ʻO LE MANU SĀMOA: ʻO LE ʻAU A LE ATUNUʻU
(Manu Sāmoa, the People’s Team)
By John Falaniko Pātū
“E lē ʻo se ʻau a mātou, a ʻo le ʻau a le Atunuʻu.”
(It is not our team, it is the team of the Nation [Sāmoa].)
What does it mean to be a “nation”? In sports, transnationalism has certainly complicated and challenged what the nation means to different people. For Samoans, it is an unexplainable feeling of patriotism not only to a nation-state in which most Samoans are longer born, but to the Atunuʻu, the Nation, to a people connected through genelogical ties and a cultural history tied to a national land base.
As most people who claim Samoan ancestry no longer live in Sāmoa or American Sāmoa, the “ancestral homeland” of Samoans, the makeup of national sports teams such as the Manu Sāmoa represents the demographic shift and complicated nuances of what it means to be Samoan and to be tied to and to represent the Atunuʻu.
In fact, most of this year’s World Cup squad comprises players that play for teams in other countries. Of the thirty-three selected, only Melani Matāvao, who regularly plays for the Manu Sāmoa Sevens team, currently resides in Sāmoa.
Nine (Brian Alainuʻuʻese, Paul Alo-Emile, Ben Lam, Seilala Lam, Fritz Lee, Tumua Manu, Duncan Paiaʻaua, Ulupano Junior Seuteni, and Sā Jordan Taufua) play for clubs in France, two play for clubs in Japan (Tāleni Junior Agaʻese Seu, and Lima Sopoʻaga), three play for clubs in England (Chris Vui, Steven Luātua, and Theo McFarland), two play in the United States (Ed Fidow and Sama Mālolo), one plays for a club in Ireland (Michael Alaalatoa) while the majority of the remaining play for clubs in New Zealand, including eleven players with Moana Pasifika and two Blues players.
Unlike many of the other so-called Tier one teams who are composed of various ethnic backgrounds, all of the Manu Sāmoa players have Samoan ancestry.
That many Samoans such as “Bundee” Aki and “Manu” Tuilagi have represented countries, such as Ireland and England, respectively, other than their ethnicity complicates what it means to be part of a nation (conversely, you do not see many English or Irish players who have no Polynesian ancestry representing these teams).
This year’s squad is not only diverse in the terms of the clubs and countries represented, but also in terms of the experience they bring. Nine of the players are uncapped, signaling the management's investment in developing newer players for the future of the national team.
The reliance on the diaspora has not gone unnoticed. Matāvao and upcoming star from Sāmoa, Miracle Faiilagi were born and raised in Sāmoa and represent the few on the team who are chosen to not only represent Samoans at home, but those living New Zealand, Australia, and the growing Pacific rugby families in Europe and Japan. This contrasts greatly with the Manu Sāmoa Sevens team, which comprises almost all players of local residents.
Rugby is not only a global sport, but it is a sport that has globalized the Samoan people. The national fifteens team no longer represents just those that live physically in Sāmoa, but represents the hundreds of thousands of players and fans who reside the diaspora. The shift in representation reflects this ever-increasing trend among Samoans.
This has certainly changed what it means to be a nation, and for Sāmoa, the nation that has produced notable greats like Tana ʻUmaga, Maʻa Nonu, Brian Limā, and entire dynasties like the Lam and Tuilagi families, rugby has defined what it means to be a nation beyond island borders.
Whether one is from the United States territory of American Sāmoa or a resident of Montpellier, Samoans will always represent the Atunuʻu, and rugby will continue to expand what it means to be a people in diaspora.