Anatomy of a (Samoan) prayer

I’ve been raised as a Christian under one of the first religions brought to Samoa (EFKS). Apparently, on my Samoan side, I have some lineage to one of the six Tahitians that traveled to Samoa with John Williams on his evangelical mission. That story is for another day, however, as I haven’t done enough research on it.

My grandfather (by western understanding, great uncle) was a sort-of Deacon, a’oa’o fesoasoani in the church I was raised in; not a minister but also not just a general male-member that helps at church events and processions. When I was really young, I wasn’t a promising student at aoga aso sa because I just didn’t care enough; I was there for the food and presents. My grandmother, whilst she was still alive, would dress me up, let me run around the stage giving my best attempt at whatever song and dance we had learned, then coo over me until I came home for the Sunday feast when it was Children’s day (White Sunday). I didn’t really place anywhere in my Sunday school exams until my actual biological grandfather from Samoa, also a matai (Malae Lio), came over and drummed a bit of discipline, fa’asamoa and scripture into me. And then I came first. Following this, my parents/other grandfather expected nothing but the top marks because they saw I understood everything I was learning, I was just lazy at first lol. Exams questions weren’t just about scripture, but also about general knowledge (some I didn’t know why we were learning like who was the Prime minister of New Zealand – I wanted to learn about Samoan history instead). Anyway, I took a mild interest in my later classes into the anatomy of prayer – why it was done in this particular EFKS style in comparison to other structures in other religions.

Throughout my upbringing, I’ve found/made/connected to meaning-making from invocations/intercessions/prayer. I used to do it a lot more before 2012. From 2012 onwards, I had some major life-changes which saw a lot of disconnection and heartbreak. I stopped between then and late 2017. I want to bring it back into my life because I feel like I’m in a better space and I think it will make me a better orator/speaker, lawyer and all-round person (which is what I thought it did when I was more consistent with it). Nothing sets intention like speaking it into existence. Or at least testing your thoughts and intentions when doing so.

This was the breakdown my grandfather taught me when I was in vasega something (five maybe? Or six?) at Aoga aso sa.

  1. Fa’ane’etaga – Exaltation
  2. Fa’afetai – Thanksgiving
  3. Fa’atoesega – Contrition i.e. seeking forgiveness
  4. Mana’oga – Intercession i.e. what you’re seeking

Even though I haven’t always kept to this structure (especially during emergency prayers/sad prayers or whenever emotions are high) I don’t generally stray too far from it. Prayer has physically brought me peace during periods of despair; especially when I’m in a deep deluge of emotion that I tend to indulge in.

My grandfather prayed every day and night for me. He prayed three times every day. Once on waking, at noon, and in the evening (I think this was Mosaic practice? I need to brush up on my general biblical knowledge). I was and still am amazed by his consistency. I aim for this standard of commitment to my goals and vision for my life. I’ll never know how many blessings (or transformative challenges) I’ve received because of his prayers. I’ll never know this in relation to anyone that may have included me in their prayers too. But I do know that speaking something into existence manifests power to whatever is said, rather than it just sitting in your mind or soul alone. As the saying goes, e pala le ma’a, a e le pala ‘upu.

Since I’ve started praying after I learned this basic structure all those years ago, these are some of the prayers I’ve made that have been answered:

  • Getting through an exam/paper/university (I wanted to drop out several times);
  • Getting a legal job (insecurities about my competency);
  • My family’s safety through disaster (my mum was overseas during minor hurricanes in the Cook Islands; my dad traveling to Samoa without us);
  • Asking for a few people who were literally on their deathbed to be given another shot at life
  • Asking for peace for myself or for someone else (several people in my life that have been through personal challenges that I wanted to help but couldn’t);
  • Mending relationships or seeking guidance to balance/nurture the va;
  • Asking for strength and courage through particular life-changing periods (not just for myself but for others);
  • Comfort during the discomfort life throws at me – I still pray for this often;
  • Emotional maturity when something is deeply upsetting;
  • Wisdom – can never never never have enough of this;
  • And several other ludicrous and not ludicrous things (people; material goods; situations and events).

The prayers that have not been answered, are maybe not for me, or it is not the time for them to be answered. In any case, it’s a goal to get into the practice, speaking my gratitude, reflections, and intentions into existence through my prayers moving forward. Whether you believe in a higher being or not, the psychology of such a practice, however you manifest it, is effective; if done consistently.