I had two mums growing up. There was Pani (pronounced “Bunny”), my mum, who spoke Samoan on the phone to her sisters for hours, howling with laughter, yet seemed angry all the time. She could silence you with a stare and, when that didn’t work, a wooden spoon. And there was Pani (pronounced “Par-knee”), my mum, who went to private school dinners and barely spoke but laughed along politely when someone pointed out that she’d taken her shoes off at the door how cute!
Both women were Samoan and both women were real. But like so many Samoan women, my mum had different iterations for different societies. When I watched my palagi friends’ mums yell at them at home, and then yell the same way while out with friends, I realised that there was only one of them. They were allowed to be the same at home, at work, everywhere.
In Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, writer Tusiata Avia and director Anapela Polata’ivao allow six Samoan women to be the same.
The play is based on 17 poems by Avia. The poems, from Avia’s collection by the same name, all relate to the experience of being a Samoan woman, and the many forms that being takes. There are six characters in the show, broadly encompassing the different roles and personas that Samoan women adopt, publicly and privately. Six views on tradition. Six views, some deliberately and heartbreakingly not yet fully formed, on sexuality. Six views on womanhood...
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