It's a four letter word. Well, it's really six letters, but it's come to be pretty offensive to some of us pisikoas.
Palagi. Pronounced puh-long-ee.
At first,hearing this word shouted from multiple fales as you walked down the road really wasn't a big deal. To be blunt, palagi means "white person." For a while you can pretend it means "foreigner," but that isn't sa'o (true) once you find out Asians or Africans are called something different. For a while, I even liked to think it just meant someone who doesn't really know fa'a Samoa (the Samoan way), but this was clearly sese (wrong) when I moved to my new village and met a white Samoan. There is a little girl here, half Samoan, half "palagi" who has white skin, blonde hair, and brown eyes. She's maybe around kindergarden age and has spent her whole life here. They call her "palagi." This word clearly means "someone with white skin."
Maybe it's American (another overgeneralization) political correctness, but a few of us have come to dislike being called this word that is a huge racial overgeneralization. And yet, I remember a day back in training in Tafitoala when a car drove down our pretty secluded road with two white people in it. I said, "What are those palagis doing here?" It was honestly surprising to see someone white who wasn't a pisikoa. I hate to be called it, and yet, I still use it. I can call other white people "palagi" but I don't like to hear Samoans use it. Reminiscent of anything? The N-word, maybe? Which is kind of ironic because we've taught a few Samoans not to use that word to which they ask, "But it's OK for them to say it to each other? Because it's in their music."
One of the most disteressing things for me in Samoa is when I hear vast overgeneralizations about "palagis" or am told that I should teach people fa'a Palagi (the white way), as if I could speak for every culture of Caucasion descent.
Just today, I walked to the faleoloa (shop) and a little boy across the street yelled "palagi" at me the entire time. Sometimes my response to being called a palagi is, "O fea le palagi?" (Where is the palagi?) After I bought what I needed at the store, I alked over to the boy. "O ai lou igoa?" (What is your name?) He was too shy to respond now that I was only a few feet from him. "O lo'u igoa o Sema. Leai palagi. Sema. Fa." (My name is Sema. Not palagi. Sema. See yah.)
Even though I'm trying to get he kids not to call people palagi (I really don't think anyone means it in a derogatory way) and I am very adamantly against answering questions for all white people, being called palagi hasn't bothered me that much. Until one day, I went back to Tafitoala to visit for Tausaga Fou (New Years). It was early morning, which means my host family was awake and bustling while I was still moe umi (sleeping long), but really, how long can you sleep when you hear someone's name monotonously called for two minutes until they finally answer (other pisikoas know what I'm talking about here)? Relatives from overseas were visiting and I heard my host-mom talking about me in Samoan and saying "palagi" over and over. I just lived with you for two months and comptely fell in love with your village and now you start calling me palagi?! I have a name, you know it. Please use it.
Use "palagi" as a descriptor if you want, but don't use a cultural overgeneralization to replace my name.
P.S. Sema is pronounced Same-a.