Re-writing history in our own colour and Don Quixote

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Dear Editor,

But for the top shelf price tag of the two latest biographies of Samoan political figures, Prime Minister Tuilaepa S Malielegaoi and Taisi Olaf Nelson, I would by now, be the proud owner of copies of both. 

But I’m not so sure now, thanks to the views of Professor Fui Leapai Soo of our national university about Samoan history written by white men.

The occasion was the awarding of professorships (one professor and three associate professors)to four academic staff of our national university. And as reported in the Samoa Observer of Wednesday 11 October, Professor Soo saw the singular achievement as an opportunity for the national university to ”write our own books and prove that what has been written by white men were absolutely wrong” Professor Lau Soo had singled out history for correction when he said, “We grew up and read about Samoan history being written by white men.”  

The erstwhile professor did not say what history in particular “is absolutely wrong”, but presumably, he was referring to all history written by overseas writers and historians, which accounts for much of the more serious Samoan history that’s been researched and written. 

Which is a most unusual thing to say, given the caliber of people like J.W Davidson, R.P Gilson, Dr. Augustin Kramer, not to mention a host of missionaries, all scholars in their own right who also wrote about Samoa. The latter group in particular had been driven by a desire to record what they saw and experienced of “Old” Samoa before it was forever lost, from contact with the rest of the world. 

In the process, they have left us a treasure trove of information and research work to further discover and add to and enjoy. I am no historian, but isn’t “the possibility of writing definitive history reached through the process of progressive approximation” as suggested by Professor Davidson in his book on Samoa’s emergence as an independent nation “Samoa mo Samoa? 

In any case, there go my two copies of the latest bits of Samoan history written by white authors, one a woman and the other a man. All fake stuff to be debunked like the rest of white men and women written Samoan history, if the head of our highest institution of learning is to be taken seriously. But the subject of authenticity and history brings to mind what another white man turned writer of history said about writing history. His name was Sir Winston Churchill and he is reported to have said “Let us leave it all to history; for I’m going to write it” or words to that effect. And write history he did in lengthy volumes with one of his works “the History of the Second World War” winning for him the Nobel Peace Prize.

Winston Churchill was no professor like our Vice Chancellor and his all-female award winners. In fact the only academic honour he acquired while at school was that of the class dunce, bottom of the class that is. For training as a writer and historian, he served as a war correspondent for the wars of empire the British fought in countries like Cuba, India, the Sudan and South Africa. But it is now history that Sir Winston not only became a part, a very big part of history in fact, but that he also wrote history  as he said he would; in volumes. 

The awarding of the four professorships at the National University this week was described by the head of the university as history in the making itself, with four females receiving the honour, after fourteen long years of the university going without anyone managing the feat. Congratulations are in order to our new academic luminaries. 

May they write Samoan history if that is their itch, but not to prove anyone wrong, because there is nothing to prove. Do it because there is so much Samoan history yet to be researched and written about and enjoyed. And let there be no Don Quixote styled quest to fight foes that exist only in our heads and nowhere else. Not at taxpayers’ expense.

 

Historian Faaolioli

© Samoa Observer 2016

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