Interview with George “Siosi” Samuels from Siosism
Tell me about your upbringing, how did you get to believe that myth and stories were so important.
My mother used to tell me stories growing up, which she was told by her mother and grandfather. It wasn’t until after I graduated from high school that things started to connect. When confronted with the option to create an animation for one of my major projects, at first, I tried to come up with my own story. Weirdly, things didn’t work out the way I wanted. I then recalled the stories my mom told me and decided to animate them. To my luck, everything fell into place. It just kept happening every time I tried to animate – if I wanted to create my “own” stories, things just wouldn’t work. When I animated a Nanumean myth or legend, things just flowed. Whether this was a sign from God, or just bad luck, something pulled me towards the stories. And instead of trying to resist, I went with them.
As time went by, I decided to start promoting. Children, women and indigenous people started to gravitate towards my work. Even though these stories were from unknown islands such as Nanumea, the content spoke for itself. In other situations, some Nanumeans themselves would start questioning or thinking back – as if some hidden memories were awakened somehow. The myths and legends were taking affect right before my eyes.
Where is this passion coming from?
Sometimes I ask myself the same question – is it God, the Universe, a super-consciousness, or maybe even my Ancestors? Whatever the source, it’s growing. The more I do, and follow this “inkling” inside, the more things become clear. I really didn’t expect myself to be led down this path, although I did know I always enjoyed working with people, technology and creativity.
Every time I hear about an Elder dying, a bit of me dies too. Because I know that a wealth of knowledge has disappeared, lost with their departure. And it’s not getting any better. It’s certainly a huge undertaking to try to record ALL the stories and, worse yet, to turn them into animations, but that seems to be my path.
The art of animation itself is motivating on its own. I am, by far, not the most talented animator around, but I LOVE working with those who ARE. My passion also ignites when I get to work with such talented people and get them together creating. If I can motivate them to be at their best, and make sure they have the conditions and environment to stay in the flow, that makes me happy. My multicultural background and generalist approach allows me to understand the language of different and diverse groups, acting as a bridge for communication.
There’s also this other part of me that feels like a huge shift is taking place and that the path I’m walking is the right one. No matter the difficulties. If it seems vague, it’s because it is. As I said, the more I do, the more things become clear. But the general direction has been set. Think about driving to some distant location. You have your map, you know where you’re meant to be going. However, along the way, there’s a multitude of things that can go wrong or right. Sometimes the fog will set in and although you’re moving towards your destination, you just can’t see what is ahead of you. At this stage, you simply need to keep the end in mind and have faith you’ll get there. My passion and determination to see things through is what keeps me going, even though I don’t know what will happen along the way.
How has it changed your life
It’s given me my purpose, my mission. When I was younger, I believe I was given a very privileged life. After 18, things sort of went sour and life did an almost 180 degree shift on me. The life I lived felt like a shattered dream, one that was not real to the “real world.” In a way, animation became an escape, but one that revealed more truth about me than I expected. By exploring my cultural myths and legends, I learned more about my own story and heritage. Then, through the process of animation itself, I was forced to slow down and really apply myself to the work ahead of me. As life seemed to race faster and faster, I was being forced to work slower and slower, but there were reasons for this. I once heard somewhere, “You have watches, but no time,” in reference to an Elder telling a young woman about her frantic pace and need to get things done on time. The concept of time is both a blessing, and a curse, but know that it is a man-made concept. Life is short, but it is also very long. What you see is always what you get, and “seeing” is more than what meets the eye.
It must be pretty important for you because you have been working on it for a long time now, you even have a business based on that belief.
Yes, I seem to have grown an independent streak over the years. When I was younger, I used to relish in “fitting in” or having people like me. As I grew older, I looked at how my parents worked and told myself I didn’t want to be working all my life. I saw business as a great way of being able to achieve that, but if I followed the same path as everyone else (which was to graduate, get a job and work your way up the ladder), it would take forever. I knew there had to be another way.
So after spending some time working at a design studio, I knew that wasn’t for me. I was like a fish being judged on my ability to climb a tree. I placed myself in a position where I was behind a computer all the time. As much as I love computers, I needed time in front of people too. It also felt like I had abandoned my cultural animation work, which I had, in order to secure a steady paycheck. But at what cost?
After much deliberation, and a voice within telling me to “go”, I took the plunge and quit my job. My partner, who’s now my wife, printed out my resignation letter and I left. (Looking back, if it weren’t for my wife, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today.) Everything was telling me to continue with my cultural animation work and things seemed perfectly setup. Crowd-funding was just getting popular and the “signs” around me were giving the thumbs up. So I gave it a shot. A month later, I was devastated when I didn’t reach my funding goal. I remember going to the beach and sulking on the sand as I watched the waves crush in front of me. It really did feel like a wave had crashed down on me. I looked up to the sky and asked, “Why? I did as you asked and followed you, but why am I here?” This essentially meant that I had no money coming in. I had placed all my bets on this one things, but it was in vain. I contemplated going back to work, but I was determined. So I recouped my losses and figured out what to do next. I decided I’d learn everything I could about entrepreneurship and networking.
Over the course of a year, I adopted a business mindset and increased my network. I took up freelance jobs here and there, enough to get by (some months my wife had to cover), but eventually I saw something grow. The more I talked about my passion, the more people got lit up. People were still asking me: “How are you going to make money out of it?” – the eternal question! Fast forward a couple months and I was going to give crowd-funding a second try. After getting some tips from a few entrepreneurs, and really setting things up properly, I was able to land around $5,000 in 3 days (check the Pozible site here). I couldn’t believe it! Sure, it may not be much to some but to me, it was a lot. And it was enough to get started on the next episode of the Tales From Nanumea series.
Now, you might be thinking, why did I go through all that? Well, it’s because context is always important when telling a story. My business is in helping people understand their story and heritage through digital media, specifically cultural animation. But the story of the business is what helps you understand my story and heritage. Understanding my own story is equally as important as helping others understand theirs.
“AS ABOVE, SO BELOW. AS WITHOUT, SO WITHIN”
I wanted my business to be an extension of who I am so that I literally animate or breathe life into others through my work. Whether alone or with teams of people, the ultimate mission is to bridge gaps and spread harmony. My life’s story will either achieve that, or not.
How important do you think myths and stories are for facing future challenges.
Goes without saying, very. In my upcoming book Animated Spirit: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cultural Animation, I actually talk about this and how vital it is for us to resurrect old stories but in new ways. Oral traditions have carried on our cultural myths and legends for centuries, but children of the new age, our “Digital Natives,” are very tech-literate. They absorb things a lot faster through technology than through any other means. This can be scary or not, depending on how you look at it. Our myths and legends have embedded within them timeless wisdom that we can all learn from, regardless of culture. Some stories may seem relevant to only particular areas, especially ones related to land, but this does not mean that other story elements are not shared symbolism for the world. How we balance old stories with new ones, will determine how we shape the future. We are at a critical point right now, where what we decide to do, will set the guidelines for future generations. Old systems are crumbling so what story will we tell our grandchildren after being given a chance to rebuild? Will it be one of magnificence or one of shame.
If you had to implement new programs to make your society better, what would they be? Why?
Oh, I’d definitely implement programs in cultural animation and storytelling. Our ability to tell stories is just as important as learning how to take care of one’s self. It’s a matter of healing. Our planet is sick, as exemplified through its turbulent weather changes and shifting climates. It is an outward manifestation (in my opinion) of our own inner selves. Life is beautiful, but it is clouded by all these false doctrines, beliefs and stories we have told ourselves over time. Visions of grandeur and convenience have also meant we’ve taken away from others who are less fortunate than ourselves. There is a difference between being selfish and self-centered. Being self-centered means we understand our connection with everyone and everything. That if we take something in one place, we must give back in another. Our world is abundant, but not if we choose to hoard or keep things interminably.
My cultural animation programs would revolve around teaching people how to be cultural animators, not just do animation. What do I mean by that? Although they would learn the technical skills and conceptual parts of animation or storytelling which they could use to go and get an actual job if they choose so, they would also need to learn how to apply their skills to the world around them, so that their creative works are giving back to society in some way, shape or form. There is no point in learning a skill if it’s disposable. And since technology is constantly evolving faster than we can keep up with, why not learn fundamental skills that are sustainable?
My storytelling programs would revolve around bringing Elders in and showing younger generations how enchanting and magical live storytelling can be. They would then take those elements and apply it to their own tool of choice – music, art, animation, programming, etc. Fortunately, animation brings all these different elements together to produce something truly magical. Bringing in other storytellers in different industries would also help show children how different, but similar, we are, no matter where we come from. A poet tells stories through words, while a violinist tells stories through music. An animator tells stories through moving images, while a photographer tells stories through still ones. Whatever the medium, storytelling can be a powerful healing agent if we re-connect with the wisdom of our ancestors. And I am starting with the longest enduring peoples, the indigenous.
What are your wishes for the future?
To bridge gaps and spread harmony. To be teaching, animating, traveling and connecting with people all over the world. To be wealthy doing what I love doing and teaching others how to do the same, especially the creatives. To leave a legacy that will still be relevant to children seven generations from now. To empower the underdogs, the under-represented, turning their weaknesses into strengths. To help those who have been silenced for so long, create Songlines so loud and powerful it cannot be drowned out. To live in a world where nature and technology co-exist, where love reigns supreme, alongside the guardians of this planet, us.