Sia Figiel provides extensive and detailed descriptions of Samoan life and culture in a way that is both surprising and new for her Western readers. While her work embellishes many cultural nuances, such as the importance of tattoo and the art of storytelling, all of the thematic threads come together when discussing the female relationships that pervade this text. It is clear that there are not only strained familial ties, but that female friendships have suffered in the long run as well. These problematic relationships stem from the highly structured and hierarchical system set in place within Samoan culture. Unfortunately, this infrastructure compels women to not only defend themselves against the patriarchal institutions, but eventually causes them to banter and fight with each other for the sake of self-elevation and survival.
The grandmother-granddaughter relationships are evident from the beginnings of books I and II. On the very first page of the text we hear a verbal attack from Lalolagi towards Malu, “Don’t mess like that with people’s minds, do you hear me, chicken-sh*t girl? Dog-girl? Do you? Do you? Do you?” (3). It is clear that Lalolagi is still greatly effected by the shame brought on to her family, firstly by her many affairs and illegitimate children, and secondly, by her daughter continuing in her trend, something that Malu is strictly aware of, “I carry my grandmother’s pain, my family’s shame…” (5). Yet the relationship, which superficially appears to be strictly abusive in actuality relies on Lalolagi telling the story to Malu as to prepare her, to share her shame, to impart her with knowledge that she did not have access to, “Besides, I can’t tell you much apart from what I’ve already told you, dog-girl. My own mother did not warn me about it. Nor did her mother. Nor did her mother’s mother before her,” (35). Lalolagi feels and knows that it is her responsibility to share with Malu to protect her from her own fate and that of her mother.
It is this same parallel which is drawn with Alofa and her grandmother, Tausi. The two women share the same story, that of a betrayed friend, an unfinished tattoo, and permanent shame to both women. Tausi begins her story saying, “I’m going to let you into a secret, Alofa. I don’t know what colour bird this is going to be…you’ll have to tell me…because as long as I’ve lived I’ve never breathed a word to anyone about the things I know” (141). The relationship between Alofa and Tausi does not appear as strained as that between Malu and Lalolagi, yet she is greatly effected and upset by the experience, “I don’t know why she has to tell me all this. I don’t know why she tortures me so,” (147). Alofa cannot understand the motivation of this story telling at first, yet she does comprehend that the story must be told as a cathartic experience for Tausi, as a way to expel her memories of her mistreatment of Lalolagi, “I knew she closed her eyes to and dreamt, apologizing to the whole world to forgive her. ‘Forgive me, Lalolagi. Forgive me’” (164). Both girls need their grandmother’s stories to validate their own existences, because their own mothers could not do so for them.
These somewhat under-mentioned mothers, selfish and dead, leave their girls in the care of their grandmothers. In the case of Pisa, Alofa’s mother, there were deliberate and violent attempts at self inflicted abortion; something that Alofa distinctly remembers, “The night she tried to kill me (and possibly herself) by drinking a bottle of dishwashing liquid…my very own existence became questionable. Suddenly there were no guarantees” (174). This knowledge helps to shape the understanding of the silence that permeates the relationship between Pisa and Alofa, “Most of these so-called conversations were in reality command, accusations, curses, Pisa spat at me in the most public of ways for everyone to see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Which was not unusual” (172). These tumultuous relationships only heighten the need for the grandmothers to share their stories, to ensure that the end with their granddaughters, and that the pain does not continue for any more generations.
It is in this way that Malu, pregnant and confident stands to break the chain of grief and shame. She knows that her past has shaped her in some regards, but she is open to the future and what it holds, “to live in all the confusion of the present, knowing that there are still dreams to be dreamt. Even if coloured by a red ballpoint pen that’s not seen. A line drawn beyond the green horizon, connecting the past, the present, the future that she alone saw” (270). Malu’s understanding of her future role allows her to also shatter the societal stereotype about women and the propagation of these stereotypes by women. Malu’s child, assumingly so a girl, is the hope of change, the hope which stands the opportunity to erase the acts of her ancestral mothers and impart her own knowledge and wonder onto the world.