Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

'Good Samoan Kids' - Fact or Fable? Sexual Health Behaviour of Samoan Youth in Aotearoa New Zealand

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

'Good Samoan Kids' - Fact or Fable? Sexual Health Behaviour of Samoan Youth in Aotearoa New Zealand

Article excerpt

Introduction

When Water Burns by Lani Wendt Young is a novel set in Samoa that follows the journey of two Samoan teenagers, Leila and Daniel. Leila, who was raised in America, has come to Samoa discover her ancestry. A romance between Leila and Daniel ensues. Daniel, who was raised in Samoa, often finds himself explaining to Leila the local moral codes based on 'traditional' Samoan family values.

"I mean, if we decide we're going to have sex, then of course we will make sure to use protection." "Leila!" Horrified amusement are the only words I could use to describe his reaction. He was staring at me like I was proposing to work as a stripper in my spare time. "Are you really standing talking to me about sex and birth control?" My face burned. "Yeah, why? What's wrong?" "Nothing." He shook his head... "You really are an American girl, aren't you?" "What? Where did that come from?".. "Leila, that's what I'm trying to tell you. Teenagers in Samoa don't ever have this kind of conversation. And people don't date in this country [Samoa]. Haven't you noticed?" "Now I'm confused. If people don't date and don't talk properly about sex then what the heck do they do when they're attracted to each other?' "They try very hard to keep it hidden" (Young, 2012, pp107-108).

"Can you please explain to me why you think it's a bad thing for us to be alone in the house together?" He smiled to show me he knew I was making an effort. "Samoa is a small place with some unwritten rules for stuff like this. For couples. And for girls especially" (Young, 2012, 127).

Tama lelei and teine lelei

In Samoan society, particular terms embody the social expectations of young people. The terms teine lelei and tama lelei are often used to describe a 'good Samoan girl' and a 'good Samoan boy' respectively. Teine lelei or a 'good Samoan girl' describes someone who shows respect for her elders, love for her aiga or family; fulfils her female role in the home; who does "women's work, tries hard to achieve educational success; attends church regularly, protects her virginity; and is cautious of irresponsible boys who want sex (Anae, et al., 2000). A tama lelei, a 'good Samoan boy', describes someone who works hard in school or in the workforce, provides for his family, is respectful towards his family and treats women with respect.1 A theme associated with these terms is an expectation that until they are older, married and in settled careers, young people abstain from sexual relationships.

Although these terms originated in Samoa, they are also frequently used in the New Zealand expatriate enclave.2 As a 16 year old Samoan male recently explained, his parents used 'tama lelef when comparing him to other young men doing well at school or having a 'good job'. His parents expect him to focus on his schoolwork and not on girls. It appears that expatriate Samoan parents expect their teenage children to help their families in a number of ways, including focussing on their academic and professional endeavours, and refraining from such distractions as romantic relationships and having sex. However, statistics from a national survey of youth reveal a somewhat different reality.

The analysis of the Youth '073 survey results formed the quantitative component of a mixed-methods doctoral study exploring factors that influence the sexual health knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of Samoan secondary school students in Aotearoa New Zealand. Over 9000 New Zealand secondary school students from years 9 to 13 completed the survey including 535 who students identified themselves as of Samoan ethnicity. Students were asked a range of questions relating to their family, school, church, health and extracurricular activities. The analysis of data relating to Samoan students found some 45 percent who answered the questions relating to sexual health behaviours reported having had sexual intercourse (189/417). A higher proportion of male students (53%) than female students (36%) reported having had sex. …

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