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Navigating the waters: Swimming in Samoa; resistance, negotiation, acceptance and identity: a reflexive examination of the socio-cultural influences on competitive swimming participation in Samoa

Swimming and water-based activities are replete within Polynesian history through missionary accounts, ethnographic writings and historical accounts. However, formal competitive swimming began in the Oceania region in 1963, with Samoa joining in 2003. For the past two decades, the sport has grown slowly and with little explanation. A growing corpus of research has found that Samoa’s historical landscape and its unique culture have influenced sport engagement, even though non-mainstream sports, such as swimming, have received less attention. This thesis examines the enablers and constraints on swimming participation in Samoa. The research used a Samoan conceptual framework, the Talanoa ile i’a, that has an inherent multiperspectival design. This proverbial expression, coupled with the talanoa method, was used to capture the voices of 32 participants living in Samoa who were affiliated with swimming, competitive swimming and sports development. The data were condensed into unique stories, vignettes, and poetry using thematic analysis and creative nonfiction practices to construct a multiperspectival window into the life of a swimmer in Samoa, traversing across a variety of periods, locales, geographical settings and experiences. The stories of the participants were structured around several themes, including natural and built swimming environments, freedom, fear, and humour, disobedience and obedience, being seen but not heard, and becoming a swimmer. Written from the perspectives of the swimmer, parent, coach, swimming pool, and the code, the stories highlighted the challenges of negotiating traditional roles and expectations, infrastructure issues, rural and urban disparities, the parent-child divide, and sport-related conflict. There were three significant findings that could contribute to sports and swimming development in Samoa. The first discovery was the power and influence of the parent's voice, which directly supported or opposed the child's decision to become a swimmer which was hinged on the cultural value of time. Secondly, the challenges of being seen, metaphorically, geographically, and physically, in a new sport and context revealed novel evidence on gendered competitive swimming experiences, including the internationalisation of semi-nudity social norms. Lastly, the findings revealed that a young person's sense of agency and identity as a swimmer intersected and clashed with cultural elements, but through a process of resistance, negotiation, and self-acceptance within the family and community, a young person could successfully emerge as a contemporary competitive swimmer. Furthermore, the thesis provided new insights into the existing conceptual framework. The additional perspective of the shoreline represented the personal, historical, cultural, and sociopolitical legacies that hindered the growth of competitive swimming in Samoa. The study's findings shed light on the shifting practices and perceptions of the sport, the historical and cultural influences on swimming development and the complex role of Samoan youth participating in modern sports within a non-Western society.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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