A young Samoan boy Fiapule has been invited to his best friend’s birthday party. Then, he finds out that his sister’s christening is the same day. This picture book discusses his dilemma: should he choose his friend over his family?
Fiapule is recounted in the 3rd person from the young boy Fiapule’s point of view. It switches between two different settings: Fiapule’s school and his home. At the start Fiapule is bubbling with excitement at the prospect of his best friend Liam’s birthday party on Sunday. But his mother then gently informs him that he cannot miss his sister’s christening due to take place the same day.
Hannken’s exploration of Fiapule’s response to the situation is both interesting and insightful. When Liam asks his friend if he is coming to the party, Fiapule remembers his mother’s words but, perhaps buoyed along by Liam’s enthusiasm, decides that “the christening was no big deal.” He is obviously kidding himself because later that day with his mother, in a clear attempt to keep everyone happy, he suggests a compromise: he could go to the christening and then on to Liam’s party. When this idea is rejected outright by Mum, he is angry at her lack of understanding, and later frustrated when he realises that his father expects him to be at the christening too.
The tears flow that night as he realises that he may have to let his best friend down. He works himself up into such a state trying to tell Liam the next day at school that he comes down with a fever and loses his temper with both his parents: “That’s all you care about, the stupid christening!” It is only after his father’s gentle explanation of the importance of family that Fiapule thinks about how his decision could impact them. He realises how disappointed his family members would be should he not be at the christening. And it is this empathy and understanding of his family’s values that inform his action – he is finally able to tell Liam he cannot go to the party.
The theme of this picture book is universal: we have all experienced occasions where we have had to make difficult decisions, and choose family over friends. And it is fascinating to share in Fiapule’s dilemma from beginning to end. But this story has an extra cultural dimension. As Fiapule’s father explains to his son after his angry outburst: “Fa’a Samoa; it is the way of our people … If we stand alone, we will blow away in the wind, but if we stand with our family around us, then we are strong.” Fa’a Samoa is The Samoan Way and aiga, or extended family, is an integral and essential part of it, as are the matai (chiefs) and the church.* The christening has deep significance both as a religious occasion and as a family gathering for Fiapule’s family. Through his dilemma and under his parents’ guidance, Fiapule learns about the traditions and expectations of Samoan culture and adopts them for his own.
And once he has taken his decision, Fiapule discovers that things aren’t as bad as he might have thought. Liam is still keen to play basketball with him even though he has just learnt his friend cannot come to his party. He even stops at Fiapule’s house on the Sunday to deliver some cake and an invitation to a special birthday dinner the following evening. It is a reminder that true friendship is understanding and ongoing.
The illustrations are sympathetic with a strong focus on people and their interactions with each other. I particularly noticed the physical closeness of the characters to one another at the beginning of the story. In one of the early illustrations, Fiapule crouches down to look at his sister in his mother’s arms, a smile on his face. Distance is then shown between Fiapule and his parents when he learns he cannot go to Liam’s party. For example, Fiapule and his father are shown side on in the same space, but while his father is busy preparing for the christening, Fiapule stands his head bowed, hand on hip, separate both physically and emotionally as he works through his feelings.
Fiapule is a valuable book for raising discussions about conflicting priorities, family values and friendships; it also provides readers with a fascinating introduction to some aspects of fa’a Samoa, The Samoan way.
Fiapule by Catherine Hannken, illustrated by Trish Bowles (Mallinson Rendel, 2007)
Catherine Hannken is a primary school teacher and children’s author. She was born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, where she still lives today.
Trish Bowles is a freelance artist and children’s book illustrator with more than 30 books to her name. She is based in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Catherine Hannken and Trish Bowles have collaborated on two other picture books with Samoan themes, Selafina (2003) and Talia (2009).
A learning/discussion activity based on Fiapule is available on the NZ Pacific Picture Book site.
*98% of Samoans are Christian I discovered in the course of my research into Samoa. In fact, in June this year (2017), Samoa officially became a Christian state.