A family member comments.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians 4: 8, 9)
My village Sogi is the place my brothers, sisters and I call Home. It is a place where we were born, raised, worked, where we found God and found ourselves and where for all of us it is the place where our hearts will be always.
It is the place our family have lived at for close to a hundred years. It is where the last remnant of what was once a vibrant and fully-fledged village community, is now holed up in a tight corner on the edge of the swamp.
It is the place where we have been living under siege and constantly under the threat of eviction and expulsion for decades. This treatment is a constant reminder that we are perceived as a pack of faceless, non-entities of persona non grata status, that we are dispensable transients, poverty stricken squatters, an inconvenience, an eyesore and a plight on the landscape of Samoan society.
Yet for us, Sogi is a special place. It is a small field sowed with tears, love fortitude and reaped with thanksgiving. It is the place where we feel most secure and gives us a deep sense of belonging and connectedness to Samoa. To us, Sogi the village, is God’s ‘little acre.’ It is a hallowed bit of dirt on the edge of the mangrove swamp that provided for our basic livelihood. It is the wellspring of life for us. It is where our hearts are always. It is the place where we as a family of Samoan-Melanesian descent stand tall as free citizens of the world proud of our Samoan heritage.
Sogi is our home. We are always drawn to it no matter where we are. Although some of us have left Sogi and live elsewhere, this village a much maligned and misunderstood place, for most times has had its share of sadness and pain. This Sogi we carry within us always.
There are many happy precious memories born of tough and challenging times, with a hand to mouth existence and a subsistence way of life lived on the edge, which has developed physical, mental and spiritual fortitude in us. The love, understanding and the honesty of ordinary poor people, struggling to make a living in the most trying and ardent circumstances are the experiences that nurture, fortify and define us. They help keep our feet firmly on the ground. We also carry within us the hurt, pain and feeling of hopelessness and loss, due to the abuse, neglect and exploitation of our family and alienation of other families of Samoan-Melanesian descent that we have endured for years.
The ignorance, the patronising and hypocritical attitude, the betrayal by various administrations, governments, bureaucrat’s, officials, politicians, the church and some sectors of Samoa society over the decades have culminated in the present sad state of affairs regarding the future of Sogi, my village, my home. The authorities past and present have exhibited total disregard and disrespect for our human rights that we have with regard to the land that our family (Tokuma-Leiataua) has claimed from the swap land and the sea and has occupied continuously and uninterrupted for close to 100 years.
It was never ‘gifted’ or given to us on a silver plate, neither by the New Zealand Government nor by the Samoan Government. It is regrettable and profoundly sad that after all these many years, we the faceless Sogi Village recalcitrant and defiant family are again being swept under the carpet by authorities who live in denial of the Melanesian indentured labourer’s part of Samoa’s history and who keep pretending that we, the product of that history never existed.
As the prophet Jeremiah cried out in despair, “Is there no balm (for God’s people) in Gilead?” I too cry out, is there no healing or justice in this country (founded on God!) for us?
The authorities have issued eviction notices over the years for my family to leave what we regard as our land by reclamation and occupation. They want us to move out to nowhere, they said we have disobeyed them and that we have had many years to vacate their so-called government land. We are saying our Melanesian forbearers, our parents, ourselves have invested a thousand lifetimes in this place. This place is our land and our home. This is where we want to be always. Please let it be.
Leiataua Malo Tokoma (Tokuma)