Were We Once Belonged by Sia Figiel is a coming of age book about Alofa Filiga, but at the same time in tackles one of the most common subjects in the world: colonialism. I can honestly say it is one of the most important subjects in the world, it has had such an impact on people everywhere, and the impact is sadly not fading away the way it should.
13-year-old Alofa is becoming a woman, and she has many things to figure out, for example finding her sexuality, the context of belonging, and the understanding of being part of something bigger where several traditions and interests meet. It is a bit more darker than expected, with issues like abuse and discrimination, not to mention suicide.
Tradition versus modernity, and the resistance for change or understanding of the past makes it also complicated. It is common to study abroad, like in Australia, and naturally when returning home to the old country with its traditions there is a clash with the modern Western world. For instance Alofa’s aunt, Siniva, returns after years of studying in New Zealand, and she is extremely critical towards western traditions, including food, and everything colonialism brought with it, like religion and electrical appliances. Being strange like this can easily get you shunned.
It is a fast read, but it is not an easy read. A lot happens on these pages, and what might be a bit confusing is the Samoan way of telling a story; there is fiction, mythology and poetry, all mixed up. Not the easiest to follow. There is also English mixed with Samoan and English slang. These books have never been part of my preferred reading, but in this case it did not bother me as much as it usually does. The writing style will put off some people, I fully get it. It is however an important book, because there are not many Samoan books out there, and I think every country, every culture, every minority have their right to be heard. —