Following my health struggles and other unfortunate events, I returned to my ancestral home of Samoa in 2014 to begin what I believed would be a healing journey, to become an organic cacao farmer.
However, nothing could have prepared me for the life of being, firstly; a woman farmer owning land, and secondly; an organic farmer in Samoa. But first, let’s go back to my earlier years.
When I was 8, my family moved to New Zealand in search of better opportunities. After graduating, I travelled, joined the corporate world, got married and had a daughter.
I thought working 50 to 70 hours a week was the best way to earn a living and secure my future. That quickly changed when my health began to fail – physically, mentally and emotionally.
Having cancer was a traumatising experience. After several surgeries, my organs had taken a beating in a short time. In an attempt to repair and regenerate the good cells in my body, I switched to a more plant-based diet with only organic food.
This was neither easy nor affordable for me but I felt it was the best way to restore my health.
When I first heard about my cancer, it was right after I had recovered from a burst appendix that had almost killed me. I wanted to run away and block out all the noise I was hearing. I decided to go with my daughter on a long holiday to New Caledonia, a place that reminded me of Samoa.
I felt relaxed and free for the first time in a long time. That was when I decided to change everything, give up my life in New Zealand and return to Samoa. However, things did not turn out as I had imagined.
Reality check on returning to the land of my ancestors
Growing up in New Zealand, I was an empowered feminist and never thought I would have to fight for my rights as a woman to own land and property.
I also assumed that because I was Samoan, I would be welcome and certainly did not expect my decisions about how to grow food to be questioned. After all, I was returning to farm the land my mother had inherited from her grandparents. Land that had been farmed for generations using traditional, environmentally friendly and sustainable methods. I wanted to continue my parents’ legacy by growing all my food organically, for instance, cocoa, coffee, bananas, cassava, taro, avocados, herbs and medicinal plants.
Most women are food growers in Samoa, but they do not get credit for their work. Instead, their husbands, fathers and brothers receive all the accolades. The work of single women farmers is barely recognised while they face enormous challenges, some even life-threatening violence.
Back in Samoa, it soon became apparent that as a single, independent woman who owned land and wanted to farm organically, I basically represented everything that was culturally wrong or socially unacceptable on this island. The only way I would become a respected farmer in the village was if I married another farmer.
I was reminded that Samoa is still a patriarchal society and that women like me, would be subject to threats from both men and women in my community. They found my choices and opinions disrespectful and a threat to the status quo. But this was just the beginning of what it means to be a female farmer in Samoa…