Samoans mourn Eni’s passing

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In this Jan. 5, 2011 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner, second left, of Ohio participates in a ceremonial House swearing-in ceremony for Del. Eni H. Faleomavaega, third from right, D-American Samoa, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

In this Jan. 5, 2011 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner, second left, of Ohio participates in a ceremonial House swearing-in ceremony for Del. Eni H. Faleomavaega, third from right, D-American Samoa, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Photo: AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Tributes are flowing in from all over the world for the passing of former American Samoa Congressman, Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin.

Faleomavaega died on Thursday at his home in Provo, Utah. He was 73.

American Samoa's Governor and Lieutenant Governor expressed their sincere condolences to Faleomavaega's family.

In a statement, they said Faleomavaega was a great public servant who gave his life to serve the people and territory of American Samoa. 

Faleomavaega's long time Chief of Staff, now Senator Fai'ivae Alex Iuli said it would be hard to forget the many good deeds by this tireless servant of American Samoa.

Congresswoman Aumua Amata said he was a good friend and a champion for the people of American Samoa.

The Director of the Office of Insular Affairs, Department of Interior, Nikolao Pula, said Faleomavaega was a great leader, an effective Congressman representing American Samoa and a good friend. He will be sorely missed.

The former Governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, Beningo Fitial, also paid tribute to Faleomavaega.

He said Faleomavaega helped the CNMI during his many years as a US Congressional delegate for American Samoa.

He said he had supported "without any reservation" all CNMI requests for financial assistance to help develop the CNMI economy and improve the livelihood of the people.

Mr. Fitial said the residents of the CNMI are eternally grateful to Faleomavaega for his tremendous help and support.

A sister-in-law, Therese Hunkin, confirmed the death but did not disclose the cause.

The House delegate for American Samoa, which is a U.S. territory about 2,300 miles south of Hawaii, can vote in committee but not on the House floor.

Faleomavaega, a Democrat, became a congressional delegate in 1989 and held the position for 13 consecutive terms.

He began his political career in 1973 as an administrative assistant to Paramount Chief A.U. Fuimaono, the territory’s first elected representative to Washington. He served as staff counsel to the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs from 1975 to 1981 before returning to American Samoa as its deputy attorney general.

In 1985, he was elected lieutenant governor and became a congressional delegate in 1989. He was a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where he was a ranking member of the subcommittee on Asia, and the House Committee on Natural Resources.

In 1996, Faleomavaega participated in a boycott of an address before a joint session of Congress by French President Jacques Chirac. Just days before Chirac’s speech, France conducted a series of nuclear tests at the Moruroa and Fangatauga atolls in the South Pacific, despite worldwide protests.

He was born Eni Hunkin in Vailoatai Village, American Samoa, on Aug. 15, 1944. He graduated from Kahuku High School in Hawaii in 1962, then earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from Utah’s Brigham Young University in 1966.

After serving three years in the Army with a stint in Vietnam, he received a law degree from the University of Houston in 1972 and a master of laws degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1973.

During his time in the House, Faleomavaega was challenged over the use of his surname, which is a Matai orator title bestowed upon him by the Faiivae family, of Leone, when he was known as Eni Hunkin. 

“Faleomavaega” is the Samoan chieftain title of the family.

High Chief Faiivae Apelu Galeais, who lost an election to Faleomavaega, asked the High Court of American Samoa in 1997 to strip the delegate of his title. Galeais, the leader of the family clan, said Faleomavaega did not attend family and village meetings and did not contribute to their functions.

Faleomavaega dismissed the complaint as “vindictive.” Faleomavaega was unseated in 2014 by Republican Aumua Amata Radewagen.

Survivors include his wife, Hinanui Hunkin; five children and 10 grandchildren.

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