Te'o Episode Traceable to Samoan Culture

Te'o Episode Traceable to Samoan Culture

By now we're all familiar with the story of Manti Te'o—how he captured football fans' hearts, how he led his team to the national championship game despite the fact that his grandmother and his girlfriend had both died on the same day last September.

We're also asking ourselves how Te'o could be fooled into loving an imaginary girlfriend named Lennay Kekua, described as a Stanford undergraduate dying of leukemia whom he'd never met.

Reporters are now wondering whether Te'o was truly hoaxed, or whether he was complicit. They ask why he never visited his girlfriend in person—they had been in touch for four years, after all, chatting by Facebook message, texting, calling each other on the phone. How could he not be a bit suspicious?

But they never ask about the influence of his cultural background. What ideas about truth and verification did he learn growing up in a Samoan migrant community in Hawai'i, especially one that was so religious (in his case, Mormon)? And that is all I keep wondering about after spending two and a half years doing fieldwork among Samoan migrants.

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