A Samoa Independence Day fantasy

Dear Editor,

As the first days of June approach, my mind – as if on auto pilot – reflects to the days spent in Western Samoa under the NZ Administration.  

I can’t help thinking about the significance of Western Samoa gaining its independence and becoming a free state, unencumbered by official treaties and assigned involvements.  

June 1, 1962 is when Samoa celebrated this significant date in their history even though Independence was granted and recognized in January of that same year.  I have had the opportunity to be in Samoa for a few of the celebrations that continue to be celebrated in June to honor and remember this significant event

 My relationship with Western Samoa began with a call to be a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; and, I was assigned to Western Samoa.  I accepted the call and went voluntarily traveling from America having left my family in late 1956 arriving in the early days of the New Year 1957.  

My first assignment was in and around Apia.  As I settled in to my new environs and began to be assimilated into the culture many impressions began forming in my mind and have been validated through my experiences over the years.  

What did I know about Samoa before I had the opportunity to go there?  Almost nothing.  I couldn’t find it on the map.  I certainly couldn’t pronounce the name properly and I had never knowingly met a Samoan.  

Oh, before I forget however, I did meet a palagi man from my neighborhood who had served in Samoa and I remember that he came to a youth group meeting and demonstrated the proper use of a lavalava in being able to dress and undress in public if necessary and preserve modesty.  

He did so right before our eyes.  He came in fully dressed and left with his street clothes in a bundle wearing only his lavalava!  Those of us who watched the process couldn’t believe that was possible.  We could tell that he had done that many times before.

That was impressive!  With that minimum and almost useless bit of information, I got to Samoa with a clear mind and ready for my own Samoan experience.

My initial impressions of Samoa have changed since those early days living in and around Apia.   The culture of the fa’aSamoa was impressive to say the least.  I was blessed with dual exposure in the sense that I lived within the ‘town’ environment but worked daily within the villages and the dear people who also had their lives entwined in their traditional fa’aSamoa but had to adapt to European ways because of their proximity to the seat of Government and the business center of the country.

The Government at the time was dominated/controlled by outsiders from New Zealand.  New Zealanders were everywhere to be seen in their starched short white pants almost as a uniform.  The town was absolutely spotless. 

The skeletal remains of the German warship ADLER lay where they had been since the devastating cyclone of 1888, a not-to-subtle reminder that the Navigator Islands are directly in the path of tropical storms that have deadly potential as the years have proven.

Now, I fast forward to 2018.  It’s almost June and I am far away from Samoa; but, my thoughts are in the streets of Apia. In my fantasy day dreams, I know what I would be doing if I were actually there. 

I would have made the long journey and arrived having crossed the International Date Line in to new day.  I would get into a car and have to adjust immediately to driving on the left side of the road. 

The road from the airport would pass through ancient and historic villages that now have power and telephone lines.  The road is now paved but has strategically placed speed bumps to discourage speeding. 

The village pride is visually demonstrated in the way they have spruced up and decorated their public areas as expressions of solidarity in celebrating Samoan Independence.  With all of the festive preparations there would be an impromptu game of rugby, kilikiti, volleyball or soccer.  One thing has remained over the years:  there’s always time for fun, games and hanging out on the village malae.

 As I would get closer to town I would see the roads have been widened and are divided.  Traffic control lights and semaphores hint that Samoa is up-to-date and has to deal with traffic jams, commercial zones and urban sprawl.  How could I help but observe a people busily engaged in commerce, church-centered activities and village life but becoming as device-addicted as their relatives in both hemispheres of the world.

There are buildings with more than a subtle hint of who paid for them. They catch my eye and I can’t help but wonder what part of Samoan Independence is being sacrificed to have these symbols of modernity.  I ask myself: are these stone and glass monuments really necessary?  Answer: Of course – government must go on and be as efficient as possible.  With that, I try to quit obsessing about the whole situation.

Well, that’s enough of my fantasy Independence Day visit for now.  That brings me to the point of my musings.  The last few years have brought some interesting ‘non-financial’ resources to Samoa, which have been exploited by only a few.  I am talking about BOOKS!  Not just your regular story books but I’m talking about three books of actual substance.  Here they are (if you are really interested in knowing)

1. SAMOA – a historical novel by J. Robert Shaffer

2. PALEMIA  A collaborative effort by the P.M and Peter Swain

3. TAUTAI  Samoa World History and the life of O.F. Nelson By Patricia O’Brien


It is not my point here to write a critical review of the books.  I only want to bring them to the attention of any and all in Samoa who care about their history.  After all, historians constantly remind us that ‘if we want to know where we are going, it’s necessary to know where we have been.’  

Rob Shaffer’s book SAMOA – a historical novel, is a fantastic look at Samoa from as far back as 3500 years.  At least as far back his exhaustive research could take him.  After he sets the stage from the earliest beginnings, he weaves a very personal journal of early missionaries.  Oh boy!  Is it a story of love, devotion, religion, politics, wars and rumors of wars and real people.  

Rob has written it because of his genuine love of Samoa, born from his intimate experience as an early US Peace Corps Volunteer.  This book is a ‘must read’ for anyone who wants to know more about these wonderful islands and their incredible people.

PALEMIA is an autobiographical account of the Honorable P.M. Tuilaepa.  He comes from an interesting background not too atypical of many young men who grow up in traditional villages.  Reading about his journey from there to the here-and-now, gives you a glimpse of what made the differences in his life.  Was it fate or just being in the right place at the right time or, as some would call it LUCK?  

You’ll never know unless you take the time to read this well documented story of the making of one of the most influential political leaders in our time.  Love him or not – he deserves respect for his ability to lead in the best and most effective fashion of a true Samoan matai.

Growing up in America, I had my own ideas of what a PATRIOT should be.  After all, we had George Washington and Abraham Lincoln – and the likes of many others.  But, until I read Particia O’Brien’s wonderful account of the life of Taisi, I was unaware of what he did, how he did it and how much he sacrificed for his Country. 

I was overwhelmed at the depth of his capacity to love, forgive, sacrifice and his passion for his own roots.  If you think you know a lot about O.F. Nelson and his family – let me assure you that unless you have read this classic book, you can only know the results of his efforts. 

To get a glimpse of the real person, O’Brien’s book is ‘required’ reading.  As I have known his daughters and grandchildren over the years, I am convinced that his noble character traits have been preserved for our generation to also admire.

My passions outside my own family and blessings related to the Church I love and respect include Samoa and Samoans.  That passion led me to my fellow missionary associates, including Rex Maughan, with whom I am blessed to share love for Tusitala and his role in Samoa then and now.  Tusitala’s passion was also ‘Samoa-directed’ as he exerted his influence in local matters. 

He did so directly with faife’aus, political leaders’ neighbors and admirers far and wide.  His influence is felt today.

If you question that assumption, read his A FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY.  You will soon discover that Tusitala, if among us today, would also include the books mentioned above on his reading list as he would be trying to keep Samoa Independence Day in today’s perspective.


Simi - Vailima

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