Whereas in some cultures a failure to look people straight in the eye while addressing them is often considered a sign of shiftiness or dishonesty, in Samoan culture it is seen as disrespectful for a younger person to look directly into the eyes of a more senior person reprimanding him or her.
The word tiloalalo expresses this behaviour concisely. According to G.B. Milner’s Samoan Dictionary, this word means to “Steal a glance from under one’s eyelashes, glance up at someone while pretending to keep one’s eyes downcast [while being reprimanded]”. Sounds like a tricky manoeuvre to accomplish, and one that sometimes leads to cross-cultural misunderstandings in a country like New Zealand, where Samoan and Pālagi (European) cultures intermingle.
Samoan is a Western Polynesian language spoken by about 450,000 people worldwide. It is the official language of the Samoan islands, which lie roughly halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii and are made up of the Independent State of Samoa (O le Malo Tuto‘atasi o Sāmoa) and the United States territory of American Samoa. Samoan is closely related to other languages of Polynesia, particularly Tokelauan, Tuvaluan, Tongan and Niuean.
With a flourishing Samoan ethnic population of around 145,000 concentrated mainly in Auckland, Samoan is the third most commonly spoken language in New Zealand after English and Māori. According to the 2013 New Zealand Census, there are over 85,000 speakers of Samoan in New Zealand. The 2010 US Census records more than 180,000 Samoans residing in the United States.
For more interesting information about Pasifika languages see our specialist Pasifika language division website: http://nztcpasifika.com/languages/