Savai’i responds to call for protection of customary lands
In the early morning hours on the three corners of Salelologa where the one street light for the entire big island of Savaii is located a small gathering of people in white T Shirts and waving small Samoan flags were assembled.
It seemed like they were there waiting for something.
Included was a mother who had travelled from Texas, U.S.A. and her family members. Aolipa Agavale McClure had travelled to Savai’i to visit her family and had been aware of this event for S.S.I.G. Global as she was an active participant and fan of OLP, so she was able to plan her trip back to the homeland to coincide with the March for Peace that would be held in Savaii.
Aolipa seemed a little concerned, as the numbers were not impressive at 6:30am in the morning. She was used to Texas and the importance of time. Be there early is how she preferred.
But this was not what she anticipated. She had expected crowds of people already anxious to walk and show their displeasure with the alienation of customary lands law that she was concerned with. Living in Texas for over 30 years she was familiar with the American way of being on time or you leave early to beat the traffic to an event.
But this is Savaii. Savaii is a whole different world. Time stands still it seems on this tropical isle of an estimated 60,000 people and this was one of those times.
As Aolipa wondered, Pa’u Mulitalo, an attorney who has handled land court cases for clients in Samoa, began to call the assembled marchers together. As they came to the front of the store where a hand made banner was attached to the front awning, declaring that L.T.R.A. 2008 was an illegal law, he began to welcome those who had gathered and recited the traditional acknowledgement of Salelologa.
Then he began to teach them the chants he had prepared for the marchers. These were interesting and entertaining.
And more people started arriving.
Mike Tanuvasa, one of S.S.I.G. Global Samoa team who actually is from Utah, U.S.A., was also there and he was greeting people as they began to arrive first in small groups, but then more and more were showing up.
Mike began to video tape the gathering and the prelude to the march. They had a Police escort who arrived early and were sporting brand new vehicles. This was according to the requirements for the safety of the marchers and L.T.A. requirements. The marchers now were all assembled, the numbers had swelled from a few to almost 600.
The people of Savai’i are so laid back. No one expected a big turn out. The last March in downtown Apia had brought together almost 300 marchers. That was in December of 2017. It was now April. Four months later. Was the fire still there?
For organizer Unasa Iuni Sapolu, the plans had been set early on right after the success of the first march. To her it was a matter of executing the plan.
To duplicate the success of the last march would be nice. But to exceed the prior march would be even better.
Unasa Iuni had not rested on her laurels. The S.S.I.G. Global Samoa team began a program called Village Education Understanding (V.E.U.).
Between the last march and this one she and her team had gone to various villages in Samoa where they met with the Chiefs and Villagers to discuss the message of loss of customary land ownership under the L.T.R.A. 2008 registration process.
This began with meetings with Salelologa chiefs. The chiefs of Salelologa were receptive and thus the plan for a march in Savaii was hatched. But that was not all.
S.S.I.G. Global Samoa also went to Nofoali’i, Satapuala in Upolu and then Faga and Palauli in Savai’i. These meetings were productive because for many of these matai and villagers this was their first time hearing about this.
For Unasa Iuni and her team they saw the transformation of the people once they understood what was at stake; their customary lands.
Once the seriousness of the situation dawned on them they began to be quite upset at the “conspiracy of silence” that the government had engaged in for all these years of keeping them and the majority of Samoa in the dark.
Prior to the march Saina Tomi had been travelling to Savai’i over several weeks to pass out flyers and pamphlets for the benefit of the Savai’i people who she could reach at the Saleologa town and wharf, but even certain villages that she went to driving with her husband.
She had helpers at times to distribute the pamphlets but for the most part she was alone. This did not deter her and she pressed on for the goal of encouraging people to march on Saturday, April 7, 2018 at Salelologa. She had no idea how effective her work would be until the day of the march.
As the marchers were lined up under the stop light at Salelologa, it was apparent that Savai’i had answered the call, old people and young stood together ready to launch this march. The weather was perfect with cloud cover over the march route. There was a disabled person who struggled but made it to the end of the march. There were Chiefs and children, Sogaimiti and young girls.
All of Savai’i seemed to be represented in this group of nearly 600.
As they marched down the road toward the wharf, the air was filled with statements and cheers. Chants and songs, the voices of Savaii were heard as they marched. The closer they got to the final destination the more vocal and louder they became.
Once they arrived at the location of the area where tents were set up and breakfast ready, the enthusiasm turned into celebration as the marchers began to siva as is traditionally appropriate at the conclusion of all cultural events. Savaii ended this day with the Taupou dancing her traditional dance and dressed in the traditional kuiga and outfit. She looked beautiful and was elegant in her look and dancing.
As the dance concluded after Unasa Iuni the organizer danced a short taualuga, the marchers settled into the tents and chairs to listen to speakers who were appointed to talk about the event.
There had been a lot of controversy surrounding the former Head of State who had asked S.S.I.G. Global Samoa for an opportunity to speak at the March and he had been granted that request however he backed out at the last moment.
In his place the organizers asked youths of whom there many, to come up and share their feelings.
This was an emotional moment as the younger generation spoke of their fear for the future because of what this generation was not doing which is to protect Samoan customary lands and their civil rights.
They feared what kind of future they would inhabit. One young lady who came from the furthest point from Salelologa to participate had left her village in the early morning paying $10 fare to and $10 back, in order to march for her rights. She was firm in her commitment to be at the march and nothing was going to prevent her from that goal. She stirred the crowd with her fearless speech. She was identified as a potential leader for that district.
This was the highlight of the day. To witness the passion of the younger generation and see that they were not passive nor were they going to allow their future to be sold by corrupt and misguided politicians.
They had faith and had come to show their faith by marching.
The Mau a Pule was alive and well in Savai’i. Lauaki Mamoe and his supporters from the early 1900s must have celebrated in the spirit world when they saw or heard of this March. This was the birth place of Samoan Independence and it was now the center of the Mau reborn movement.
Meanwhile 1000 miles south of Samoa in Mangere, New Zealand, the Samoan community of South Auckland united to march in solidarity with those marching in Salelologa.
The President of New Zealand, Puleiti Clara Gray was very happy with the turn out at their march, which exceeded their expectations as well. They had a group of nearly 100 marchers who came together and showed their passion for the same issue.
This was an increase of nearly 200% over the previous march. The marchers sang songs and chants that were heard echoing throughout Mangere. One of the best features of their march as a group of young marchers in their 4-10 years old marching and holding placards while all wearing the T Shirts and uniforms of the march.
We ask that God bless all who marched and those who contributed world wide for this event to be successful, either through Go Fund Me or direct contributions to Samoa.
The support was used to provide the marchers with water, tents, food and loud speakers to hear the speakers. The event was a success, not because of one person, but due to all the hands that worked together to make this a success. S.S.I.G. Global Samoa had made a commitment and had followed through to achieve their goal. They were able to make their march a success due to the support from all over the world. Apparently team work works. Malo fa’afetai.