It was the custom of our forbears that when a special moment was forthcoming, they would revert to modes of prayer, fasting and dream dialogues for insight. I want to share with you the insights and perspectives gained through my prayers, fasting and dream dialogues in preparation for today.
Today is Independence Day. Today we have come together to remember our forbears who fought so hard to reclaim our Independence. We come together to remember their dreams and hopes, and to reflect on how far we have come.
If we were to ask, why did they seek to reclaim our Independence? The short answer would be: “Because Independence is our tofi”. Tofi refers to our inheritance and heritage. It speaks about identity and self-hood.
Tofi literally means to apportion. It is connected to the concepts “matāfaioi” and “faamatāfai”, which refer to a responsibility for using a portion or portions of land specifically for planting and harvesting food crops. These terms recognise that land is a key part of our tofi and using it wisely is hard work.
Recent initiatives in our agricultural and horticultural industries have revived traditional land and gardening management practices with the view of developing sustainable family and village-level production enterprises in collaboration with locally owned businesses.
These local businesses work closely with local farmers – at the village and family levels – to give them access to the necessary business infrastructural support so that they can not only produce good quality produce (for example, taro, bananas, cocoa, coffee, etc.) in suitable volumes, but also gain skills in sound business management practices.
A few even heavily investing their own resources and profits into these initiatives as a way to nurture from the ground-up economic independence for Samoa as a whole. Such initiatives encourage families and villages to work together in ways that build not only economic independence, but also strong family bonds and communal responsibility. Such initiatives must be supported.
A large number of our people who experience hardship are either unemployed or work in the informal sector. Sixty percent of those working in the informal sector work in the agricultural sector; in family plantations, or other kind of subsistence production. Investments in these agricultural initiatives must be complemented by investments in education, vocational training, and relevant skills development.
Today we have seen an increase in the production of local produce, some of which are being sold for our local markets, but a significant amount are also being exported internationally, especially to New Zealand and Australia.
Returning to the land and working it productively as families and villages is not only economically lucrative, it is also culturally lucrative.
We belong to the land, the sea, the sun, the moon and stars, and they belong to us. We belong to our families and our families belong to us. We belong to our villages and our villages belong to us. We belong to our country and our country belongs to us. This is the essence of our sense of belonging. It is also the essence of our tofi.
In developing a strong collective work ethic, where there is unity of purpose, I am reminded of the example of the ant. When advising the slothful man, the Bible says: “Go to the ant, O sluggard; study her ways and learn wisdom!” While the Samoan saying,“ua fetosoa’i faapa’utolo a loi” (meaning, there is a tussle between competing groups of ants for the piece of sugarcane), points to the fact that sometimes in order to move something forward there needs to be a bit of healthy competition.
I want to end by reference to another of God’s small creatures, in this case the louse. When I was a young child and I managed to acquire some goodies, my younger siblings would rally around asking for some. If I was reluctant to part with them, I can still remember one of the older ladies of my family saying, Se ‘ave se mea ma nai ou tei, pe na o le ‘utu e vaeluaina (meaning, give some to your siblings, for even a louse can be divided).
The moral of the story is the ethic of sharing. We must share not only in the benefits of Independence, but also in carrying its burdens and responsibilities. If we have a high work ethic and work with a unity of purpose, we can achieve and maintain the kind of Independence our forebears dreamt of and fought so hard for on our behalf.
If we achieve this we will find substance in the words of the hymn, O le malo e mamalu, o le malo e filemu - A nation which has dignity, is a nation which has peace.
May God bless our celebration of Independence.