Independence means different things to different people. And when the country paused to celebrate 54 years of political independence yesterday, there were mixed feelings about this year’s party.
The first issue was the location, with the parade being held for the first time away from the usual grounds at Mulinu’u. There were pros and cons and many people perhaps felt that the celebration was rushed.
Despite that, patriotic spirits were at an all time high when the nation paused to appreciate the vision of our forebears to fight for independence.
For most of them, 54 years is a long time. And the day was not just about marching, dancing and singing.
For Reverend Paulo Koria, from the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa at Fa’atoia, yesterday’s celebration was about appreciating freedom.
“Independence Day is a celebration of freedom from colonial rules,” he said.
Rev. Paulo remembered the first time Samoa celebrated her Independence Day like it was just yesterday.
“I marched during the first Independence Day celebration and it was an amazing feeling. And that feeling and spirit still exists today.
“This is the only day where the country gathers together in one place and celebrates. It is the only day where you get to see all the different people from all the different walks of life unite as Samoans.
“It doesn’t really matter what uniform you wear and which organisation you’re from, what matters is that we are all Samoans.”
Rev. Paulo says there have been a lot of changes since 1962.
“Changes are good,” he said. “But there are also some bad changes. There are a lot of changes in our Constitution and I have to say that there are some changes that I do not like or agree with.”
He didn’t elaborate.
“Back then when we first gained our Independence from colonial rules, there were no political parties, our country was a one party state, but that has changed over the years.”
Samoa has improved in terms of development, said Rev. Paulo.
“Those are good changes; there are a lot of changes in terms of infrastructure and development.
“However, lifestyle wise; there have been a lot of changes as well. Everyone has become more and more dependent on the import products, instead of planting things for themselves.”
For Jun Ho Kim, an official from the Ministry of Health, Independence Day means a lot of things to him.
“Different people have their own definition of what this day means to them,” he said.
“To me, it means my whole country for me. It’s a celebration of freedom and solidarity. It also means nationalism in a sense and its history. It’s important and significant because it signifies who we are and our struggles.
“Especially as we are the first Pacific Island country to gain independence from colonial rules and administrations.
“There is always that sense of pride in you when it comes to this celebration.”
Jun Ho Kim is celebrating Independence Day here in Samoa for the first time after three years of being away for studies.
“To be honest, I wouldn’t have been this proud of who I am as a Samoan and of our culture if I didn’t spend three years in a different country. I realised that when I went to study overseas. We have a long history of struggle and strife and we have come a long way and that is a reason to celebrate.
“I was a history student and I loved and enjoyed learning about the history of our country and how we got to where we are now, and as we celebrate today we also bow our heads down to all our ancestors and their sacrifices for us.”
However, Jun Ho did not agree with Reverend Paulo that the spirit of Independence remains the same.
“To be honest, it’s not the same spirit and feeling anymore, and the atmosphere is not the same. I guess it’s something to do with the time settings and the changed venue.
“Nowadays, most people are just doing it just for the purpose of doing it. But they don’t know the meaning of this and they do not feel it. It’s not the same feeling anymore.”
Reflecting back on Samoa’s journey, Jun Ho said that there have been a lot of changes in our country.
“First of all, a change in the venue of where we have the celebration and programme for the Independence Day Celebration. And I don’t really think it was a good idea, I prefer having it at Mulinu’u where we used to have it.”
Moreover, he believes that although Samoa is an Independent Country, there are some areas in the country where freedom does not exist.
“Technically there is freedom in Samoa,” he said. However, sociologically, there is not much freedom within our communities in terms of equality.
“Economically we are also not free. We are depending too much on foreign aid and remittances. Politically, there is freedom there as well but we’ve witnessed all the different changes in our country in terms of politics. And some are good and some are bad as well.”
“But that’s just me, I think it’s all about how people view the changes and how they take, understand, apply and adapt to all the changes around us.”
The Head Girl of Maluafou College, Eline Tuilagi Alaovae uttered that it’s always a great feeling participating in the Independence parade.
However, this year’s parade is special as it is her last year in College. “This is the last time I will be wearing the Maluafou uniform at the parade. And that made me emotional today.”
However, she agreed with Reverend Paulo that the uniform does not matter as long as you know the true meaning of the day.
“This celebration is more than just marching, singing and dancing. It’s a celebration which unites our whole nation and to me, it is the most important event every year in Samoa. It’s a day to reflect back to all the sacrifices and the hardships our ancestors went through to get here.”
“One of the interesting things about today is the Parade. It’s not every day that we wake up at 4am to get ready and go to where the celebration is. Come 6 o’clock, you will see everyone all at one place despite the coldn in the morning and the hot sun when it’s 8 o’clock.
The most amazing thing about this is that we are not being forced to join the parade.
It’s the feeling of nationalism in us that drives us out of our beds at 4am and come down to join the thousands of other Samoans in celebrating independence. To me, it means unity, and that is our strength.”