Tamaita’i – unsung heroes

By Sharlene Tanuvasa ,

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GO PARKER: Nofoali’i had decided the winner of the bout at the beginning of the week.

GO PARKER: Nofoali’i had decided the winner of the bout at the beginning of the week.

 “E ke maga’o isau sitika?”   

“Sau fa’akau  le mea MAGAIA”  

“…SAU LOA….KUM PUY DA FLAAAAAGGGG!!!!”

For those fortunate to have been in Samoa in early July 2015 and to have heard the above hustling, they’ll know that the intoxicating atmosphere leading up to the historical Manu Samoa/All Blacks first match at Apia Park Stadium was a period not to have missed out on.

 Everywhere you turned were face paintings, a sea of blue attire, the Samoan flag attached to the bonnets of cars, flying over houses and in the hands of those walking. 

It was Samoa’s moment; a time to celebrate the efforts of those who pushed to have the national team facing the ‘big boys in black’. Win or Lose, it did not matter. 

Samoa was going to celebrate and celebrate they did. 

Patriotism was expressed in a way that Samoans know best:  Larger than life and colourful “wayyyy over the top” flamboyancy. Throughout the nation, villages laid out their all to welcome visitors to Samoa, but for a small committee in Upolu, the highlight of their work was a stamp to mark this occasion. It was not their first display, nor their last. 

Their pride to showcase Samoa and especially their beloved village was a sight worth stopping to see. This is a story of a group of women whose loyalty and love are what the foundations of Samoa and its culture are deeply rooted in.  This is a story about; tama’ita’i.

Located 25kms west of the capital Apia with an approximate population of 1800, lies Nofoali’i.  Deriving its name from the Bible, (O le Nofoali’i O le Atua -The Throne of God) Nofoali’i is as unassuming a village as the next.  It boasts two schools within its boundaries, a petrol station and dozens of small shops run by locals. 

There are fishermen, plantations, vegetable and fruit kiosks and BBQ stands. 

To a visitor there may be nothing to distinguish this village from the next; except for the innovative mind-set to showcase their expression of Samoa to the masses.

In August 2014, Samoa was fortunate to host the Small Island Developing States conference. (S.I.D.S) As preparation to welcome in worldwide visitors, a call was put out by the government to each village to decorate their area. 

Nofoali’i responded and work was put in place to start.  Working together, the village council (Matai Ali’i ma Tulafale), the women’s committee (Tamaita’i - Tofa Tuua, Sa Fuatino, Sa Leafineali’i  Ma le Nofo Ituaiga Falea’ana), the taulele’a (untitled men) and the E.F.K.S. Nofoali’i  Junior Youth gathered to display their finest. 

A large sign erected in the centre of the village adorned with local flora and ticker tape flags lining both sides of the main road were put up. Although magnificent, the piece that was to be Nofoali’i’s crowning glory was a large mural situated on a platform shaped & painted to replicate a boat docked by the seashore.

 The mural depicted a Taupou (village maiden) behind a tanoa bowl and to her right stood a Matai (chief) in traditional costume. The simplicity of the art set amidst the natural waters of A’ana was explosively effective. Local radio stations had daily calls of people praising the efforts of Nofoali’i. Visitors driving past did double takes, reversed back and took pictures. 

Photographs were placed in the papers and shown on television and many uploaded footage onto social media. It was a successful effort made all the more successful by the latter recognition of the government awarding Nofoali’i first place under the Beautification of Villages project. It was a moment of pride and momentum gained for what would be the beginning of an amazing journey.

The Tamaita’i, encouraged by the success of the SIDS conference and supported by the village decided to take matters further. With the impending Manu Samoa/All Blacks match looming on the horizon they swiftly got to planning. The committee made up of 30 women (born of the village and also the wives of Nofoali’i men) led by Mele Tovia (Otemai) decided to orchestrate this event on their own as a contribution of service to Nofoali’i. Treasurer of the Tamaita’i, Sopo Pili Tanuvasa says “All the girls (women)...we agreed to do it… making Nofoali’i nice.

That’s why we did it. And we continue and continue because we wanted it to look nice. We are not going to stop. We have to do it.”  This attitude propelled the Tamaita’i forward and was the underlying message conveyed within the group. 

Being an event which was not government officiated; the historical rugby match décor for the village was funded by the women themselves.  Two fundraising events (tausala) took place and the monies collected were forwarded towards the fund. Money donated by the women individually was also collated. The recruitment of the artist who worked on the previous work was re-instated. 

Apela Finau, married to a Nofoali’i woman but hailing from Safaatoa and Satitoa worked together with two students from the Leulumoega School of Fine Arts, Faitoto’a Saleilua and Kolio Pita. 

An art teacher himself at Leulumoega Fou College, Finau and the two students spent a week working on the art piece to be erected on the Lupesee Malae next to Nofoali’i Primary School. Standing over 12 feet tall and over 7 feet wide, the production was a stage of 4 main figures. 

The two previous figures used from the SIDS conference were re-touched to suit the occasion alongside two giant sized figures of both team captains. In the background, the stage was decorated with Ie Toga (fine mats) and signage for ‘Nofoali’i’ and ‘Welcome to Samoa’ were prominent for all to see. The boat used for SIDS was also resurrected and had two more rugby players facing the main road. The Tamaita’i was keen to hone their craftsmanship as well. 

Old X-rays were purchased from the Moto’otua Hospital and designs were stencilled from these to be used on flags; a silver fern for the All Blacks on black material and the Manu Samoa emblem on the other. As there was no workshop, they worked diligently from home. They steadily sewed and printed their own flags to be secured on poles made by the taulele’a. The effort and intricate details placed into these flags was well thought out and when lined up at an equal distance apart from each other made the precision almost military like.

The work did not stop there. Meals had to be made to feed the workers, payment to the artist,  trips to town to purchase supplies and cash power topped up to supply electricity  for the floodlights. Every need that was required was catered by the Tamaita’i and no stone was left unturned. The Honourable Mayor of Nofoali’I, Ili Tala said “...Nofoali’i supports the country and the government. We have tried to beautify Nofoali’i as it is the seating place of God... We are not expecting anything in return. We have prepared the village for visitors and tourists from overseas…”  And indeed their efforts paid off. 

International Media broadcasted images of the work.  Even NZ’s highly acclaimed journalist John Campbell stopped in on the evening of the arrival of the All Blacks and spoke to the chairwoman of the Tamaita’i. Countries as far away as the United States of America shared images of Nofoalii’s success. It was another stepping stone upwards for Nofoali’i.

The next project was the Samoa Commonwealth Youth Games 2015 held during the annual tourism Teuila Festival. The same committee (Tamaita’i) put in the hard yards to create another success. With other villages from Faleolo Airport to Apia placing the usual celebratory flags along the road, Nofoali’i had a stage of artwork exhibiting different sporting events and adding the bonus feature of the P.M. Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Neioti Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi in his role as a target archer. Both the work and the Games were applauded by many and in the same manner as the previous two events; the Tamaita’i endeavoured to work tirelessly to promote Nofoali’i.

With all of this success, did the Tamaita’i face any difficulties or challenges? It appears not.  However, during the first two occasions, questions arose from others outside asking whether a fee should be applied for those taking photographs.

 “No..No..we did not do this for money “ says Alalafaga Oto (representative for Tamaita’i at Ministry of Women Affairs’ meetings). Local Matai Tanuvasa Solomona Iupeli confirms her statement. “…this initiative taken by the Tamaita’i…was done as a gift, they did it on their own ...for the village.”

With financial gain not deemed worthy and with the Joseph Parker/Jason Bergman boxing match 2016 coming through riding the wave of exposure generated from the previous three events, what then was the motive to continue? 

No other village had gone to the extremes that Nofoali’i was still producing and as it was still not an official government project funding would be on the onus of the Tamaita’i to raise. Why continue to put in the effort? Sopo Pili Tanuvasa humbly replied “It was everybody’s idea. We (Tamaita’i) all talked about it. It’s good for Nofoali’i and for all of Samoa. Visitors coming from outside, we wanted to make Samoa, especially Nofoali’i; our village, look nice. We wanted people to look and say ‘Ohhh, it’s really nice’. 

We talked about not going down because the aim is to always go up. We hope that all the girls in the village will follow what we are doing. There are no young girls in the committee but we are trying to encourage them to join. They may not want it now but if they joined in, it’s very sweet to get together. We laugh, we talk, we joke…we work together for our future.”

The Joseph Parker/Jason Bergman art is still on display on the Lupesee Malae awaiting tomorrow’s highly anticipated fight. It is the most current piece and for now the Tamaita’i will go back to their normal lives as mothers, wives, daughters and sisters taking care of the daily needs of their families. They still try to meet as often as they can but due to the demanding pressures of work and home life this is not as often as some would like. No current projects are planned but as Alalafaga Oto points out “…any events happening in the future, we will do the preparation.” 

 So, life carries on and the day commences as usual. For those still fortunate to be in the vicinity of Nofoalii, please feel free to drive by and admire the art. 

Take photographs or video footage and while you’re there, take the opportunity to dwell on the voluntary efforts of this women’s committee. In Samoa, there are many groups like this and they work hard to preserve the integrity and pride of Samoa. It is a beautiful gift that blesses many and one of Samoa’s greatest treasures. 

© Samoa Observer 2016

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