Love for people, love for culture

October 29, 2015
Burke Museum

"One of the messages I give to younger kids is: don’t be embarrassed of your culture. Don’t be embarrassed of where you come from.

I started working at the Burke my freshman year. I remember thinking, people need to know about this. A lot of Polynesian kids won’t get the opportunity to learn about our culture, to tell people about where we come from and give life to the objects that are back here collecting dust.

I want to become a Matai—a high chief, someone that can speak for my family. I was born and raised in American Samoa. I speak Samoan fluently, but I struggle with the Matai language. At funerals, weddings, any big gatherings, my dad, my grandpa, my family members that have the high chief status will speak in this language.

To me, it’s like a poem. I want to be able to understand it and communicate with my dad or my grandpa. Understanding the objects will only make my learning, my understanding of my culture, even better."

Cory Fuavai studying objects

Photo: Andrew Waits

"I picked the fala mats as one of the objects I wanted to study because as kids, we used to sit and watch my grandma, my mom and all the ladies in our family prepare these mats. Falas are Samoan rugs—it’s what we put down as decorations for our houses. A lot of Polynesians can’t afford to buy the rugs we have in America. We use the resources God has given us in land and nature. Making falas is one of the ways we stay connected with our roots, our ground, where we come from.

Back in the old days, I know they wrapped people in falas when they passed away. I play football and it’s a tough sport. I put the fala on my arm for that battle, to wrap my enemies in it and either take them with me or bury them. The waves connect me with my family back in Samoa, with the ocean. The heart is for my grandmother, who just passed away. Her name is Alofa. Translated into English, it means love."

"Don’t be embarrassed of your culture. Don’t be embarrassed of where you come from."

—Cory Fuavai, UW Student

Cory Fuavai is a senior anthropology major at the University of Washington and an offensive lineman for the Huskies. Cory works with Curator of Oceanic & Asian Culture Holly Barker to gain research and leadership experience at the Burke in support of his goal to become a Matai chief.

Excerpted from "In Our Own Words," the Burke Museum 2015 Annual Report.

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