How many of us listen to the tales of our grandparents? Stories from their childhood. Times when they were growing up and life was (of course) harder, and slower, and they had so much less than we take for granted now. Do we listen – and remember? Do we listen – and learn? Or do we roll our eyes and sigh, politely hiding our yawns, but with our thoughts miles away?
Falimu Mautu’s family at Satitoa owe their lives to their mother, Aniva. Who long ago as a child, listened to her father tell stories. Among them a story of when he was a child. And there was an earthquake, mafui’e. And afterwards, the sea came. Not a mildly irritated sea, but a roaring demented one that ripped through their village, wiping out houses and leaving the land scarred brown. He told a wide-eyed Aniva, ‘whenever there is a big mafui’e, then you can be sure, the sea will come. You must not wait. You must run. Quickly.”
Aniva’s daughter Falimu is twenty four years old. She was on the roadside waiting for the bus to town when the earthquake came. She went back into the house to check on her family, in time to hear her mother.
“My mother was saying the earthquake was too strong and we had to start running because the sea would come soon. She called out to my father who was cutting grass at the back of the house and my dad said, no there wouldn’t be anything like that.”
But Aniva was insistent. She screamed at the children who were preparing to leave for school.
“No! No-one’s going to school. We all have to run.Now!”
Frightened, the children followed their grandmother’s directive and began running with her back towards where the distant hill began its slope upward. Falimu picked up her baby and followed them. Her father put down his bushknife and started after his wife, still shaking his head at the strangeness of women. Still unconvinced but unwilling to risk the inevitable tirade that comes when one ignores a wife. As she ran, holding her grandchildrens hands, Aniva continued to shout – calling out to the neighbors they passed,
“Run! Run! We all have to run because the sea will come soon…”
They were midway up the hill when the sea came and overpowered their village. Hearing the hungry wave, Aniva’s husband turned back to try and get his mother, 109 year old Fa’aliu. His son went with him. The two men could not fight their way through the water in time. Both were injured. Falimu’s brother was crushed under a broken cement wall and would later be taken to New Zealand for surgery to help him walk again. The family matriarch Fa’aliu was buried in Satitoa by the remains of the Mautu home. With her are the others in the extended family who died – forty-five year old Sefulu, seven year old Satelite, and a seven month old baby, David.
After the tsunami, Falimu is emphatic, “No, no one in our family is going to live near the sea again. We’re all going inland because this isn’t the last natural disaster. There will be more mafui’e one day.” And for now – Falimu will tell her grandchildren stories. And hope they will listen. And never forget.