Historical Trust recognised at R.L.S. Memorial Garden Party
The 2017 R.L.S. Memorial Garden Party was held at Villa Vailima last Thursday.
Invited guests were treated to an evening of entertainment and a report from the General Manager, Margaret Silva, on the significant events that have occurred in the past year.
James Winegar, President, recognised the good works of the Samoa Historical and Cultural Trust. Each member of the Trust was given an engraved plaque as a token of appreciation for the good work they do in the area of historical preservation generally and for their role in getting Tony Brunt’s “To walk under Palm Trees” published and into main stream distribution sources.
The Trust has also been responsible for the republication of other significant books on Samoa’s rich history and population of diverse and interesting people who were early settlers.
The Cyclopedia of Samoa and the Chinese Red Book and their ongoing efforts to restore the Old Court House on Apia’s waterfront are examples of their good works. Tusitala himself encouraged historical preservation and it is only fitting that efforts in this important area are recognized for their on-going value to the Samoan community.
Invited Guest Speaker Dr. John Tanner, President of Brigham Young University –Hawaii reminded attendees of the powerful words spoken to the chiefs and orators upon the completion of the historic Road of the Loving Heart.
He used Tusitala’s words of encouragement as a metaphor of recognition for today’s ‘road builders’.
One such modern road builder is Tilafaiga Rex Maughan, whose good works in Samoa include the establishment of the R.L.S. Museum, now in its 24th year of operation as a major tourism venue and historical repository of Stevensonsoniana and other related memorabilia.
He also mentioned his association with Nafanua Paul Cox and Taema Ken Murdock as ’road builders’ for their work in saving the rain forest at Falealupo many years ago.
The R.L.S. Museum Staff sang the Requiem, the words of which are the words Tusitala wrote for his epitaph for his grave atop Mt. Vaea, a few hundred meters from the event itself.
Finally, the evening ended with the appearance of the three finalist groups in the TV3 Acapella Singing Contest.
Their performances were in front of an appreciative audience and the judges of the competition.
The three groups combined and sang together for their last number. The TV cameras were there to document their performance in front of a live audience and will be replayed at the final episode when the Winner of the unique competition will be announced.
Jim Winegar’s annual Letter to Louis is presented on the right for the interest of readers. The letter also describes the availability of a very unique collection of Samoaiana that is now available in the free admission public area of the R.L.S. Museum. Visitors to the Museum can now examine the photos and artifacts collected by Eugene Conyers, Jr. during his assignment as a U.S. Navy Corpsman during WWll.
Visitors will want to examine the photos taken and now preserved as part of Samoa’s history and reputation as an open and loving society.
Mr. Conyers never forgot the Samoan families who loved him and sent him home with items they made with their own hands as a remembrance of his visit to this magical place. The details of this collection are recounted in the letter.
A letter to Robert Louis Stevenson
17 August 2017
TALOFA Tusitala peleina!
Let me begin by putting a few things in perspective before I get into matters I want you to know.
First, it has been almost 123 years since you left this life here at Vailima. I find it totally fascinating as one of your most devoted fans that, though many years have passed, they have not diminished interest in your contributions to English literature OR your eventful life, your travels, your relationships and the lives of your family members. The interest in YOU is not just localized here on the beautiful island with these wonderful Samoan people whom you called one of ‘God’s sweetest creations.’
Others throughout the English-speaking world are forever in your debt for your influence outside your creative works. For example, Tusitala, we admire you for your respect – not only for mankind in general, but respect for your wife and stepchildren and Samoan families who lived with you here at Villa Vailima. I must also mention the brave way you faced life. In light of the reality of your physical frailty, your indomitable spirit and determination and to live life to the fullest you set a standard of performance for everyone who knows anything about you as a person.
I admit to you, Tusitala, that YOU are far more interesting than any character you ever created – And, you created some REAL characters – like Long John Silver, David Balfour, and Jim Hawkins. And who can forget either Dr. Jekyll OR Mr. Hyde, just to name a few?
Now, Tusitala, I must digress because I have some items and news I want to share with you and your friends here tonight. Earlier this year I received a call from a lady – Mrs. Commons, to be exact. She told me that she had been searching the Internet for a museum or person In SAMOA to discuss a donation of Samoan photos and artifacts that might have some interest. I want you and our guests to know the real story.
She told me that her father, Eugene Conyers, Jr., passed away in 2003. He left in her trust a collection of photos and artifacts he had collected during his assignment as a medical corpsman. He was assigned to a U.S. Navy Hospital Ship that was stationed in Apia Harbor in 1943 during World War II. The ship was in the harbor to support U.S. troops should it have been necessary for them to go into battle in defending SAMOA from attack. The 2,500 U.S. soldiers – and ALL of SAMOA- were on high alert. Fortunately, they did not have to respond to such a call – BUT, the threat was real and they were at the READY.
This gave Corpsman Conyers ample opportunities to go ashore and, like so many others, he made friends with local SAMOANS and got his heart and soul wrapped around the people, culture, food and the beautiful Samoan ladies. After all, he WAS a SAILOR and had a reputation to uphold.
It was wartime and he couldn’t have a camera to take photos; but, he was determined to take some images of people and places he loved. He was clever enough to make his own camera from an empty cigar box; and, using X-ray film from the hospital ship. It didn’t take him long before he went about Apia taking photos. The photos he took are part of the collection his daughter has donated to the RLSM. These are the same photos he relished and loved the remaining 60 years of his life. Gene was also the recipient of a variety of handicrafts or artifacts made by Samoans who had learned to love him in return.
To make this letter a bit longer, but also to conclude, his daughter sent Gene’s entire collection to us because she was assured that we would care for it and display it for any interested parties to see. Tonight Louis, we are proud to reveal to you and our guests a NEW permanent display of the Conyers photos and artifacts. They will be found in the public area of the RLSM’s West wing for all to enjoy.
Finally, Louis, you have instilled within us a sense of History. We are proud to have a dual purpose here in your historic home, that is:
1. TO PRESERVE YOUR OWN PLACE IN HISTORY AND CREATE A VENUE TO PROMOTE SA,OA TOURISM.
2. TO RECOGNIZE THE EFFORTS AND EVENTS OF OTHERS WHO LIKEWISE PARTICIPATE AND PRESERVE SAMOAN HISTORY OF WHICH YOU ARE A SIGNIFICANT PART.
So Long for now, Tusitala! Ia fa’afetai tele lava mo le avanoa e tusitusi atu ai ia te ‘oe. Ua tatou alofa atu ia te ‘oe.