other recording artists: Siaosi, Kiwini Vaitai, and Palm Triz. It’s Hawaiian pop music, but not stereotypical Hawaiian music. Of course we all know Hawaiian music because it’s part of our environment, but these guys are just as hip as the kids in LA, or New York, or Atlantic City. F151: Are you still involved with sumo wrestling in any way? KY: No, no. I have season tickets to the six major tournaments so I go and watch on my own. I stay very close to some of the retired guys that I wrestled with and try to keep closely in touch with the school that I came out from. I live right in the area too, in Japan.
F151: Speak a little bit about Konishiki Kids. KY: Konishiki Kids is my foundation, created in 1996, in Hawaii. I’m from the so-called low-income areas of Hawaii, so I try to help kids realize that beyond the horizon there’s a dream. This past year we donated $70,000 to the schools to help them buy equipment and make the classroom environment easier and more fun for the kids. We just did a big Fourth of July fundraiser at the water park in Honolulu. I’m trying to focus more on raising money to help the schools. That’s my biggest thing right now. www.konishiki.net
is an understatement... Now watch me!”
TODD JORDAN “
is not acting like you are.”
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Interview Mister Cartoon Photos courtesy of UCE Car Club
Founded in 1992 by Kita S. Lealao Jr., UCE Car Club has grown from an LA group to a movement that encompasses over thirty chapters around the world. Who better to talk lowriding and car culture with Kita S. Lealao Jr. than Frank Book Chapter 29 guest curator and SA Studios co-founder Mister Cartoon. Mister Cartoon: One thing with this interview, I wanna let these guys know, is the feeling of growing up in the Harbor Area and lowriding and gang culture and family, and maybe the misunderstandings. A lot of people think that lowriding is strictly for gang members. We look at it a lot of times like, well, some of the homies are gang members, or we were gang members when we were younger, but we’re older now and we’re doing this lowrider thing. It seems to me that lowriding is one of the things that brings everybody together. So you see Samoans, you see Black, you see Latinos, you see White people and Asians all in the center, kicking it. But you go into a county jail and everyone separates. But rarely do they ever do any TV commercials or shows on the unity of lowriding. They love to do Fox News on gangbanging, race riots in schools… Kita S. Lealao Junior: They glorify it. We look at it as something simple, but they dramatize it, even when it’s not severe. You feel me, uce? And that’s the part that hurts us. I just think that, man, we got a long hill, ‘cause that shit started back in the ‘50s. You can’t help it if lowriding is the choice of a dope dealer, or a gangster...a negative element. That’s the kind of cars they want to drive. We can’t help that. You feel me, uso? They grew up looking at them kind of cars and wanting to be a part of that. It makes us look bad because when they get caught up and they pull them over in the lolo... that’s our stereotype right there, you
know, pullin’ pistols out the back seat, that’s what it is. Because in Sacramento right now, ‘Toon, I got together with Kevin Johnson. You know KJ? He’s going to be the next mayor of Sacramento. So I’m having a meeting with him and I said, “Hey man, I’ll give you the support of the lowriding community in Sacramento, but you gotta give us something in return, like a spot where we can go kick it, a park where we can go hit our switches and not be harassed and everything. And now I got another meeting with the councilmen of Sacramento. So it looks good that we’re gonna get a spot, maybe, where we can hit our switches and they don’t fuck with us. But the OG niggas, we have to set the guidelines and give out the garbage bags, give out the rules and regulations when they come inside. I said, “Hey folks, this is what you gotta do. If you don’t wanna comply, I suggest you turn around right now, ‘cause we ain’t gonna go through that shit. You’re not gonna get us chased out for your bullshit.” MC: Leave the beer bottles and… KSLJ: Yeah exactly. We have the plastic bags and each club is responsible to tie their shit up and then the city just comes back and picks up the bags and throws them away and we cool. That’s the little things that we need to do to help out the community. Plus you know there’s a lot of positive things that are helping our movement right now. Ever since I started my car
club, that’s what I wanted. I wanted my car club to be able to go anywhere. Go into Black neighborhoods, Mexican neighborhoods, White neighborhoods…they can go anywhere, without no funk, uso. That’s why I taught my club nothing but love. That might be a sissy way, but that shit work for me, you feel me? MC: It’s the right way. It’s the adult way. But, you know, a lot of people reading this, they from the East Coast. I’m gonna ask you something like, let everyone know what “uso” means and why you chose that for a car club name. KSLJ: Well I could have chose all kinds of names, but me and [my brother] Daniel sat down and said, “Man, that’s a good fuckin’ name ‘cause it’s also the card that they have in the pen’, the usos, you know what I mean? That’s not why we chose that
name. We just thought it was a good name, because an uso can mean anything. Just like, “Ey, wassup nigga,” or, “Wassup, hamo.” MC: Brother. KSLJ: Exactly. That’s what it is. That’s all it is. And I just thought it would be a name to have instead of like… nothin’ against all the other names, but, I mean, I just thought it had a little heart. MC: And it actually evolved into “UCE.” KSLJ: Yeah. Well, what happened is a couple guys in the club kind of went behind my back and tried to trademark the name over some stupid shit, which is a long story. And when I went to trademark it, that’s when I got caught up, ‘Toons, because the United States Organization already had established that. So what it did, is like–you know nobody in the United States Organization would ever check us in depth, not unless you’ve been
a lowrider and you worked for the government, you wouldn’t know what lowriding is all about. They wrote me a real mean-ass letter from Washington telling me that, “Hey, if you don’t stop using that name, we’re going to sue you for everything you have.” So I stopped and changed it, you know what I mean? And I lost a lot of members over that, too. ‘Cause they were down with the USO thing, even though I kind of tried to explain to them, “You know, UCE, same thing.” MC: They had it tattooed on ‘em… KSLJ: Some niggas is just stubborn, bro. MC: So some heads still have that on their cars? KSLJ: Yeah, I love that. Because it shows what status they have with the club. They’re one of the originals. You know what I mean, uso? That’s who I look at, ‘cause… we did USO ten years. We did that name proud. Now we’re working on UCE, and we’re doing that name proud. I think in a couple more
years we’re gonna go back to USO. We’re gonna bring it back because now, everything’s died down. There won’t be everything hanging over our heads no more, you know. MC: Would you say that the majority of the Samoan-American population is in Southern California? KSLJ: No, no. We got a lot up north, too. MC: So, California? KSLJ: California is the main base for Samoans. Now there’s a big movement in Seattle. There’s a big movement in Portland. It’s just like any other race, uso. Now, we’re starting to concentrate down in Texas, lot of ‘em are moving there, and it’s not just the Samoan race, it’s the Tongans and Samoans. We’re migrating now, you know. We’re starting to do our part. I represented the lowrider part and now we got a lot of the athletes coming in, a lot of Samoan athletes making their move. When we all get
together, they respect our car club and they respect the USO name. But when they were young, they didn’t understand it, because all their forefathers were hatin’ on me ‘cause they thought it should have been an all-Samoan club. But I was tellin’ them, “If it was an all-Samoan club, it would be just me and Daniel in this old club,” you know what I mean? So that’s why we opened it up to all the races. We just thought that, man, we should give everybody an opportunity to do this. Teach them and show them that this is the diversity of a whole multi-racial club. If we can all get along and show the world like, “Man these niggas is different races and they all get along perfect,” you know what I mean? That’s the only thing I try to establish. Like when I go to the Midwest, all my Midwest chapters, they all White boys. But when I go over there, even though they’ve been around White folks all those years, man, they treat me like a king. I swear. It’s like how we do and my homies do. You know you always give the OGs the respect. Bro, I go to a fucking country-ass town where they got fucking 300 carriage cars and they only got like 6,000 people in that city. They got candy paint and everything, uso! I’ve been to some places, where they killed a chicken right in front of me and we ate it. It was just there like, blaugh! It’s been a good experience, ‘Toon. I check out all the chapters I started. Go to Miami, the whole Hispanic thing down there is crazy. Go to Texas, the Tejanos, that whole movement. You go to the Southwest, there’s a lot of Indian, Mexican brothers livin’ there. So man there’s all different kinds of peoples that are doing the movement.
My thing, ‘Toon, when I started USO, was to show California-style riding in different parts, where, you saw one of my cars in Kentucky, or one of my cars in Texas, you thought it was in LA. That was my concept, to do that. And the way I did was when I was a young club I would bring all my members, I’d say, “The only way you’re gonna know what kind of car you want to build is you have to go to the Supershow,” and when I took them to the Supershow, I showed them the turntable cars, “Is this what you want?” I go to my own custom cars, “…or is this what you want?” and I told them, “Ay, you take it from there.” So every year the guys from the Midwest would come out here and that’s how we would educate them. They would take them ideas back to the Midwest and just do it. That’s why everybody looks at us and they’re like, “Wow, you guys have been a good example.” California has always been top notch. Now, in others places in the United States, that lifestyle’s gettin’ deep, bro. The undercarriage car is just a minor now. It’s not a major anymore, like back in the day. When you rolled up in an undercarriage, you was the shit, uce. Now every Tom, Dick, and Harry’s got one. MC: It’s almost standard issue. KSLJ: Exactly. It was like, “Wow.” When you saw that car come in, your jaw dropped, like, “I wanna be like that.” MC: How many chapters do you guys have? KSLJ: I got 33 right now. We got a couple international. We got Stockholm, Sweden, we got Italy. My Stockholm chapter, they got three drops out there. MC: Is that right? KSLJ: And they ride on them cobblestone roads out there.
MC: That’s crazy. KSLJ: That just shows you what LA has done. LA put some major damage in people’s heads all over the world. You feel me? That’s what I love. Even though I’m not from LA, this is my home. When I was young I used to come visit my cousins at Park Village. And man that’s the first experience I ever seen, riding up and down Compton Boulevard with they lolos. I was a young kid. I’m 50 years old, ‘Toon. I was looking at this shit when I was 14. MC: How would you say that having a relationship and lowriding go together? Like wifey. How does your wife handle you being so busy with the club? KSLJ: My wife, when I first met her, she didn’t know a fucking thing about lowriding. She was straight fresh off the boat. But she knew that
I loved it so much. She had my back, even though she didn’t understand it. People don’t know that, when I started this club, I missed a lot of my kid’s football games, traveling, trying to get it together, because if I didn’t do that, the club would be shit right now. That’s why I put my heart and soul into trying to make it right. But my wife, when I first met her she just came from Samoa, in ‘74. And for her to see this culture now, she’s part of it, uce. That’s my girl. Now, she just says, “Damn honey, you finally gonna get it now, you finally made it.” So she’s been my backbone, bro. ‘Cause if I didn’t have her by my side, I don’t know, ‘Toons. I don’t think I’d be riding. ‘Cause I love her so much, I would’ve gave it up.
Words Katherine Noonan Photo courtesy of Whitespace NZ You might not want to admit it, but you’ve been conned. When you think about island life, you probably think of travel-destination commercials that beckon you to a tropical paradise: smiling faces, laid-back music, and the requisite Hawaiian shirts. And that’s exactly what they want you to think. For decades, mainland US politicians, advertisers, and public relations gurus have made a career of typifying these culturally complex societies into homogenous destinations where you can get away from the so-called real world, knock back a few fruity umbrella drinks, and “feel all right.” But one look at the work of Samoan artist John Ioane and you’ll find that Polynesian identities, particularly that of the Samoan people, are much more than hula skirts, luaus, and leis. Living in New Zealand, Ioane faces clashing self-concepts: a Samoan by heritage, but a Kiwi by assimilation. In his stirring installations, the Auckland-based artist attempts to reconcile this dichotomy and confront head-on the pervasive stereotypes
swirling around his family lineage. Ioane’s innovative works have garnered considerable attention from the New Zealand and Asian art communities. In 2004, he performed at New York’s Asia Society Museum in their group exhibition entitled “Paradise Now?” As a whole, Ioane’s pieces are multi-faceted, often incorporating sculpture, sound, and live performance to challenge his viewers.
“Fale Sa,” one of Ioane’s best-known works, was first exhibited in 1999 at the Auckland Art Gallery. The multimedia installation features monumental sculptures, smaller carvings, and multimedia elements that conjure water through audio recordings and a video projection. The installation’s three central sculptures are carved from Cyprus wood, while the smaller carvings that surround each of the three bases are formed from cowry shells. Although Ioane works with traditional materials, his art is not concerned entirely with the artifacts of his culture’s past. Instead, his work asserts a contemporary interpretation of the lasting ideology of the Samoan present and future. With “Fale Sa,” Ioane asks you to forget stereotypes about Polynesian art. It’s not a charming chotchkie carved by indigenous locals. His work is not a testament to a long-forgotten culture. It is an evolving visualization of longheld beliefs that continue to mold the identities of a modern Samoan people. Like many of Ioane’s installations, “Fale Sa” deals with the Samoan concept of the Va, or transient space, which takes on a sacred meaning. As projections of waves move across the surface of the sculptures, lending the impression of movement, Ioane conjures the memory of his childhood in Samoa, thus creating a “sacred space” for the rest of us. Following the spiritual beliefs of the Samoans, Ioane shows us that sanctity can exist anywhere, and doesn’t have to be relegated to a church, synagogue, or mosque. “Trumau,” an installation created in 2004, possesses a similar if not more intimate and organic quality as in “Fale Sa.” A horizontal stack of carved cowry shells, of which the shiny variety are a common souvenir for many tourists visiting Polynesian destinations, lays
quietly against the wall, evoking the image of the space where the shoreline meets the sky. Here again, Ioane invites us to contemplate the Va, that elusive space between spaces. Ioane’s works are not always organic and subtle. His 2002 piece entitled “Poly Wants a Cracker” shows a more playful but provocative side to his creativity. “Poly Wants a Cracker,” whose title includes an overt play on the word “Polynesian,” is a large figurative sculpture, bedecked in all of the tourist accoutrements white people (i.e. “crackers”) have come to associate with Polynesian vacation destinations like Hawaii or Fiji. Here, a bare-chested Anglo strums a ukulele, while sporting the clichéd grass skirt and lei, Ioane again employing sound as a backdrop. With “Poly Wants a Cracker,” the artist turns the stereotype on its head. Instead of an ambiguous Polynesian hula dancer, we’re presented with a stereotypical white male. This mannequin-like figure is made more ridiculous by his accessories. We, in turn, feel foolish for our own notions of Polynesia. With Ioane’s last public exhibition in 2005, the artist continues to make art and raise his family in New Zealand. His works are on view in the public collections of the Auckland Art Gallery, the Museum of New Zealand, and the Tijibaou Cultural Centre. In addition, Ioane occasionally curates exhibitions which explore the topics that fuel so many of his own works, like 2003’s “The Other Day in Paradise; Reclaiming PI sensuality/sexuality.” You can expect to see more evocative exhibitions from Ioane; just don’t count on getting “lei-ed” at the opening. www.whitespace.co.nz
Interview Guy Shipp Images courtesy of the Grey family Jerome Grey is a household name in Samoa. He has been making music on and off the island since the early 1970s. He is arguably Samoa’s most prolific songwriter and arranger, and his composition, “We Are Samoa,” is considered an unofficial national anthem. Jerome is preparing to move back to Samoa from Southern California, where he and his two sons, Mata and Tini, have been performing as the Jerome Grey Trio. We spoke with Jerome, his sons, and his wife Emily, days before Jerome headed home to help educate his people on the importance of keeping traditional Samoan music alive. Frank151: How do you guys know Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E.? Mata Grey: That’s actually my mother’s family. We just saw Gawtti a few weeks ago at my grandmother’s funeral. That’s my cousin on my mother’s side. It’s a small country, but we’re mighty in numbers. F151: We did an interview with Konishiki a couple days ago. MG: Yeah, my dad has been a long-time musician and he used to tour around Europe, China and Japan
back in the ‘80s, and Konishiki actually housed my dad when Konishiki was at his prime, as far as sumo wrestling goes. F151: We also have a contribution from writer Albert Wendt. MG: That’s my dad’s cousin! They’re first cousins actually. F151: I’m really glad we got the chance to speak with you guys. Everything’s coming full circle. MG: Yes, and I want to thank you for giving us the opportunity to mention my father’s name. He’s a big part of
our Samoan community for what he’s done over the last 40 years, as far as our music from our country. F151: Jumping right in, what are the instruments used in traditional Samoan music? Jerome Grey: In the old days there were no drums like what you have here in America. The fala was just a rolled mat, and that would be their form of percussion. When you rolled the fala, you put an empty bottle inside to make it hollow. It’s a real unique sound, more like a bass sound. The pate is the carved log drum. The smaller pate has a very high tone used for singing, and then the big pate is used when someone passes away in the village, or the village is calling people together for a meeting. They call it lali. The lali is the big, big one. These instruments have been used in Samoa since ancient times, and they are still used today. F151: How have you incorporated these traditional and ancient sounds into the Jerome Grey Trio? JG: Originally, back in the 1970s, I was doing Samoan pop music as part of a group called Ava. That was the first form of Samoan pop music, and also the first pop album from Samoa. I’ve decided I wish I didn’t do that. From that came everybody else who’s tried to imitate Ava. With the Jerome Grey Trio we’re going back to my roots, with the ukulele and upright bass–they call it the sielo–and a guitar and vocals, without any drums on it. MG: He really emphasizes that he doesn’t want to use synthesizers, or drums, or electric bass. He really wants the strict roots: an upright bass, a guitar, a ukulele, a pate. That’s it. JG: The true fa’a Samoa does not have all the electric drums and all of
this equipment. In those days everybody just made the best of what they had. That was the real Samoan music. With the Jerome Grey Trio we’re going back into the villages to try and change this. It’s going to be very tough because the reggae, the hip-hop and the rap music are coming very strong on the island. A lot of the older people back home miss the good old songs that we used to sing, so now we’re going to restore the old way. MG: Yeah, we look at Gawtti and all the guys from Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. and we respect what they do, but everyone has a different market. Our music is targeted mostly at the older folks in my dad’s generation. My brother and I, we just look up to Dad and, whatever he taught us, we try to incorporate that into our music and follow in the old man’s footsteps. F151: Can you tell us about first meeting up with Pete Syracuse, and how you came to perform Samoan music in the United States? JG: I started back when I was 14 or 15 years old. I’m 62, by the way. I tried to play to make some money for my family. I’ve got 21 brothers and sisters, and they all sing, but nobody went out the way I did. I worked at the Intercontinental Hotel back in the ‘60s, late ‘68 to ‘70. And I started playing music and singing there, and that was when Pete Syracuse came along and he heard me sing. He gave me a great opportunity to have some musical training over in Beverly Hills, where I went to school with Dean Martin’s daughter. Emily Grey: He was a legislature interpreter when he first started to work. He was probably only 16 years old. He was making like, three pounds a week, which wasn’t enough weight! The legislature representatives all used to go out, have their happy hour, and take Dad to play the guitar and
Clockwise from top: Taumata, Emily, Tinifuloa, Micah, Anamativa, Isiah, and Jerome “Fa’anana” Grey
serenade them while they were having their cocktails. They enjoyed it so much that all the tips were actually a good paycheck for him. So he would go home and share that with his mom and dad. F151: Jerome, in the ‘70s you played with the Samoa Three, opening for singers Perry Como and Fats Domino. What was it like? JG: At the time we had a good manager, Jim Slemons, from Newport Beach. We played along the same circuit in Reno, Tahoe and Vegas when Fats Domino, Perry Como and Sammy Davis Jr. were playing. It was quite an experience. If it wasn’t for that, I never would have learned much! MG: Did you play Samoan music? JG: Oh no! You can’t do Samoan music over there! You can maybe do one song. But if you want to make money you’ve got to know everything that you’re going to play with those guys. So you can play some Hawaiian music, maybe one Samoan song. Otherwise the rest, you’ve got to do latin, you’ve got to do jazz, country music, Stevie Wonder music, you name it. You have to play all of those things together to get it really going in Las Vegas. MG: So the group of guys in the ‘70s when he traveled around Tahoe, Reno and Vegas was called Samoa Three. The bass player and drummer’s name was Harry Sinapi. Duke Wellington was the other lead guitarist. It was mostly cover songs, especially during the ‘70s. Their skin tone didn’t really help them–touring around there–so they really needed to make an impact. JG: Those days everyone doubled with two instruments. I played the xylophone, rhythm guitar and was the lead singer. Duke played lead guitar and keyboard. Harry played the drums and the bass. Everybody had
to play two instruments at that time in order to get it to sound like there were six people. F151: It sounds like everyone was busy! EG: One time, one of the drummers was so drunk, that he couldn’t make it, so I actually had to sit in on a set. I was just playing the same drum beat! It’s a story I’ll never forget. JG: One thing that I will never forget…I used to wear my hair so long. I looked like an Indian! One time we played in Great Falls, Montana. My God, of all places! And we were three Samoan guys out there, and the first thing I said was, “I look so bad like I’m an Indian.” We were right there by the reservation. When I got to town, I saw a paper that said, “Two Indians got shot last night in a bar.” I said, “Oh my God, the rednecks are still at it! This is all I need!” So I had to cut my hair and wear my aloha shirt in order to play in Great Falls, Montana. F151: After Samoa Three, you moved back to Samoa and started Ava, right? JG: Have you ever heard of a song called “We Are Samoa?” F151: Yes, I was going to ask you about that. JG: I wrote that song for Peter Tali Coleman, the first governor of American Samoan. When he became the governor I said, “You need a song of your own.” So I wrote, “We Are Samoa.” This was a song for people back in American Samoa. But in the White House, Jimmy Carter had me entertain with my band and come and perform inside Congress and also at the White House. It was really interesting. MG: The song was written and composed in 1980.
F151: How do you feel about younger Samoan acts remaking your songs? JG: Oh I think it’s great! But the last thing they want to hear is that they have to pay. So I say, you know what, just put my name on it (laughs). But that’s OK. A lot of them are singing my songs, and it’s really good. But please, just put my name on it. There is a guy by the name of Gary King. He went to Berklee. Very good singer. He took some of my songs. It’s great to see these guys performing them. I guess they keep using my songs because they don’t know how to write the old Samoan music. To write Samoan music is tough. F151: I wanted to ask Mata and Tini about their projects. It sounds like both of you are very busy. MG: I started playing music when I was 13, and got my Bachelors in Music at UC Irvine in guitar performance. I graduated in ‘06, but I started a band in 2002, called Natusol, natusol.com. It’s a group of guys that I knew, all from Orange County. We have a really diverse set of guys–our bass player is Fijian, our lead singer is Hawaiian, the drummer is Tongan and our keyboardist is Korean. We have an eclectic sound that fuses jazz, R&B, hip-hop, and even classical and latin. It’s just feel-good music. We’re working on an album and we’re just about to launch it at the end of this year. Tini Grey: I run my own company out here with my wife. It’s a Polynesian entertainment company that mainly does luaus, and it’s all over the world (isleentertainment.com). There’s a huge market for it. Dad and Mata and all of them are included. It’s a family business. On the side, I’m a soloist musician. I perform at the Mai Tai Bar down in
Long Beach and that’s like my own meditative time. But this whole time I’ve been living with Dad and Mata we’ve been developing our sound as a trio. And now that Pop is going back to Samoa, it’s going to be me and Mata. We’re going to be playing Samoan music together under a group called Paradise Grey. We’re no longer the Jerome Grey Trio if we don’t have Jerome Grey! I’m just going to keep on playing Samoan music no matter where I go because I don’t want it lost. I want my sons to grow up playing Samoan music as well. That’s why we’re trying to learn as much as possible while Dad is living with us. Not just absorb it, but sink it into our hearts. F151: Jerome, what do you have planned for your return to Samoa? JG: Well I come from a very small village where I am the Paramount Chief, Jerome “Fa’anana” Grey. It’s time for me to go back. My village really needs me now. They don’t know what’s happening now with the world, with Internet; some of these people don’t understand. I’ll be back and forth to the mainland to see the kids and play music. Also the government wants me to be an aide to the office of tourism and promote tourism in Samoa, because my music is very much a part of this island. Now that my children are grown up, it’s time to go and help out the village. MG: Tourism is huge in Hawaii and Dad just wants to bring that to Samoa. Just like Don Ho. Don Ho’s legend lives on in Hawaii and Waikiki. People flew all over the world just to see Don Ho. Now the living legend of Samoa is going to be in Samoa, and I think that’s more than enough reason to come down and check out the island–to see Dad play. www.jeromegrey.com
Interview & Photo J. Nicely The Samoan physical makeup, a warrior heritage, and the desire to excel in whatever craft they choose, might be the perfect combination to create an intimidating bodyguard. Today you’ll find numerous Samoans working in the security and protection field. Tadow is one of them. Working as a professional bodyguard, Tadow has managed to parlay protecting Hollywood celebrities into further opportunities in the entertainment industry. With early experiences working in security for his family’s business, it is no surprise that Tadow grew up to become a bodyguard. “I’ve been doing security since like ten, 12 years old,” explains Tadow. “My folks used to have a building in Carson called Samerika Hall, which was a venue my dad and his brothers had opened up together. Basically since I was a kid I would be watching the back door. It’d be me, my brothers, my cousin, there’d be like five or six of us working the two back doors along with the other security. We had people from MC Hammer to Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. to Dre, everything that was in the South Bay would happen there.” Tadow’s story starts out similar to many Samoan Americans–parents moved from Samoa, settled in Carson, California, and aspirations to play pro football. But when an injury cut short his dreams of a football career, Tadow found himself looking for a new path. With friends and family already working as bouncers at Hollywood nightclubs,
Tadow felt that he too could use his size and strength to work in security. Tadow: My whole thing was, I wanted to become a police officer at one point in my life. I got hurt playing football, so I worked for two seasons instead of playing. Then in ‘98, I went back to El Camino and tried to play ball again. Then mid-way through the season, I fucked myself up. It was after that, just going through, “Fuck, what am I going to do now?” So I come to Hollywood and my cousin Big Dave asked me if I wanted to work that night. I had been bugging some of the other homies, “I need a job out here in Hollywood,” and they were like “Yo, you’re too small, too short.” I was like, “For reals?” So I’m like, “Fuck it.” When I was healthy, I started working out again, hitting the gym, started getting a little bigger and shit. I happened to be out in Hollywood on a fluke, just fucking around with one of the homies, and I ran into Dave, and he was like, “Yo, you need a job?” He needed some
help that night. I started working with him at Dublin’s, and that was my first Hollywood club. Then my cousin Star took me under his wings, he started teaching me the ropes. I would take over nights he couldn’t make it when he was on the road with Chaka Khan, so he let me work the door for him. I hooked up with Sarah and Jen Boathouse and just took off from there. I became their go-to security guy. I did all their venues. I just met different people through there, and just started taking trips with people, and that’s how bodyguarding started for me. Frank151: Were there a lot of people that you saw in the bodyguarding game who were making good money? T: I met Fred Durst’s old bodyguard, and he told me that he used to do security at clubs too, and he had made the leap to bodyguarding. I was like, “Oh shit. Well fuck, I need to do this shit, right?” It wasn’t even the pay, because the pay to me was nothing. You make more money working the club scene, depending on what club you’re working at, and how hot it is, and how much you want to hustle. I wasn’t even the door guy, and I used to make anywhere from 200 to 300 dollars, to like a thousand, depending on where I was at that night and working security. The most I’ve ever taken home was like 3,500 bucks. Going out on tour, unless you’re working for like a rock band that’s paying you five G’s a week, you’re really making more money in the clubs, even if you make a consistent 300 bucks a day, and you’re working seven days a week, you’re only working four hours a day, from ten to two. That’s 2,100 a week cash, tax free. It’s good money. F151: Being a bodyguard is a 24/7 gig, right?
T: Oh yeah. When you’re with a celebrity or group, you’re gone. There’s no such thing as a day off. F151: So what’s the attraction? T: Travel, man. The opportunity to see the world. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime. If someone will give you the chance to do it, do it. You get treated just as good as your clients do. You’ve got people kissing your ass, because they know that you’re a representative of your client, so they don’t want to piss you off either. F151: Do you need a license to become a bodyguard? T: To me, there’s three types of bodyguards. There’s the professionals, which is basically like ex-Secret Service, dudes that are suited and booted. Those guys need permits for all that shit. Then there’s big guys, where you’re just big and you move people out of the way. Then there’s your homies. You can be any one of those three, or somewhere in between. Let me break it down like this: bodyguarding isn’t a game for idiots. There’s a lot of idiots in the game, but it’s not a game for idiots. You have people’s lives in your hand. I’ve taught myself, and I’ve picked up a lot just watching other bodyguards when I was working the club scenes. There is a lot of preparation: the pre-walkthrough, to know where all the bathrooms are at, where all the exits are at, know where your car is going to be when you walk out. You got to have all this shit all planned out; know where the nearest hospital is at, and shit like that. There’s guys that I know, their job is to get the layout of the town, to and from the hotel, where they’re going, where the nearest police station is, the nearest this and that, and that’s all they do. The only time they see the
client is when the client gets there. There’s teams, there’s guys that work by themselves, the bodyguard game is a real big business since 9-11. But even now, we’re always the last ones people think about paying, taking care of. But we’re always the first one they call when shit goes down. Luckily I work for a dude that’s got my back and looks out for me. I’ve worked for Wilmer Valderrama for like five years. Once in a while I will work for somebody else, because they are a friend of mine, or as a favor. But mainly I work with Wil. F151: Who is the craziest client you‘ve worked for? T: I used to work for B2K. The biggest tour I went on was Scream Tour 3. We were literally running from kids. It wasn’t even scary, it was just the fact that you didn’t want to hurt them. They’re in a hysteria. You had ten and 12 year olds running next to the bus. We had to get out and say, “Please stop chasing us, someone is going to get hurt, and this isn’t going to look good for anyone. Please do not chase us.” What do they do? We get back inside, and they start running, banging on the bus. We’re like, “What the fuck?” All we need is for one of these girls to fall and get run over by the bus, and it’s a disaster. F151: Do you feel like Samoan’s are particularly well equipped to be bodyguards, beyond just size? T: The thing about Samoans, we’re very respectful people, and very faithful people. If you’re my boss, and taking care of me, we’re the ones that are going to be taking care of you. Like if a dude is going to try and pay me off so they can beat up my boss. Hell na, I’m going to beat you up just for saying that. So that’s why a lot of
people work with us. We’re about who we are. F151: What precautions do you take when working? T: If an athlete or rapper wants to hire me, I let them know from jump, “If you come out with your ice, I’m not going to work with you. If you want to floss, you can floss, but I’ll let you hire somebody else that’s going to be stupid enough to catch some of them bullets that are going to be flying your way later on that day because dudes want to jack you.” Especially now, the economy is bad, you don’t want to put yourself out there to get jacked. Even with security, just because you have security doesn’t mean you won’t get jacked. You get a lot of people who get security and they’re feeling invincible. Why put yourself out there to get jacked? A lot of dudes who do have money, and do have security, most of them don’t floss. They just want to go out there and have a good time. I’m only around mainly so that dudes don’t come around and just hate. Because those are the biggest dudes to deal with, drunk boyfriends and stuff. F151: What’s next? T: Just doing security has opened up other venues for me. I’m opening up a casting agency, a one-stop shop for Samoan and Polynesian talent. I’ve gotten chased down by casting directors looking for Samoans, so I’m like, why not just crack one open and do it myself? I’m also doing artist management. I’ve got a group from Carson, Trey Smoov (myspace.com/ treysmoov), they had a cut, “Summer Time Again,” with Omar Cruz that was bumping all summer. I’ve got another artist, a rapper, Chris Ball. Yeah, so it should be good.
Words Carlos Nobleza Posas You can’t mention Samoan sons in professional wrestling without yawping, “Anoa’i!” (ah no AH ee). While universally credited with making massive agility a must in the ring, members of the Anoa’i family have for generations wrestled with a dual identity. In the blue corner is their legendary work ethic, jaw-dropping athleticism and God-given charisma. In the red corner is their exotic island appeal, often pigeonholing their characters as savage or degrading. Frank151 got a hold of four Anoa’i to settle the score and found out there’s far more to them than grass skirts and Banzai Drops. The name Solofa Fatu Jr. is synonymous with the Banzai Drop–a thunderous butt drop from the second turnbuckle. Known in the ring as Rikishi–a sumo-inspired character similar to his late cousin Rodney Anoa’i’s Yokozuna–Jr. racked up four title belts in the WWE. “We love the competition,” he says. “We’re the type of people who love to work hard and, when it comes to contact sports, this is kind of where we fit in. We’re taught to go out there and steal the show–whether you’re on first match or the middle match or the main event. Basically, it’s balls to the wall.” But what about the fact that Jr. and his uncles got their start portraying their people as raw-turkey eating, no English speaking, barefooted islanders who yank each other’s hair in the middle of a match? “Keep in mind, wrestling is entertainment,” he warns, adding that any given character is nothing but a cog in the storyline
machine. “As the era changes, so does our character.” Jr. cites the success of his cousin, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. “Now people see Samoans and say, ‘Damn, they can talk.’ They see that we’re not savages. We’re not animals. We’re the best at what we do. When you love something, you can’t stop talent.” Trust that Jr. never takes his work home with him. “When I leave the arena, I leave Rikishi in the arena.” He goes home to be a father, a brother, and a husband, who is “able to instill in [his] family the custom of Samoa.” This means quality time with the family, faith in God and professional dedication. These values are passed on from generation to generation, much like their innate talent and irresistible passion for wrestling. “Me, personally, I thought I was gonna go into the NFL,” Jr. recalls. “But once I got into that ring, I felt that fever, that itch.”
Fortunately for Jr., his day job hasn’t stopped him from dabbling in his childhood hobby, hip-hop. “One day I came to visit my brother Tonga Kid in Sacramento, and Ganxsta Ridd was at his house. After lunch, they took me to the studio, and there Ridd says, ‘ ‘Kishi, can you rap?’ He ended up having his producers slap out a beat, Ridd wrote out the lyrics, and me and him start spitting on this demo. It might be a keeper or a dropper.” Enter Reno Jr. jokingly calls his cousin, Reno Anoa’i (a.k.a. Black Pearl), ‘youngblood,’ and ‘the rookie,’ due to his relative inexperience in the game. But in this family, “relative inexperience” means that, three years ago, Reno became the first world-heavyweight champion of New Wrestling Evolution–an independent promotion based in Italy and flourishing throughout Western Europe. Jr. happens to be the commissioner. Nepotism, it is not, but rather, just another day at the office for the Anoa’i. “Wrestling is like a family business,” Reno explains. It started in the late 1970s when Reno’s uncles, Afa and Sika, became the Wild Samoans, “a character that worked for the company, that worked for the business,” Reno says. On tour in Europe, Reno picked up a moniker that was both sophisticated and euro-friendly: the Count of California. “To have a Count from California wasn’t something in their books,” Reno says. “I don’t want people to portray me eating raw fish and walking around downtown hittin’ my head with coconuts. I’d like to think there’s a different side to being a Samoan in this business.” But on the road, an infamous Anoa’i tradition involves gathering the kin (Kishi and
Tonga Kid, for example) and hosting a Samoan potluck on hotel grounds: wa’u (raw tuna) procured from the hotel kitchen and thrown in soy sauce, corned beef, taro, palusami (banana leaves and banana in coconut milk), and cold beer. “Other wrestlers ask, ‘How the hell did you get this food over here?’ and then never touch it,” Reno laughs. Just like Jr., Reno takes the family mojo as a call to the ring. “It’s real to me,” he affirms. “I literally believe this is my calling.” A Cal State Chico grad with a degree in criminal justice, Reno originally wanted to become a cop. “But as soon as I got out in front of 10,000 people and started feeling the moment,” he says, “I felt like it was something I was supposed to do.” The Originator “My uncle Afa’s Wild Samoan Training Center [WSTC] is known within the wrestling community as the Harvard of wrestling schools,” Reno says. “You graduate from there, and you can get a job from pretty much any promotion.” Afa Anoa’i, the self-proclaimed ‘best trainer in the world,’ couldn’t agree more. His protégés include legends like his nephew Yokozuna, Bam Bam Bigelow, and current superstars like Batista and Umaga, who is also his nephew. Realness is the hallmark of this particular Anoa’i, the one who basically started it all. “What you see is what I am,” he says. “That is, we live this character.” Following in the footsteps of his uncle, High Chief Peter Maivía, Afa thought wrestling could fulfill his childhood dream. “I always wanted to do things to have our people be recognized as just as good as anybody if given the chance,” he says. “As a kid, I said to myself, if one day I’ll be given
the chance, maybe we’ll be able to put our people on the map.” Afa has done so by bringing the oldschool Samoan into the ring with gobs of primal flare. Does that include eating raw poultry and marine life? “I happen to enjoy all of that. In fact, I just ate a lunch of some raw fish I got at the market, where I chewed on it right there and then,” Afa laughs. “We’re not acting, and we’re not pretending. I teach my sons and nephews the way I was brought up, to be honest with people and to give it all you got. In training, or in the ring, whatever. In life? Same thing. That’s the Anoa’i blood.” The WSTC started in Afa’s back yard, toward the end of the ‘70s, when he set up a ring at his house so his kin could train under his watchful eye. A lot has changed in the industry since then, including the attitude of would-be wrestlers. “Coming in, they believe it’s a Hollywood thing,” he insists, emphasizing that he specializes in how to take realistic falls. “The average trainer says, ‘Pretend like you’re crying, pretend like you’re falling, now pretend like you got hit in the face.’ No, I will hit you in the face.” Ironically enough, Hollywood itself has come calling. Upcoming release The Wrestler hired Afa to train Nicholas Cage in the ways of the square circle. “He lasted two days,” Afa says. “He wasn’t cut out to be what the director [Darren Aronofsky of Requiem for a Dream fame] expected him to be. A nice guy, though. Offered to take me out in his boat and go fishing.” Cage’s replacement, perennial bad-ass Mickey Rourke, fit the bill. “Now that’s a crazy character. I swore this guy was a wrestler. In fact he should be a wrestler because he’s nutty like us.”
The Saga Continues Samu Anoa’i claims Afa as father and trainer without flinching. “I had to do 100 push-ups before I could go out and play,” Samu remembers. Not surprisingly, the former Headshrinker (one of two along with his cousin, Jr.) is now the top guru at the WSTC’s original faction in Pennsylvania. Afa named him to carry on tradition before leaving to open a WSTC in Florida. When asked about his family’s impact on Samoan identity and wrestling, Samu replied, “We let Samoan people know that there was other Samoans out there, and not to be afraid to put yourself in the spotlight.” Regardless of whether that spotlight is worth exoticizing one’s people, Samu sees Samoan savagery as nothing more than a gimmick–a realistic and “natural” one, at that. “Everybody has their own gimmick; people aren’t gonna pay money to see somebody they can go to 7-11 and look at.” He also says that pigeonholing the Anoa’i family and Samoans as wrestlers is unfair, because they’re extraordinarily well-rounded athletes. They play football, they play baseball, they even box at a competitive level. (The name “David Tua” ring a bell?) Samu admits they also love to fish. “Night fishing especially, where it’s just you, a spear, a hook, and your vision,” he says, smiling. Whether they’re spearing fish or spearing quarterbacks, the Anoa’i go back to a profession they’re born to dominate. “Wrestling’s always gonna be there, it’s not going anywhere,” Samu tells his son, Lance. “Go ahead and pursue your education and baseball career, and after all that’s done and you’ve lived your life, you can always come back to wrestling.”
Bob 118 Apisa as Mr. Lopacki in Hard Target
Interview J. Nicely Photos courtesy of Bob Apisa Samoans seem to have a knack for excelling in whatever path they choose, and Bob Apisa embodies this spirit. When we spoke with Samoan stuntmen currently working in Hollywood–people like Sala Baker, Norm Compton, and Tanoai Anoa’i–they all pointed us in one direction, to Bob Apisa, the original Samoan stuntman. “A lot of these young bucks don’t know me, but they know of me. And that’s out of respect,” acknowledges Bob Apisa. Before his trailblazing work in Hollywood, Apisa was making his mark on the football field as one of the first All-Americans of Samoan extraction. As a member of the ‘65 and ‘66 Michigan State Big Ten and National Championship squads, the fullback would be one of the first to prove the power of Samoan athletes while plowing through the defensive line. He also
played in the legendary 1966 Michigan State–Notre Dame game. Billed as “The Game of the Century,” it made history in his home state as the first live football telecast in Hawaii. He would go on to play a short stint in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers under legendary coach Vince Lombardi. After a knee injury forced Apisa to retire early, he made his way back to Hawaii, only to find himself fortuitously drawn into a Hollywood career. Currently living in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Bob
Apisa invited us to his home to discuss his illustrious career.
asked me if I had ever done any film work and I said, “No, never.”
Frank151: Let’s talk about the jump from athletics to Hollywood. Bob Apisa: In 1970 I had just gotten out of graduate school at Western Michigan University, and I went back home for a two-week vacation, and went to Waikiki to visit some highschool buddies. I was at Before & After, a nightclub discotech. We were having a couple of drinks and this one guy came up to me, and he looked at me, and I didn’t know what to make of it. He kept looking at me, I didn’t know if I owed him money or something. He walked up to me and he introduced himself. His name was Bob Bush, he was the casting director for Hawaii Five-0 at that time. He didn’t know me, but then he knew who I was after we made the introduction. So he
He invited me to come to the studio the next day, and I met Jack Lord, and he put me in. Two days later I was on as one of the jailbirds in this one scene. Jack Lord asked a question and none of us responded because we didn’t have a line, and he says, “Bob, why don’t you say this, when I say this.”
So I was Taft-Hartleyed into the Screen Actors Guild in 48 hours, without doing any work at all, or having any previous experience. Taft-Hartley means you are brought into the Guild, but you have a probationary period where you have to pay a certain amount of money and a fee on the membership, and at that time my fee was 75 bucks. Now it’s over 2,000. So times have changed.
Bob Apisa as Mack in Magnum P.I.
F151: How did you become a stuntman? BA: It was two weeks later in 1970, on Hawaii Five-0, when I took a jeep and they rigged up the windshield and I went right into the bushes and they were shooting bullets. I had to do a 45-degree turn and go right into a tree. So that took off and I said, “Hey, I can do this!” But the only reason why I said that is because of my athletic background. My football career had been cut short by injuries. You have to maintain a certain physical level in the NFL. I didn’t have the means for that because of my injuries. But I had enough in the gas tank to parlay this into a stunt career, and there you go. So I became one of the very first guys of Samoan extraction to do this thing. I rode horses, fell off of trains, did highfalls off of helicopters. It was all a mat-
ter of coordination and skill level, and I knew I had it, because it was in me. If I had to do something, I would size it up, strategically put the focus on it, and do it. Not that I was gifted, just that I had confidence. Ninety-nine percent of the time it was well received and they put it in the can, and it was a cut and a print. So 1970 until now, is what, 38 years? I’ve done it all. I’ve been in a lot of speaking parts in movies like Fled, Last Boy Scout, Executive Decision. I did the first movie for John Woo when he came to the mainland, which is Hard Target. F151: What about training? BA: I had training from friends of mine who worked along with me, who were proficient in certain things. And they showed me how to do that,
and they asked me for certain things that I was proficient in. So we helped each other. The old-time stunt guys were all-around athletes, that’s really what they were. They were rodeo guys, gymnasts, circus people. And you’d be surprised that when you’re asked to do something, you have an innate sense of coordination that just comes to the forefront. And I found that out with a lot of stunt people of the past. F151: What are some examples? BA: High-falls, car chases, doing a 360, doing a 180, a reverse 180. I can do that closing my eyes. I can get in the car and you buckle up your seatbelt, and your heart will be racing, but I’ll be fine with it. My wife is a retired stuntwoman. She doubled Teri Hatcher. I met her in Hawaii, and she got involved with Magnum P.I. She is a stock-car racer by trade, in her younger years. She used to race Kurt Russell, and a lot of these young guys in their younger days, here in Simi Valley and up in Saugus. She is a very gifted driver, and not many stuntwomen can do that. I mean some can, but you have to be proficient at hitting the mark. F151: So when you came into the industry, were you looking to act more? BA: It came on in happenstance. Because after a while producers and directors became budget conscious, because geographically we were
away from the other 49 states. So they couldn’t afford to wait another 24 hours to take the shot, to fly in a guy. So they said, “Hey, can you do this part?” and I said, “Yeah.” I was there at the right time and right place. So a lot of those opportunities were available for me at that time, then I honed that. And when I came to LA in ‘85, the fact is, I knew exactly what to do. Camera angles, camera right, camera left, entering frame, exiting frame, and making sure that you listen to the dialogue so that you can respond accordingly with the emotions that you need to put in the scene. So I worked on it, like anything else I’ve done in life. I’ve put in a lot of work. When I left the business three years ago, and that’s after 35 years, I said I need something else. It wasn’t stimulating enough for me anymore. It’s like football was a passion for me, but there’s got to be something more stimulating. So when I closed my career, I didn’t have any regrets. I’m happy with my accomplishments. I’ve gotten to a level where I need to get to. My boyhood dreams were realized and I still have a lot of notoriety as a result of that. Not to boast or anything, but that’s the truth of the matter. Today Bob Apisa runs Pacific Rim Sports Agency, a boutique sports agency specializing in representing Polynesian football players. www.pacificrimsportsagency.com
Words Jake Lemkowitz Photo courtesy of University of Delaware Library, Newark, Del. Kava, a mildly psychedelic ceremonial drink derived from the root of a pepper plant, has been vital to the fa’a Samoa for centuries. It also tastes like mud and toothpaste. I know this because my friend Zach came back from the South Pacific with a kilo in a paper bag. I wanted to see what it was all about, so I went to meet him in East Hampton to share in the experience. The sun had just started setting when we posted up by the pool. Besides the kava, Zach also brought back some traditional kava hardware: a carved wooden bowl known as a tanoa, coconut cups, and a printed silk bandana. Zach scooped out a heaping coconut cup of ground kava from the paper bag, wrapped the kava in the silk, and placed it in the tanoa to brew. The water in the bowl became the color of chocolate milk.
who have been chosen to be the village maidens based on their good looks and social standing. The taupou chew the root to soften it, allowing it to be brewed. Sometimes the kava is grated, pounded, or ground by old men or young children rather than the taupou. But always, the drinks are doled out to guests in order of their status in the community.
This magical brown beverage links the histories of Oceanic civilizations separated by thousands of miles. In modern Samoa, kava is also called ‘ava, and is alternately treated as casually as Budweiser and revered as a sacred drink. Important social gatherings and political events usually get things started with a traditional ‘ava ceremony. It is an elegant and complex ritual that varies from place to place, but generally includes babes, headdresses, drums, singing, and carefully choreographed movements. Guests sit on coconut mats while the drink is prepared by taupou, the young ladies
That’s all good if you’re some kind of chief or dignitary, but if you’re just knocking back some kava with your friends, it’s called “grog swiping.” You don’t even need a carved wooden bowl; a plastic bucket will do just fine as a tanoa. The only real rule is that you drink with somebody else, as the social aspect is all-important to kava drinking. “I fill the cup and hand it to you,” Zach explained, “then I say vinaka. You say bula, which means cheers, and gulp it down.” He’d picked up this kavadrinking terminology in Fiji.
Photo Pierre Pouliquin
After a few coconut cups, my lips and tongue started to tingle and get numb. And after a few tanoa had been drained, I felt a definite buzz of energy. The weird thing is that kava’s effects are not totally agreed upon. In Samoa, some guys will use kava to fuel 12-hour talk sessions. Others will use it to calm down, or as an alternative to alcohol, or as nothing more than a digestive. Whatever it does, I was having a great time until Zach’s friends who work in finance showed up, and they had no interest in our bowl of brown water. The next thing I knew, I was on my way to some lame beach bar in Montauk packed with other finance people and Lizzie Grubman B-listers. I drank kava the whole ride over and got extremely mellow. But once we arrived at our destination, I started having one of those existential bum-
mer moments that come from not being drunk at a bar. I thought, Here I am ocean-side in Montauk, a beautiful place that used to belong to the Mauntakket tribe but is now full of assholes. And one day, ‘ava too is going to be taken away from the fa’a Samoa. A quick search on the Internet reveals a ton of holistic websites peddling kava extracts, pills, and teas that have nothing to do with the drink’s origins or cultural traditions. But then again I realized, nothing that tastes like mud is ever going to become too popular, except in LA. Back at the bar, I breathed a sigh of relief, ordered a nine-dollar beer, sat back and watched a paunchy old golfer grinding on a blonde half his age. It turned out that she was his daughter. Bula.
Interview Frank Lee Photo courtesy of Lost Coast Sound Taking its name from the Humboldt County coastline in California, Lost Coast Sound prides itself on not falling into a specific music genre. “The interesting thing about this coastline is that the government designated it as a ‘lost coast’ because of the steepness of the mountains. Many road builders have tried to develop a highway to connect it to the 101, but nobody’s ever succeeded. That’s what we’re doing here. The genre is not country, it’s not jawaiian, it’s not rap, it’s not hip-hop. So not only are we creating our own sound, we’re creating our own category, and we’re claiming it as Lost Coast Sound.” Frank151 spoke with J Boog, one of Lost Coast’s most-promising up and coming artists. Frank151: Let’s start with the basics. J Boog: I was born in Long Beach and raised in Compton. I’m Samoan. We was brought up on the music. Reggae was there everyday. That’s mandatory, really. Samoan music, island music, we listened to everything that was out at the time. F151: Who are some of your favorite artists? JB: At that time it was Bob [Marley], Gregory [Isaacs], Dennis Brown, Desmond Dekker. The voices, too–Axel from Guns N’ Roses. Then DJ Quik, Eazy-E. Just a whole mixture. F151: Did you get into music through
the church? JB: Yeah, yeah. I sang for the church, but it was nothing compared to what we’re doing right now. Little hymns here and there, but it really came to me senior year in high school. That’s when I really started to sing. I didn’t know I had a voice or anything, but a lot of people liked the way I was flowing–liked the way I was singing reggae. That was my main passion. I just kind of pushed it from there, started writing, and got a lot of good feedback. We’d have jam sessions at school. The boys would bring their guitars or their ukuleles, and our jam
sessions just got bigger and bigger. It was cool. F151: Growing up in Compton, what was your experience with the California gang culture? JB: That was like, every day. It was everywhere. You couldn’t hide from it. It was really our parents who kept us who we are right now. The family bond was really strong growing up. I’m the youngest one out of seven brothers and one sister. F151: Where do you spend most of your time now? JB: Actually, Hawaii and California; back and forth. I have family in Hawaii and I have family down here, and in Samoa as well. We’re all kind of spread out. F151: Are you more popular in Polynesian communities or is your fanbase more diverse? JB: It’s starting to get diverse. The music’s finally starting to leak out to other people, man. The feedback that we’ve been getting from them, on MySpace and on our site, has been ridiculous. It’s going crazy right now. But most of our fanbase right now is Polynesian people. But down here, a lot of people are starting to dig it. F151: I heard you have a big following in Europe. JB: Yeah, we do, man, in Barcelona. It’s crazy to have other people out there, in Europe, listening to my stuff and have them like it. It’s…I don’t know! F151: And you haven’t even toured out there yet? JB: Nope. It was all promotion, networking. F151: You’re touring Asia, right? JB: Yeah, this December. It’s a promotional tour. They’re talking about Japan, Siapan, Guam, I don’t know what other cities. But just to go to
Japan. When do you ever get the chance to go to Japan and sing? And people dig your music out there, way on the other side of the world? F151: What’s your relationship with Konishiki? JB: We kind of merged up with him. I don’t know the business side of it, but that’s a beautiful dude. He looks out for us. He makes sure everything’s right, wherever we go. The merger, I think that was a great move for both sides. We see him all the time when he comes down to Hawaii. He’s a busy man, always on the run. Gotta go get it. F151: What about Boo-Yaa? JB: My older cousins, they were the first bodyguards for Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. Big Moe and Big Jun. F151: Talk a little bit about your labelmates. JB: We got Laga Savea, Kiwini, Siaosi, Fij-dog, and Hot Rain. Fij-dog is really the founder of the music. All of us younger generations are coming up to his music. Me, Siaosi, Laga, Kiwini, and Palm Triz, we’re kind of like different parts of Fiji. He kind of broke it down back in ‘90, came out with his music. The chemistry’s cool with that dude. He’s a monster in the studio. I never seen anybody work so hard in the studio until I seen Fij-dogs. F151: What are you working on right now? JB: Right now I’m working with Shane Sparks and them. We got a new single coming out called “Take It Off.” That should be hitting pretty soon. F151: Anything else? JB: Peep out the music. Hope they love it. www.lostcoastsound.com
Interview Art Shepherd Born and raised in Samoa, Reverend Dr. Ieti Mageo now lives with his family in Hawaii. Not just a devout Christian, he is a spiritual leader from a land where God is of paramount importance–so much so that American Samoa’s motto is Samoa, Muamua le Atua (In Samoa, God is first). Dr. Mageo was kind enough to speak to Frank151 about the role of Christianity in his life and in Samoan culture, as well as a few other Samoan traditions. Frank151: What is your history with Christianity, and how does it relate to your identity as a Samoan? Reverend Dr. Ieti Mageo: I was raised in the church, the Assembly of God. Every morning and every evening, my dad would get us together and we’d say prayers and they’d teach us about Christianity and to lead a Christian life, and to have respect. And up to now I’m still taking that advice and those things that my parents taught us–not only myself, but also my brothers, and most of our family. F151: Is it true that Samoa is about 99 percent Christian? RDIM: Correct. F151: What role does Christianity play in Samoa? RDIM: Most Samoan people respect church so much. Every Sunday, everybody goes to church, and all the stores are closed. They’re open Monday through Saturday, but every
Sunday the stores, companies and offices are closed. A long time ago we always wore all white. But there’s a change right now. People decide on their own, except for the choir–they have to wear white every Sunday. But we have to go to church services every Sunday, A.M. and P.M. F151: Twice every Sunday? RDIM: Twice every Sunday. Tuesday and Thursday are choir practice, Wednesday is Bible Study, Friday is Youth, and Saturday in the morning is Prayer Meeting, then for the Outreach, we go door to door and do some personal evangelism work. The only day off is Monday. F151: What is the history of Christianity in Samoa? RDIM: My grandparents told us the story and I still remember part of it. In Samoa, a long time ago, they
worshipped a God and superstition and idols. They believed in ghosts and they believed that there was a God, Tagaloalagi. But when the missionary John Wesley came from London, he was the one who brought Christianity to the island of Samoa. Christianity came and changed the part of our culture and our customs that related to superstition. They taught Samoan people that there is a God, a Creator of the Universe, and He is greater than Tagaloalagi. So people started realizing that the truth was coming. Speaking on behalf of the Assembly of God, missionaries came too, and they tried to convert us and teach our people about the Gospel, about Salvation, about the Lord Jesus Christ: He died at the cross for our sins, He was buried, and He rose again. And also eternal life. They told us that there are two destinations. If we receive Christ in our hearts and live a holy life, then Heaven will be our destination. If we reject him and lead a sinful life, then Hell will be our destination, the Lake of Fire. So people, they didn’t want to go to the Lake of Fire, and they started deciding to receive Christ in their hearts. That’s how I remember Christianity and the island of Samoa. F151: Do you feel that the majority of Samoans keep their faith as they move from Samoa to places like Hawaii, the mainland US and New Zealand? RDIM: I speak on behalf of myself and my family and some Samoans that I know. We keep it with us. Christianity is our major concern. Sometimes things change, like with their environment. Like for Sunday, we’re not allowed to go to the beach and swim or barbecue at the park. We don’t. But right now, I’m not ashamed to say I see some Samoans swimming
at the beach and doing barbecue at the park on Sunday. But what I understand is, those are the Samoans that were born here [in Hawaii] and raised here [in Hawaii]. But most of us that were born on the island and moved to Hawaii, to New Zealand, to the mainland, we still keep that. F151: You mentioned superstitions earlier. Can you give us an example? RDIM: Maybe there was something that a member of a family didn’t like, or maybe he disagreed on some issue in the family. Then later on that person dies, and someone says they still see that person around the house, or even on the land of that family. So they have to go and talk to the grave and say, “Why are you doing this? We understand that you disagree on this, but this is how things work. Why not just let it go, and you stay there and don’t come out again and scare us and our children.” But when Christianity came, and the Gospel came, and the name of Jesus was emphasized, then Samoan families stopped going to those graves, and they just commanded in the name of Jesus. Sometimes it’s our own imagination. If they hear a cat crying or a dog barking at midnight, they would think there’s a ghost coming. F151: I’ve also heard there are more obscure superstitions? Something about mirrors…? RDIM: (Laughs) Yeah, when they slept at night, they always said to cover the mirrors. Plus, the girls, they didn’t allow them to take a bath like after eight o’clock at night. And they didn’t allow them to put down their long hair and walk at nighttime. They had to dress their hair up and get something to hold it because they said the ghosts didn’t like it down. And if the ghosts found them doing that,
they would get it from the ghost. F151: Are those superstitions still observed? RDIM: Our ancestors, they were the ones that really got into those kinds of things. But the new generation comes and now the girls can take a shower any time at night. The atmosphere of the whole thing has changed. F151: Can you explain the mata’i, or Samoan chief system? RDIM: Each family has to have a chief. We would say that’s the boss of the family. In Samoa, they have extended family. Maybe one house, and almost everybody lives over there–the parents, the children, the aunties, the uncles, the nephews, the cousins, you know…how many couples living under one roof. And they all share their food, share whatever they have. They have to select who will be the chief, the mata’i of that family. That’s the one who will have control of the land, and also sometimes fa’alavelave–a funeral, wedding or a birthday–he asks the family what they want to do. In those days, only the immediate family were elected to be mata’i. Nowadays, some people not in the bloodline of the family can come and try to get the title. Another good thing about those days, the families each prepared two special meals, and they call it umu, one for the pastor and one for the chief. It was very important to them. And whatever food they cooked, they made sure that they keep the best for the chief of the family. Whatever was left, that was for them to divide for everybody so they can have something to eat. F151: So you don’t have to be related to be the mata’i of a family? RDIM: Before, you had to be related. You had to be one of the children of
whoever is the chief. And they always go by the father and, after the father, maybe the brother, and then after the brother, maybe the son or maybe the brother’s uncles. You know, they keep on going. But nowadays, there’s a change. A person that has a wife who is in the bloodline of that title, now they can get involved. They consider themselves part of the family. In some families, whoever has a lot of things, a lot of money, they give him the title, because they know that he can do everything for the family. F151: Is it true that a lot of Samoans can hear a Samoan last name and trace their family lineage back? RDIM: Yes, yes. It isn’t a big island. It’s a very small island. The population is not that large. So they only have one market, one hospital–everything was one–one airport. So almost everybody knows everybody. When it’s time for a funeral, weddings, things like that–fa’alavelave–everybody comes and helps. F151: You must have a lot of family back in Samoa. RDIM: Yes, Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. and myself, we are a very big family back home. I came up to Carson [CA] to be an MC for Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E.’s father’s 75th birthday. I just flew there and helped them. I’m not saying I’m the best, but they trust me to conduct everything on behalf of them for their father’s birthday. F151: Is there anything else you’d like to speak about? RDIM: I just want to let the Samoan people know that we should stay as a Samoan unity and help each other, with a clean heart. Let’s be a help not only to our own nationality, but also to all nationalities.
Interviews Sebastian Demian Photos Estevan Oriol The American street-gang lifestyle attracted first generation Samoan-Americans in Los Angeles in much the same way it attracted disadvantaged young people of other ethnicities. Samoan-Americans banded together under the banners of the Bloods and the Crips in the early 1980s as a natural extension of their Samoan brotherhood and as a means for protection in neighborhoods where Samoans were outnumbered. Samoan sets like the Scott Park Pirus, the West Side Pirus and the Sons of Samoa Crips have multiplied over the last three decades and thrive to this day amidst a bitter rivalry between Samoan Blood and Crip factions. Our trip through the LA Samoan gang landscape took us from Scott Park on the East Side of Carson to the Scottsdale housing projects on the West Side, to Long Beach where the S.O.S. Crips bang. OG Big Tone: Scott Park Pirus, Carson, CA Big Tone: They call me Big Tone Scott Park. That’s my jacket. I’m not an active gang member no more, to be honest with you. As far as someone they come and talk to, yeah, I’m what you call an OG. I just talk to the kids on the East Side of the park. Frank151: When did the Scott Park Pirus start? BT: The early ‘80s when The Warriors came out. That’s when the Samoan Warriors started Blooding. That was one of the first major gangs out here in Carson. In the early ‘80s, the Scott
Park Pirus evolved. OG Tino RIP was the first dude I heard coming through Piru. The red rags started coming out, because you already had Crips in Long Beach and Compton. It came from the penitentiary, then shit broke off to Compton, Long Beach and Carson. Scott Park reps the East Side, and Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. reps the West Side. It’s supposed to be one crew but the little kids got it so messed up now that it’s separated. You’ve got the Bloods in Carson, the Scott Park Pirus and the West Side Pirus, you’ve got Park Village Crips in Compton, and you’ve got S.O.S.– Sons of Samoa–in Long Beach.
F151: How much of the traditional Samoan culture has been brought into the American gangs? BT: It’s more like family ties. Like your family comes from Samoa or Hawaii and then they come here and meet a G or somebody and they would just put ‘em on the neighborhood. We got tied into that format. It’s a Black thing, the Bloods and the Crips. They call us, “the other brother.” F151: Why did you guys go to the red instead of the blue? BT: The Bloods were always outnumbered and Samoan people, I guess we felt that way. I wasn’t the first one to bang a red rag. But just from my personal experience, we’ve always been outnumbered back in the days. It’s always been five Bloods against 30 Crips. F151: Is Scott Park Pirus just a Samoan gang or are there other ethnicities? BT: It’s 99 percent Samoan. You might have a few brothers in there. F151: How does a Samoan gang fit into the larger gang landscape in Los Angeles? BT: Back in the days we used to integrate, but now it’s like a race war. Right now, you’ve got the Samoans and the Mexicans going at it in Carson. Any other neighborhood around, they’re not going, but in Carson, it’s hot right now as we speak. You go up to Carson, man there’s hardly nobody walking around no more. Too much gunplay going on. They ain’t even letting the kids walk home from school and they live two blocks away. That kind of shit make me mad. That’s why we’re trying to bring it back. I’m really hands on. I’m on the football field, I’m rolling through the neighborhood again, getting out the ride, pushing through the Park.
F151: How do you reconcile trying to do something positive for the community with the ostensibly negative gang affiliation? BT: You’re always going to have the gang jacket. I’m 40 years old. I have five kids now. I don’t fuck around. I’m not out there sporting the red rag no more. My shit is tucked. Right now I’m going to this meeting every last Wednesday of the month with some of the other people from West Side, dudes from S.O.S. I don’t know if you heard about this incident that happened over here at Samoan Flag Day. The kid got shot and killed. It had to do with the West Side and S.O.S., and the Tongans from Long Beach. Now the community leaders got with us ‘cause they can’t hit the kids like I can hit the kids on the street, or say Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. on their side. They rep the West, I rep the East. F151: How did you link up with BooYaa T.R.I.B.E.? BT: We all grew up in Carson. They all from Scott Park but somewhere along the line, people started getting it fucked up. I was banging in the ‘80s. Now the kids got it backwards where they forgot the history, so I don’t know what’s wrong with their minds these days, but it’s separated. Now you got the West Side and the East Side… because West Side Piru is a Compton gang. I don’t know how that originated, you’ll have to talk to Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. OG Bad Boy: West Side Pirus, Carson, CA Bad Boy: I’m OG Bad Boy from West Side Pirus 218th Street. Me and my brother started the clique. We got four generations deep in this neighborhood [Scottsdale Housing Project]. We from the city of Carson. I was born here. My mom and pops came from the island
Scott Park Pirus
of Samoa. I’ve been back and forth there due to my activities as a gang member. I got out of state releases just to go back home because of a lot of the crimes I did. It was one of the ways of just getting out from doing time, you know what I mean? Going back and forth from Cali to American Samoa, you get a different outlook at everything. I grew up here. I learned how to respect my culture when I went back home. Everything I learned back home was something I brought out here to teach my youngins. The West Side gang, we run it out of respect. All of this OG [original gangster], BG [baby gangster], YG [young gangster] LG [little gangster], to me, the way I look at it, it’s just a label. My youngest homie could be just like me. I respect him just like me. I don’t treat him different, because they all banging for the same cause. I bang West Side Pirus just like they bang West Side Pirus. I pretty much try and treat them
like they my own, like they my kids. I’ll die for ‘em just like they’ll die for me. Our island’s got a lot to do with how we run our gangs. We’re in that form. We have high chiefs, but we don’t call them high chiefs. They’re G’s. Then you got the high talking chiefs, that’s the BGs. They’re like the advisors for the little homies. And then they got the aumaga, the people that work for the chiefs. They’re like everyone who does the work on the land for the chiefs. And that’s pretty much how we run our neighborhood. But you can’t bring what’s in the island out here to your gang because it’s a whole different kick back that way. The way they play it in Samoa, it’s all about hands. It’s a village thing up there. They fight village over village. But you live to box another day. Over here, we have to fit into the way the gang thing is.
West Side Pirus
F151: WSP has other ethnicities in it? BB: We got Cambodians, we got Filipinos, we got Blacks, we got Mexicans. There ain’t no color line to us. We’re about one thing, you know, that ‘hood. If they banging WSP, you’re more than welcome to come in. I’m not looking at your color. When we grew up in Carson, that’s all our city was, ethnic. Different cultures mixed. Koreans, Mexicans, Blacks, Samoans, we all just blended in one. Those are friends of mine that I grew up with, lived with, and now we made us a clique and we’ve been riding it since ‘81. Like I said, we all down for one cause. If they’re down with it, I don’t care what color you are–Pink, Blue, Purple–as long as you rolling with what we rolling with. We bang Blood. It’s a Black thing, is what people say. The Bloods and the Crips is a Black thing, but we took it as, this is our thing. Didn’t no one tell us blue and red is for just Blacks.
F151: So how much does having a Samoan heritage trump the color lines? Are you peaceful with other Samoan gangs even if they wave another flag? BB: Well it used to be like that, but recently we had a fallout with a couple of the Samoan cliques. If the G’s get together, we could do it all by hands. If they don’t want to do it like that, then we’ll just revert to the next thing. We’ll just wait on what they want to do or how we’re going to handle this, or we can leave it be how the beef is now. There’s always a way to solve it ‘cause like I said, back home, the Samoans, they get down with their hands. That’s what my little homies’ about. My homies will come out with their hands before they pull that shot to another Samoan. But if he’s coming here first, we ain’t got no choice. But the brothers from S.O.S., they foul right now to us. They jumped the line.
Even on the island-type style. They running with Tongans. We don’t get along with Tongans. That’s a beef from back home. That’s an island beef right there. But that Samoan gang, S.O.S., they went and tied knots with them, so they way out of bounds to us. That’s a Crip thing over there, we just killing them now. So we’re treating the Tongan gang just like we’re treating the Samoans from the Samoan Crip gang. We’re treating them like Crips. We’re smashing. But they’re going to have to deal with that with every Samoan gang, just by tying knots with these Tongans. It’s like a Mexican thing with the El Salvadorians and the Puerto Ricans. That’s where that Tongan-Samoan thing falls in. There’s a fine line when you cross your race as far as Samoans and Tongans. It’s supposed to be a no-no everywhere, from here to the whole United States. And they really crossed a boundary, so I hope they get what they get. F151: So you guys are linked up with Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E.? BB: Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. is from the ‘hood. Gawtti, down to Ridd, down to Kobra, Godfather, Monsta, they all Dub S niggas. They all from West Side Piru. Gawtti is a BG and the rest are all G’s from OG Godfather, the homie Kobra, Ganxsta Ridd and Monsta, they all G’s. Ridd, that’s my dog. We grew up together. They actually grew up right here, too. They grew up on Horseshoe Lane over there. They just made their way out of the ‘hood. Now they in Vegas. F151: Is there a difference between Blood and Piru? What does it mean to be Piru? BB: A lot of us, as far as Piru, we sport the burgundy. That’s like our main color. The Bloods, they sport red ‘cause they Bloods, but it all hap-
pened in the jailhouse, that little mix up where Bloods started segregating theyselves, saying it’s a Blood thing and not a Piru thing and we wasn’t involved with it. You know, like they only had they Blood niggas’ back. You know there’s just as many Pirus as there is Bloods. They put all Bloods in one tier in the Blood module so there’s no Crips to vibe with, no other race to fuck with, so we just separate another line and make another beef. OK, now it’s a Blood and Piru thing. Let’s get ‘em up, let’s see who can do this, and from there, just like everything on the street, whatever happens in the jailhouse, it affects everything that’s going on out here. OG Bullet: Sons of Samoa Crips 32nd Street, Long Beach, CA Bullet: Basically I grew up in Long Beach. I was born in Samoa but I came out here when I was two years old. So basically, when older folks ask me, I tell them I’m from here, because I don’t know the culture real good. You’ve got Samoans from Mexican gangs, you’ve got some that are Crips, it all depends where you grew up at. Predominantly, this area was all Mexican, so we basically grew up the Mexican lifestyle, but we went another direction. My neighborhood started around ’77, ’78. I was probably in the fifth or sixth grade when that thing went off. It started off with four guys. One of the four, his father actually started up the whole deal and then it went from based in Long Beach, to now you’ve got them in San Diego, San Jose, Seattle, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, up and down the West Coast, Utah, Arizona. A lot of these cats that grew up around here, they were military brats, so wherever they went, they took their little branch
there because, you know, there’s not a whole lot of us as it is around here. That’s one thing I don’t understand, why we’re always fighting each other. You’ve got Black gangs that are at war with Samoans, you got Latino gangs that are at war with Samoans, and then you got Samoans that are at war with each other. The Samoan attitude is, we’re more apt to smash on our own than we are on any other race, which I think is totally wrong. I’m totally against this Samoan-on-Samoan war. If a Latino gang or a Black gang was to hit a Samoan gang, they would go and hit ‘em back, but it wouldn’t be as intense as if it was another Samoan gang who hit another Samoan gang. They’d jump all over it and be on it forever. And right now it’s at a point where lives are being lost and there’s no turning back. I think a lot of it has to do with these kids have lost their sense of culture. From when I was growing up, you would see another Samoan cat from another neighborhood and you would try to see where he was from. If you guys got into it, you got into it, but when an older person came around, you guys would just stop it and walk away. Now it’s to the point where if you see an older person, they wouldn’t give a shit. F151: How is it being an S.O.S. Crip in the bigger LA gang landscape? B: Even though we are Crips and then they have the issue with Samoans being Bloods, when you get locked up, all that is out the door. So whatever happens between the Crips and the Bloods between the Latinos, that’s on them. We don’t touch that. Everybody is supposed to be riding the Uso Card, which means “brother.” That’s why you see a lot of Samoans running around, “Hey, what’s up, uso.” Me personally, I don’t like to use that word because that’s a sign of weak-
ness to me. If you’re going to bang, then bang, don’t come over here and you’re a Blood and you see a Crip and be like, “Hey, what’s up, uce?” If you see me somewhere else and you with a bunch of your people you would be like, “Fuck that Crab.” Don’t try to say, “What’s up, uce,” and then a couple of days later you with your homies and you want to smash on me. To me, Samoan-on-Samoan violence just don’t make no sense, because when you get locked up, you ain’t going to do shit to each other, because there ain’t enough of you motherfuckers in jail anyway. You understand what I’m saying? When you get in there, it all breaks down to being racial. Out of every penitentiary you see, you will probably see at the most 15 to 20 Samoans, but as little as five. If I walk into a club with me and my wife and I see five or six Samoans in the corner, but I see a bunch of Latinos, Blacks and Whites in the corner, I’m gonna be more worried about those five people sitting over there instead of everybody else in the club, and it shouldn’t be like that. F151: So what can the Samoan community do to move beyond this? B: There’s nothing you can do no more. A lot of the kids now are Americanized. They’re more set in this gang way, and people’s lives are getting taken, so you know, you take one of mine, and what, I’m supposed to give you a fucking pass? No, you ain’t going to get no pass. We’re going to take some of yours. And it goes back and forth. I don’t see it ending. Back in the ‘70s and the early ‘80s, yeah, you would get the older Samoan folks from like the church to get involved and try to bring these people together. Now, these kids don’t have respect for the old people no more. You could see an old Samoan man walking down the street, before, I remember my par-
ents used to come by and say, “Hey, pull over. Let’s go and see if he needs a ride.” F151: Yeah, I heard a story that you would never see a homeless Samoan on the street because another Samoan would see them and help them out, and if they couldn’t help them out, then another Samoan family would help out. Is that true? B: That right there I can say is true. There should be no hungry Samoan out there, but we some big motherfuckers (laughs). Nowadays, at my age, I still feel that way, but the people that are younger than me would be like, “Fuck him. He ain’t from my neighborhood. I don’t know him.” Versus before, you would bring him in. A lot of Samoans, they open up their garage and there’s a bunch of guys standing there and you do your share and you clean up, you get fed, and you’ve got a home. A lot of Samoan kids were raised that way. They had their parents, but then they were over here. Like my dad, he took in a lot of guys and we all pitched in and did what we had to do. Him and my mom were struggling, but we did what we had to do to survive, whether it was legal or illegal.
practice, Sunday school, you know, everything was aligned with church. But somehow it went away from all of that and that’s why everything kind of got fucked up.
All Samoans that were raised back home, or in the ‘60s and ‘70s, were raised in the church. No matter what the fuck you did Monday to Saturday, your ass was up and you went to church every Sunday, whether you understood what the fuck the preacher was saying or not. And that’s what I think happened with a lot of kids, they stopped going to church. The church and the culture were almost meshed together, in a sense. Through the summer, there was no running around, but there was a lot of stuff going on at the church. You were either at dance practice, choir
Me personally, I ain’t got no problem with them. That little feud between the Samoans and the Tongans dates way, way back before us. All you know is when you grew up, you had restriction with Tongans. But there’s a lot of half-Tongan half-Samoans running around. We have Tongans in our neighborhoods.
F151: You guys get along with the Tongans? B: We ain’t got no beef with them. There’s not enough of them, there’s not enough of us, so it makes no sense to for us to beef. That’s what kind of kicked off some of the tension between my neighborhood and some of the other Samoan neighborhoods. [Tongans] killed a Samoan cat, so two different neighborhoods tried to smash on them and they thought we were going to jump in because it happened in Long Beach. But it’s not a race war. To me it looks bad ‘cause, why all these Samoan neighborhoods have to smash on this one Tongan neighborhood? That doesn’t look good. Not to me, it doesn’t. They didn’t do nothing to us. That’s between them and what happened with the other one. So they got this one Tongan gang that’s in North Long Beach, they’re going at it with two neighborhoods, one from Carson and one from Long Beach.
Ed. Note: The S.O.S. Crips opted not to be photographed for this article.
Words Adam Pasulka Under the wide and starry sky, Dig the grave and let me lie. Glad did I live and gladly die, And I laid me down with a will. This be the verse you gave for me: Here he lies where he longed to be; Home is the sailor, home from sea, And the hunter home from the hill. When Robert Louis Stevenson arrived at the northern shore of ‘Upolu, Samoa, in December of 1888, he was unimpressed by the island. Littered with half-sunken warships, the Samoan coast was underwhelming compared to that of Hawaii, Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands.
to his body of work (already including such works as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), penning The Beach of Falesa, The Ebb-Tide and A Footnote to History: Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa, a harsh criticism of colonial involvement on the islands.
Already playing host to severalhundred onerous Europeans, the native population did not immediately embrace the Stevenson family and their shipmates. Only after Louis built his 315-acre estate on ‘Upolu–which he named Vailima, or Five Rivers– did the Samoans begin to trust him. Where most Europeans trod with irreverence, Louis exercised deference, proclaiming, “I have chosen this land to be my land, and these people to be my people, to live and die with.”
On December 3, 1894, Robert Louis Stevenson died at home in Vailima of a brain hemorrhage–not the tuberculosis for which he had sought out the temperate climate of Samoa. Louis’ tomb can be found at the top of Mt. Vaea, near Vailima.
On ‘Upolu, Louis was dubbed Tusitala, or “Storyteller.” At Vailima he added
“Our beloved Tusitala. The stones and the earth weep.”
After Louis’ death, the Samoan chief Tu’imaleali’ifano said: Talofa e i lo matou Tusitala. Ua tagi le fatu ma le ‘ele’ele.