Vai's View: Polynesian culture offers barriers, blessings

Return To Article
Add a comment
  • mjbigelow Everett, WA
    Feb. 25, 2011 9:10 a.m.

    Very well thought-out comments, Vai. It's clear you love the Polynesian people and want to see them overcome their challenges.

    I had the privilege of serving my mission in San Jose, CA and associating with many Polynesian missionaries and members. I've never met a more loving, generous, faithful people in my life.

    So I have to confess, I winced a little when I read your article. Not that I disagree with your comments; I don't have a lot of experience to say they're right or wrong but they do line up with stories my friends told me. But, I hope you'll write an article about how Polynesians can use their strengths (again, love, generosity, faith) to overcome the challenges you see and become an even greater people.

    Just listing the bad parts of the culture feels a little like the parents you mention: abusive and publicly derisive.

  • cactusflats American Fork, UT
    Feb. 21, 2011 4:01 p.m.

    I don't know what a newspaper is supposed to do other than shine the light in places people can't see. I know I learned some things I didn't know before from this article. I'd rather read this kind of story than the latest police scanner bulletin from West Valley. Keep it up, Vai! You are a big asset to this publication.

  • Mayfair City, Ut
    Feb. 21, 2011 6:57 a.m.

    Really insightful article. Great observations.

  • Rueben L Folsom, CA
    Feb. 20, 2011 2:25 p.m.

    Big Hapa:

    My point exactly. Spiritual bravery and truth are not centered in any race, ethnicity, OR SOCIOECONOMIC CLASS or CAREER CHOICE. That's why I was openly wondering why GA appointments are overwhelmingly made up of men who have experienced a high degree of professional, organizational and financial success. I don't see many construction workers, custodians or even teachers. I have met many men like Limhi Latu in my life, and think they are very qualified to be a GA. But that's just me, who am I to judge.

  • Spoxjox Redmond, WA
    Feb. 20, 2011 9:24 a.m.

    Vai, please don't stop blogging any time soon. I have not read such meaningful and carefully thought-out introspection in a long time, and in a newspaper, perhaps never.

    For example: A couple weeks ago, I read a local Seattle Times columnist talking about how she gave up booze for the month of January. Don't really like the columnist, but I thought the particular column was interesting and a worthwhile insight into someone else's life, perspective, values, and the effects of their choices on their own personal journey.

    By comparison, your columns offer such perspective almost every time. You know yourself better than other columnists, and as a result, you reach the core of issues much faster than most. And the fact that you're approaching these issues from an LDS perspective greatly enhances the appeal of your writing (to me, at least).

    So that's the long way of trying to explain what I started out saying: Please don't stop blogging any time soon.

  • Big Hapa Kaysville, UT
    Feb. 19, 2011 4:44 p.m.


    Clergy and leadership in the LDS faith does not have a color or culture it has spiritual bravery and truth as its anthem. Would a Polynesian general authority cause spiritual truth to some how be more then it's sum ? I believe not, the content of ones heart is how God decides who will serve.

    Aloha Pumehana

  • dung beetle Bountiful, UT
    Feb. 19, 2011 4:24 p.m.

    Vai: Mahalo nui! Don't ever stop writing.

  • Joey 'Afitu Manfredo Washington, DC
    Feb. 19, 2011 12:33 p.m.

    Hello Vai,

    I had the good fortune to live in Tonga as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I actually met you at the computer lab of the Vava'u Youth Congress during your trip to Vava'u in '06 or '07 (can't quite recall).

    This was an insightful article. I would only add some color to the section on kava Tonga. While, like anything, it can be damaging in excess, it has also evolved into an innovative form of philanthropy and community-building. Rather than relying on aid or outside support, men in each village organize and fund important education, health and other community development through kava fundraisers.

    Fitting for your comment on "cafeteria Tongans," Kava Philanthropy has become an intersection of tradition and modern development.

    Not that I disagree fully with what you wrote; I just feel that it's more nuanced than that in reality.

    Thanks for your interesting reports and viewpoints on Tonga and Polynesia, Vai.


    Joey 'Afitu Manfredo
    Peace Corps Tonga, Makave (2005-08)

  • Seasider Salt Lake City, UT
    Feb. 19, 2011 11:19 a.m.

    Illegal immigration is an issue affecting all ethnicities. In America hispanics are singled out and unfairly targeted more so than others for deportation. One of the reasons is that they make up for such a huge percentage of illegal immigration in this country. Compare that with a country like New Zealand where Tongans, Samoans and Fijians are targeted for suspicions of illegal immigration. Just ask any Tongan there what a "dawn raid" was and you get the picture.

    SLGuy, would you be in favor of eliminating all English speaking wards in foreign countries too? I'm sorry but I find it a ridiculous notion that these Polynesians are in danger of not learning English because their Sunday services are in other language. Should we do away with all those translators at General Conference now?

  • SLCguy Murray, UT
    Feb. 19, 2011 8:58 a.m.

    I am VERY interested to see part 2. Part 1 was a very good start towards some more understanding.

    I am most interested to see if Vai comments on the HUGE Tongan gang proplem that is so common within the Tongan speaking wards.

    In a society where your useage of the English language impacts everything from school, to social, to work opportunities, I fail to see the benefit of having services "in your original language". What better inducement to embrace the English language, where you live NOW, then hearing and understanding the gospel in it.

    And what better way of showing all the youth that it is not an 'us versus them' world. To totally integrate into the existing wards, so you see all colors as your friends, and eliminate ALL non-English speaking wards.

  • Yorkshire City, Ut
    Feb. 19, 2011 4:17 a.m.

    I'm VERY interested that these posts seem overwhelmingly in favor of/sportive of/grateful for people of Polynesian birth who have come to live in American.

    And that in comments on DesNews articles concerning people from Spanish-speaking countries, it is about the exact opposite.

    Why is that???

    The 3 Polynesians in my lds ward were not political refugees, or economic refugees etc.

    When asked how they came to live in U.S. they said they just wanted to, and so they came --and no one gave them a hard time. Neither of the two I have asked know anything about needing any visas, permits, permission etc. They just packed their bags, got on a plane, landed in LA as tourists, decided to stay, and have been here ever since.

    Yet it isn't like they are completely assimilated, homogeneous Americans. They have their own culture-unique things (just like the Spanish-speaking) ie: expecting congregation to replay to their saying "Talofa" at beginning of testimonies etc.

    Why are there so many of them, and no one squawks at all, yet people who came for far more desperate reasons from Spanish-speaking countries are so vilified???

    Just wondering.

  • badlandscougar great plains, sd
    Feb. 19, 2011 1:53 a.m.

    if you have any type of culture you would know what bro vai is talking about, if you don't you have no clue. you can always start with some yogurt, yo.

  • JoeBA Pleasant Grove, ut
    Feb. 18, 2011 11:32 p.m.

    Wine is good for the heart, too. That doesn't give a green light.

  • Sarah B Bountiful, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 10:13 p.m.

    I too am white as can be and I found this article to be very uplifting and interesting. In part because two of my favorite people on the planet are a Tongan couple in my ward. Their humility, integrity and kindness are exemplary. I absolutely love it when he gets up to bear his testimony, for it is truly a testimony, and a very powerful one at that. They are very honorable people, working hard to provide for their children and to teach them correct principles. He has told me about some "incorrect traditions of their fathers" dealing with violence that he is working hard at to see his children recognize the correct way to behave, according to Gospel principles. I tell others that I wouldn't be surprised if he is a General Authority someday. He is of that caliber.

  • Rexburg Reader Rexburg, ID
    Feb. 18, 2011 8:46 p.m.

    Whenever I read comments about Vai being a great man - and he is - I think of the saying, "Behind every great man is a great woman."

    I'm a haole who grew up with lots of Polys in Laie. I also spent time as a kid in both Samoa and Tonga. In my view, there were differences between the Poly youth in their homelands and those who were Laie transplants. The youth in their native countries seemed more discipled and respectful of others. Unfortunately, some of the young Polys in Laie struggled to adapt to the more permissive American way of life, at least that was how I read it. For example, I got along well with the youth in Samoa and Tonga, but received regular and often severe beatings and harassment from several of the Poly kids in Laie. So, I agree with Vai's assessment of some of the challenges faced by many Poly immigrants. I will also say that I keep in contact with many of my Poly schoolmates and they have ALL become wonderful adults who I am proud to call my friends and my examples. I love the Poly people!

  • delasalle Sandy, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 8:20 p.m.

    Great article Vai. I am not always a fan of your articles because sometimes you focus too much on the "warrior" aspect of the Poly culture. But this one hits the essentials and points out that there is no reason Polys should not be in science, medicine, finance, church leadership, etc at the same rate as every other race. In fact there are many who are but just aren't recognized like the others in sports, and that's something that needs to change.

  • Cougar in Texas Houston, TX
    Feb. 18, 2011 7:37 p.m.


    Very informative and educational. I appreciate the insight and have an added appreciation for the Polynesian (Tongan) culture.

  • Rueben L Folsom, CA
    Feb. 18, 2011 7:21 p.m.

    This is an interesting and well written blog on the inter-relationship between ethnicity, culture and religion. One thing I have often wondered is why we do not see more individuals like Limhi Latu as general authorities or in highly placed leadership positions within the LDS church organization? It seems like so many of them have a similar profile==professionals and businessmen who have been very successful financially. Not to say that they haven't been equally successful in their family and religious lives. But where are the Limhi Latu's, the construction workers, custodians, school teachers, etc. who live their faith and raise their children so successfully? I don't often see them progress beyond local church leadership positions. Which kind of bothers me, because it seems like the criteria for placement in those positions would be as much or more so based in spiritual living as it is in the ability to successfully manage and run an organization.

  • manutd Milford, CT
    Feb. 18, 2011 6:56 p.m.

    i can see why the haole's aren't so interested in this article.

    however as a cafeteria polynesian myself, this is very insightful. thankfully as a member of the church i am able to recognize and pick the cultural attributes that are in keeping with the gospel.

    i totally agree with vai, as polynesians we place way too much emphasis on sports, football in particular. academics/college takes a back seat. but the next generation is starting to make a difference. hopefully some day more polynesians will follow the example of brother sikahema and find avenues of success away from the gridiron.

    finally, on a football note. we need to keep the polynesian pipeline coming. it is concerning to me that the U recently hired norm chow, a huge polynesian influence. then we passed by mark atuaia as vai alluded to earlier. if we plan on being competitive we have to keep the polys coming. we have already missed some huge recruits in the past: haloti ngata, manti teo, and more recently harvey langi.

  • gtread Sacramento, CA
    Feb. 18, 2011 6:50 p.m.

    Your blog was so timely. I'm a stake president in Sacramento and have been struggling as a Palongi leader to help teach my Tongan ward the principles you discuss. Too many filter the gospel through a culture filter, rather than the other way around. I will share your thoughts with the ward leaders and would love to find a way to speak with you more. Your insight is much appreciated.

    G. Treadway

  • CandaceSalima Orem, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 6:35 p.m.

    Vai, I read this aloud to Alvin in the waiting room of the place where we were getting the oil changed in our car. I didn't read loudly, and it took me a minute to realize all conversation had stopped and everyone was listening intently. As I continued to read my eyes welled up and I became choked up as they sweet and precious truth were unveiled. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this, they are spot on in so many ways and on so many levels. God bless you, my friend.

  • Big Hapa Kaysville, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 6:28 p.m.

    As a person of Hawaiian decent I find this article extremely helpful in explaining in a candid format the nuances of the Polynesian cultures and it's relationship with the LDS spiritual culture.

    Thank you Vai, you have outlined the Hands On Discipline mores perfectly and I for one can see how the physical upbringing I had definitely exposed my weakness as a young father.

    I look forward to your next article.

    A Hui Ho !!

  • Big Hapa Kaysville, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 6:19 p.m.

    RE so "what" cal

    Interesting that your negative comments about Vai's article developed into a paragraph.

    You do not need to read Vai's blog, no one is forcing you to read it. It is very odd how a person will read about a topic they loathe and then act surprised that they do not like the content.

    Vai will keep writing as long as the D news prints his blogs. Sorry so what cal.

    Poly Cougar Nation

  • WA_Alum&Dad Marysville, WA
    Feb. 18, 2011 6:01 p.m.

    Fantastic article, Vai. I know you must take frequent heat for your willingness to write on tender subjects, but your perspective is timely and worthwhile, and your blog is one of my 'must-reads'

  • BYU Grad Alpine, Utah
    Feb. 18, 2011 5:31 p.m.

    Thank you for leaving the subject matter of your two prior posts. You have shown that you are an exceptional writer when treating gospel oriented subjects.

    That does not surprise me, since you have an abundance of experience and good judgement in that arena. Uplifting - yes! Critical of your alma mater in a very public and questionable way - NO!

  • arsphd Provo, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 5:14 p.m.

    RE: Johnny Triumph | 12:18 p.m. Feb. 18, 2011
    American Fork, UT
    "This is interesting, but blogs don't belong on the front page of the DesNews. Put them on the editorials page, where they belong."

    Blogs posts are perfectly appropriate on the front page, especially when they are filled with better information than the rest of the "articles" up there.

    Thank you Vai.

  • Veritas Aequitas Fruit Heights, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 5:09 p.m.


    Vai's blogs are on a downhill slide.

    As a social science major, this article means nothing.

    If Vai continues to blog, how about.... "Something New"???

    Talk about football, BYU, Utah, or the meaning of the roasted pig?

    Come on, brah... what was this even about?

    Looking forward to part two....

  • Cougar Cindy Salt Lake City, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 4:53 p.m.

    Very inspiring. You're really a terrific writer. Is there anything Vai can't do?

  • Aloha Saint George Saint George, Utah
    Feb. 18, 2011 4:51 p.m.


    I really appreciate your comments.
    Growing up in a polynesian world (Hawaiian and Haole) I learned to appreciate that I has the blood of Israel in me. Taking time to study and live the culture, I learn that our culture lost the gospel and is being restored again.
    I grew up in the old school, where education and being taught through love were not prevalent. My haole side was a little better. Through your cousin, who I consider my older brother, we always say to each other that we need to "break the cycle now" and "It stops with me."

    Unfortunately it isn't an on/off switch. However as I watch over the past several years- I think many as catching that vision and the cycle is changing. Unfortunately, there are others who are going the other direction and are becoming a degenerate contribution to society- even in relief society.

    I am optimistic with my children. I married a haole girl who's family is strong in the gospel for the most part. Slowly I've been able to break this cycle. I now look forward to my children as my oldest now just got married. I hope.

  • EdGrady Idaho Falls, ID
    Feb. 18, 2011 4:20 p.m.

    Good stuff - ignore the haters.

  • TonganNinja Salt Lake City, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 4:09 p.m.

    Thank you Vai. This article was very well written and shines a light on how the Tongan culture runs.

    To all the comments saying that this was boring and not insightful...."tuku ho'o fie poto"

  • 10CC Bountiful, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 4:00 p.m.

    I would offer a slight disagreement on kava.

    Anything used in excess is bad. If you brushed your teeth 50 times a day it wouldn't be good for your gums, or teeth. But many things used in moderation can be beneficial. Kava certainly falls into that category, in my opinion.

    There's a Polynesian saying that rings true, in my experience: "A man who drinks kava is still a man... a man who drinks alcohol becomes a beast".

    Kava has been used traditionally as an instrument for conflict resolution. A tribal elder will get two people who are having a conflict together and say "let's drink some kava and talk about it."

    Modern scientists have discovered the active ingredient in kava and found it to be therapeutic, a natural sedative that (in moderate amounts) does not make you drowsy. It facilitates positive social interactions and provides a (very mild) sense of well being. There's a reason many white people use it, for anxiety & stress relief.

    But drinking it all night, every night is a problem, without a doubt.

    Te u inu kava, si'i si'i pe, mohe, misi o ofa. :)

  • Barack Obama Phoenix, AZ
    Feb. 18, 2011 3:24 p.m.

    I'd much rather hear Vai's analysis on the culture than his analysis on sports. Sports analysts are a dime a dozen and they all say the same meaningless most sports intereviews..."I think if we play good defense and score more points than them we'll win the game." Really?! Ya think?!
    All too often people (particularly racial minorities) cling to their culture so much that it becomes detrimental. Vai is exactly right in picking and choosing the cultural traditions that fit within the gospel and eschewing those that do not.

  • DougP9 Orem, Utah
    Feb. 18, 2011 3:00 p.m.

    Vai,let me add my voice to the vast majority who appreciate your candid and insightful articles. I once heard that the definition of a great leader is one who can be perfectly honest and perfectly kind at the same time. I feel you achieve this in today's blog. Well done and thank you.

  • sisucas San Bernardino, CA
    Feb. 18, 2011 2:51 p.m.

    I personally know a few of the Latus, and they live up to everything Vai wrote about them. If only more families like them could be found. They are all very talented, musically, academically and socially. It's hard to see minority youth from many different cultures grow up believing there's nothing for them beyond highschool. We need to turn their attention to people like Vai and others who have chosen to step beyond the stereotypes.

  • Big_Ben Centerville, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 2:29 p.m.

    this is much better than Vai's last two articles (which were long, drawn out, and really had no point). Thanks Vai!

  • Florwood American Fork, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 2:20 p.m.

    Thanks for the insights. I have two adopted Samoan children, and continue to be amazed how much of the Polynesian culture comes through them, even though they both left Samoa as toddlers. Your lessons apply to anyone, in considering what parts of our culture need to be adjusted to live a successful life. Thanks!

  • Coach Biff Lehi, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 2:11 p.m.

    Wonderful article from a talented guy. The Polynesian saints are a gift to us all and their faith is astounding. Thank you for the insights. Some of you readers are completely oblivious to the message Vai is sending here. The message is...wait for it...THERE IS MORE TO LIFE THAN SPORTS! I played college football (was a freshman QB when Vai was a senior at BYU), am a high school coach and love sports beyond reason. But I have learned that sports are pointless unless put into the right context. Vai is attempting to do that for you here, with varying degrees of success, apparently.

  • taraxopoios Lake Tapps, WA
    Feb. 18, 2011 2:08 p.m.

    So. Cal Reader

    On the surface this blog may be an educational piece on Polynesian culture. However, if you look beyond that you will find principles that apply to all of us regardless of culture. As a father of three young children I read through this and picked up several ideas that I can learn from as I raise my kids, and I'm as white as they come - literally. (I live in Seattle where the sun doesn't shine).

    I grew up in Provo. I had a young men's leader from Tonga who was and still is a great example to me. I had friends in the ward from Samoa. The culture doesn't matter. It's the principles and what we can learn from them that do matter.

  • Tom in CA Vallejo, CA
    Feb. 18, 2011 2:03 p.m.

    Bro Sikahema - So. CalReader is having a hard time seeing the big picture. There is much more to these articles than "Poly issues". I look forward to anything Vai Sikahema has to write about. Even if it is controversial. Keep it coming.

  • chubbuckidahocougfan Chubbuck, Idaho
    Feb. 18, 2011 2:03 p.m.

    I was very bored with this article.

  • RockOn Spanish Fork, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 1:54 p.m.

    Best article you've written, Vai. Belongs on the front page. The Latu story deserves to be trumpeted loud and long -- make a movie of it. Limhi and his wife are extraordinary human beings and examples. (Never met the Latus, but know Keli Lobendahn and that great guy is similar to Limhi. Hard working, salt of the earth, great father.)

    Despite some protestations, life in America for the Polynesians is pertinent and powerful stuff. Keep it coming.

    Anxious to read part 2.

  • grumpolman Springville, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 1:53 p.m.

    So. Cal Reader I think you are alone, anyone who didn't find Vai's article interesting needs to find other interests besides only sports (and this coming from a certified sports addict)

  • So. Cal Reader Escondido, CA
    Feb. 18, 2011 1:32 p.m.

    Come on readers! Seriously? The thrid article in-a-row on Poly issues? Is such information REALLY necessary? I've LOVED your previous blogs, with the exception of the last two and now this one. You've lost my interest, Vai. Sorry about that. Is it your personal mission to educate society on poly culture? I'd like you to get back to your sports/BYU analysis without including race/culture issues. I can't imagine I'm alone, but who knows. Perhaps I am. We'll see.

  • cycleon Boise, ID
    Feb. 18, 2011 1:28 p.m.

    These thoughts could easily apply to other cultures. Though traditions and methods are slightly different, at its core we're all the same. I love reading all your candid truthful insights.

  • gramma b Orem, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 1:01 p.m.

    Great article, Vai. And, these days, we all have to pick and choose and leave negative aspects of our various cultures behind if we want to live the Gospel.

  • morganh Orem, Utah
    Feb. 18, 2011 12:50 p.m.

    Vai, What a great article. It is nice to see people like you who are able to embrace the positive things from their culture, but are able to let the things that don't fit with their beliefs become a part of who they are. Keep up the good work.

  • R1JT Salt Lake City, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 12:40 p.m.

    A well written, insightful article.

  • XelaDave Salem, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 12:36 p.m.

    As always an enjoyable read and insightful- I am sure this will engender much discussion as well and personally better discussion than most things here which is exactly why it belongs on the front page.

  • TJ Eagle Mountain, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 12:30 p.m.

    Another great article Vai. Looking forward to the next part of this subject.

  • Slushfund Roosevelt, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 12:19 p.m.


    I watched with amazement while you played football at BYU. But I have got to say after reading about your culture and your life experience, I am even more proud of you the man.

    I hope your words find their way to the masses. They have great worth to all peoples.

  • Johnny Triumph American Fork, UT
    Feb. 18, 2011 12:18 p.m.

    This is interesting, but blogs don't belong on the front page of the DesNews. Put them on the editorials page, where they belong.