Aloha, Malo e Lelei, Kia Ora, Bula, Talofa!

Or as we say in the south, Hey, y’all!

Take a moment to imagine a day on an island. Imagine feeling the warm tropical winds brushing against your back, the feeling of sand between your toes, the taste of salt in the air from the Pacific Ocean and the beautiful view of tropical paradise. In all honesty, you have not had an authentic Polynesian experience unless you experience the Polynesian culture – a culture that celebrates life. Whether sharing of a meal, sharing laughs with people of the community, or simply drinking a traditional cup of Kava (ancient herbal drink) with the elders of the village, the celebration of life abounds in Polynesian culture.

sione-childhoodIt is on the islands that I found my identity; not only as a Tongan person, but also as a Pacific Islander. Growing up in Hawaii gave me the opportunity to interact with people from around the world and learn about different cultures. In experiencing the diversity of the world, I began to think about my own culture and identity. I wondered what it meant to be a Pacific Islander with American citizenship. Was I less of a Pacific Islander because I grew up in America?

sione-grandfatherAs I contemplated these questions, I also began to evaluate myself and my identity as a Christian. Where in all this confusion of culture and identity was Christ in my life?  As I struggled to discern my identity within the Polynesian culture and with Christ, I sought advice from my grandfather, Rev. Sione Hatini Finau, who shared this saying with me, “Koe Otua mo Tonga ko hoku Tofia,” which can be translated as, “From God and Tonga I descend.” As I reflected on this piece of wisdom, I began to realize that my identity is a beautiful fusion of my Polynesian culture and Christian upbringing.

With this new understanding, I began seeing transformation beginning during family time, as I was encouraged to frequently read the Bible and offer prayers in my native tongue. In learning traditional dances such as the Haka (a tribal war dance), I was taught to be like David—strong and undeterred by my opponents. It was within my Polynesian community that I was able to truly live out my identity as both a Polynesian man and a Christian.

When I came to Candler in 2012, I was surprised to discover that the community here reminded me of being raised in Hawaii in some ways. The community here was so diverse – black people, brown people, white people, straight people, queer people, southerners and northerners, Baptist folks and Catholic folks. I could go on, but you get the picture. I was so impressed by the way that the community at Candler embraced each of these seemingly disparate cultures. Everyone was welcome at the table, and invited to bring their various cultures and experiences along. The faculty and staff encouraged us to bring our unique gifts and share them with the broader community.

Photo credit: Se-Gye Shin.My time at Candler has allowed me to continue exploring the beautiful fusion of my Polynesian culture and Christian upbringing. In part, this exploration has continued by sharing with others as they celebrate their own culture and experience in the classroom, in worship, and in the halls. As I begin my third year, I am grateful that I have developed friendships with a wide variety of people. I am involved with Sacred Worth (a student group for LGBTQIIA people), the Black Student Caucus, the Candler International Student Association, and so much more. In each of these communities, we bring our diverse experiences to the table and learn from one another both inside and outside of the classroom.

In this diverse community, I have discovered new ways to celebrate my unique identity and culture surrounded by others who do the same. As I near the beginning of the end of my time at Candler, I am proud to call many fellow students, faculty, and staff members my Ohana—my family.


Photo credit for banner image: Brad Scott.