Toes lightly dipped in the sand, with waves lapping the shore soothing away stress and any memories of work. While some dream about days like this, others have the privilege of calling these oasis islands home.
Toes lightly dipped in the sand, with waves lapping the shore soothing away stress and any memories of work. While some dream about days like this, others have the privilege of calling these oasis islands home. Such is the case with Sgt. 1st Class Lionel Tafea from Headquarters and Headquarters Company 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, who was born in American Samoa and raised in Hawaii. When asked what he felt was the most important part of Asian Pacific Culture, Tafea said “The most important part of my culture is Family. Samoans are very Family oriented, and we are groomed to respect our elders and Family. Family is the foundation of our culture, and no matter what we do or where we are, we must never forget our culture and Family. Another important aspect since missionaries landed on the island is God. Families are built around the belief of God and no matter what, God is at the forefront.”
Understanding and honoring the cultures begins with education. It’s important to note that Asian Pacific Heritage Month honors cultures collectively throughout the entire continent of Asia, through India, China, Japan, and Korea, as well as the Filipino, Samoan, and Hawaii islands. Asian Pacific Heritage Month is not only to honor these geographic regions but also to celebrate the culture, music, and food as well. While these areas are vastly dissimilar, there is a common historical thread woven throughout this immense geographic area.
One common thread interwoven between all the cultures of the Asian Pacific Islands is the Polynesian War Dance. Rotuman, Kailao, Haka and Siva Tau are all names for the various versions of the Polynesian war dance commonly associated with the Asian and Pacific islands. Polynesia consists of more than 1,000 islands, including Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji. Each has their cultural differences and their version of this dance.
The dance originated from the Maori people from New Zealand who named it Haka.
“Although the haka originated from the Maori people of New Zealand, the haka has traveled the world and influenced modern pacific culture,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tafea.
This New Zealand dance spread throughout other Polynesian islands quickly. The names and the dance vary from island to island. In Fiji, this dance is called Rotuman, and Siva Tau is the Samoan version. While the Tonga version is named after their war dance, Kailao, it explicitly does not include singing.
There are two main reasons for the use of the dance. When performed before war it served as a means to intimidate an opponent. Secondly, it gave the elders a chance to see if the battle was a good idea. If the elders felt that there was a flaw in the dance, then they would take it as a sign to bail out of the battle, instead of suffering a loss.
“The haka symbolizes the spirit of a warrior, unity and the drive to endure whatever challenge that presents itself, “ said Sgt. 1st Class Tafea.
While often associated with war, not all Polynesian War Dances are battle cries. Preparing for battle or game is not the only time that this dance is performed. These dances are also performed in honor of a Fallen Family member or friend or can be in celebration of a marriage.
An example of this can be seen in 2017, when Hawaiian actor Jason Momoa, who gained fame for his role in Game of Thrones, performed the Haka dance as a send-off for his UFC friend Mark Hunt. This provided a means to show respect, honor, and gratitude for his friend and their culture.
“Anyone can do a haka dance, but you must understand that the haka is not just about looking like a warrior or chanting words. The haka has a deeper meaning. It can be a battle cry or a symbol of unity.” Sgt. 1st Class Tafea said.
Dancing encompasses things that cannot always be expressed in words. Dancing is a means of celebrating honoring crucial people and moments in our lives, with a physical representation. Similarly, this dance can be a means of mourning. When Soldiers are mourning the loss of a comrade use this as a ritual to honor their friend and mourn their loss.
Asian Pacific Heritage Month is more than just a means to celebrate a melting pot of cultures, food, and people. It brings a deeper meaning to the unspoken bond between countries and Soldiers of all kinds throughout history.