samoan girl
If you’re a girl, you must play the role of the nurturer. If you’re a boy, you’re expected to be a leader. Photo by Tom Nebbia/Corbis via Getty Images

In My Pacific Islander Household, I Was the Breadwinner at 14

“I felt like I was not looked at as their equal but treated as a daughter with a wallet.”
Adele Luamanuvae
Sydney, AU

In Pacific Islander culture, kids aren’t kids at all – but providers.

In my experience, and that of many of my Islander friends, your responsibility as a product of Pasifika cultural traditions is to be orderly, respect your elders and always put family first.

If you’re a girl, you must uphold the duties of your mother and play the role of the nurturer. If you’re a boy, you’re expected to exhibit the mana of your father and be a leader. 


If you’re not bringing honour to your family name, you’re bringing shame. And this often extends to your financial contributions.

For Tee*, a 22-year-old Samoan creative from Sydney, who worked blue-collar jobs from as early as 14, if he wasn’t the giver, he felt at fault for any financial hardship.

“No matter what I’d pursue or earn, if it didn’t involve some sense of “providing”, nine times out of ten, it always came with feelings of guilt,” he said.

“That’s something that persists even now. I’d go as far as to say when I’d receive any sort of allowance, it felt wrong to accept it despite working for it.”

Fa’alavelave, coined as a “manifestation of love” by Dr. Lefaoali'i Dion Enari from the Auckland University of Technology, is the act of financial support and gift-giving in Samoan culture – a gracious offering of financial generosity that strengthens your ties with your family and community in times of need. For as long as I can remember, my Dad has sent money to Samoa routinely, whether it be for funerals, birthdays, saofa’i (chief title ceremony), or just because. If money was asked for, money was sent. 

My understanding from a young age was that the help would be reciprocated, but it never was. The pressure of financial gift-giving put my Dad in debt and kept us below the poverty line for many years. And even now, as a retired 64-year-old, the expectation to uphold his end of this tradition is a struggle.


I never questioned it until it also became a responsibility of mine when I got my first job working fast food at 14 to help with bills. I earned $80 a week, which felt like more at that age. But it wasn’t much, especially when I was asked to send $50 of it to the islands. At 19, I was asked to take out a $2000 loan to fulfil my family’s fa’alavelave duties. 

While there is grace and goodness in helping out your community, I learned that, for young Pacific Islanders, your money is not really yours. It’s everyone else’s.

Dealing with financial burdens in so-called Australia as a diaspora kid is still riddled with privilege. The older I got, the more boundaries I could lie down regarding where my money went. But only some are afforded this. And a voice that is often left out of the conversation is that of the Pasifika kids who rarely get to reap the fruits of their labour, whether it’s out of choice, guilt, or pressure.

Cat, a 25-year-old Tongan from Sydney’s West, made ends meet in many different ways between the ages of 14 and 15. From working fast food, to occasionally working for her Uncle’s carnival company, seasonal jobs at The Royal Easter Show, and selling cigarettes to kids in high school, they were also attending TAFE classes alongside full-time schooling.

Depending on “how bad things were”, Cat would see anywhere between 30-50% of her pay at the end of a 15 to 25-hour working week, and her family would see anywhere between 30-70%.


“My parents were very supportive of me living a fun life,” she told VICE.

“However, I was already exposed to our reality, which was that life was hard. So I’d voluntarily give money if we were ever short.”

“As a child from housing commission and poverty, my priorities were elsewhere. I remember vividly, one time, I was so stressed and crying about how I wouldn’t be able to pay for WiFi because I didn’t take up shifts. I had WiFi installed at our house and offered to make that my main bill, on top of helping with other bills,”

“Late bills were a scary thought to me.”

A Pacific Communities in Australia report from 2021 revealed that Pasifika people in Australia earn less than the general population despite working similar hours, and were overrepresented when it came to multiple-family households. 

For 26-year-old Tongan, Ilaisaane, sustaining the household for a family of 6 while balancing full-time school was an unfortunate result of a shift in family dynamics.

“If my grades slipped I would grow resentful of work and plead with my managers to switch shifts around to accommodate me, but as time went on, school slowly did not become a priority as my family’s financial standing worsened,” she told VICE.

Ilaisaane’s family’s deteriorating financial situation led her to work a full-time job on the weekdays and a casual job on the weekends, all while balancing a full-time course load at University.


“My parents were comfortable with me working casual roles and supplying what I could. But once I started to work 7-day weeks and became the sole breadwinner it did not feel like I was getting respect or freedom,” she said.

“I felt like I was not looked at as their equal but treated as a daughter with a wallet.”

For Danielle*, a 26-year-old supermarket worker from the Gold Coast, sending her pay to her family in Samoa as the eldest has ultimately impacted the relationship she shares with them.

“There's definitely resentment,” she said.

“They remind you that it is a cultural thing. But at the end of the day, I feel obligated to do it because I know that if it's not us doing it, then no one else can help them.”

The same sentiment is shared by 18-year-old Samoan-Maori Anthony*, a plumbing apprentice from Sydney.

“In Island culture, everything is money. Family is money, friends are money, everything is about money,” he said.

“But coming from their point of view, we can see why they care about money so much. Their past, how they were raised, and having to provide for their family. Money is a big struggle in the Islander community,”

“A lot of my friends had to go through very, very harsh times. I did share the same problems, but not to that extent. Some of the stuff that I've seen parents do to their kid’s money is financial abuse.”

Anthony* recalls moments when he would give money and buy food and clothes for his Islander friends who had to forfeit their entire pay to their parents.


“I know how embarrassing it is for Islanders to ask their friends or family for a bit of money. I’ve had to do that a couple of times, and that guilt and embarrassment is just not worth it.”

Growing up in the underdeveloped Pacific Islands is guaranteed to influence how you view and value money. If you don’t have enough, you ask for more. If you ask for more, you’re either faced with temporary financial satisfaction or deal with feelings of shame and humiliation. 

“It’s a double-edged sword”, Cat said. “If you don’t have it then you’re as good as dead”.

“On one hand, we have strong traditions that include money or money being spent, but on the other hand, there is greed that comes from those who abuse traditions, family ties or God to make a profit,”

“We need to stress the significance of gambling and money for a church/religion that was ‘introduced’ to the islands. Gambling was never a part of Pacific Island culture but it penetrated our community and left us with generational trauma and poverty.”

For years, I criticised my inability to “prove” my Samoan-ness through monetary means. As an afakasi, your “Samoan status” is already questioned, and if you can’t fulfil your expected cultural duties, you’re an imposter. But as much as I love my culture, I recognise where things need to urgently change.

Broken values lead to broken families, broken families lead to broken children, and broken children leads to a perpetuated, harmful cycle of instability.

While there is a general stubborn attitude towards change within Pacific Islander traditions, hopes for a brighter and more financially sustainable future are shared among many new generation Islanders who are ready to ensure the cycle stops here.


“I do have faith that us younger generations can be the start of this change,” Cat said. “We all have choices in life and I’m a big believer in actions. I’m saying no to gambling and living paycheck to paycheck because I don’t want the next generation to suffer like I did.”

“When I was 22, I had a realisation of a life goal which was to start a side project with a close mate to help Pasifika people understand their financials; budgeting and investing. We’re both Pasifika corporate girlies who have had to go through so much and have always felt that our community was lacking in this department.”

And for hopeful individuals like Ilaisaane, certain change will happen sooner than later.

“I know that as the youth grow older, our parents can receive information that wasn't always accessible to them. I believe it is the responsibility of Pasifika people who are financially literate to educate their communities and villages,” she said.

“We all have the capacity to learn and improve and it just takes vulnerability and an open heart to listen.”

Adele is the Junior Writer & Producer for VICE AU/NZ. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter here.