March for land rights, honouring our past

Samoans marched along Apia Harbour to Mulin’u in a peaceful march organized by Samoa Solidarity International (S.S.I.) yesterday.

The purpose of the march was twofold. It demonstrated the opinion of many who are skeptical of the L.T.R.A. land laws and it served to honour Samoa’s predecessors from the Mau movement who also showed the same solidarity some 88 years ago when they walked the same path.

During the march yesterday morning, the Samoa Observer spoke to some of those who were participating. 

Former Manu Samoa rugby player and activist, Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu commented how it was hard to conceive that on that fateful day 88 years ago on Black Saturday, anyone, would respond to a peaceful demonstration with violence that would end up being fatal. 

 “I can’t imagine being shot at, especially with kids being here,” said Sapolu. 

“There would have been kids marching back then too. So that shows you the type of evil they were dealing with. Can you imagine our police doing that – but our police are here right with us, making sure we are safe.”

 “It’s good to march so you can see how stupid it was to shoot at us.  Remember they came at us and fired machine guns. Fifty people were hit and 11 died. Can you imagine shooting at this group? It makes you appreciate your history.”

Lave from Falepuna came along with her sister to demonstrate her position on the issue of customary lands under the Torrens system, 

“ I support this ‘programme’ here because it is about fighting for our customary lands and protecting them.” 

 “I haven’t heard about anyone losing their lands because of this law but the only thing that matters is that we protect them together, in case it becomes up to just one person – the sa’o to protect them.  There are families who have a sa’o but they are not related to the family and this is why I want to protect against that happening and this is why I am marching today.”

Even after Samoa’s Attorney General’s comments assuring the public that it is impossible to lose lands due to loan debts, Fuimaono-Sapolu insisted that there is a possibility, 

“At the end of the day – the law says you register under one name.” he said.

“You register customary land under one name and it used to be that everyone had a say, children and elderly had a say. Whatever the law is saying- we’re changing from everyone’s opinion, to one person’s opinion.

“So that has changed in 55 years since Independence. 

“When they drew up the Constitution, everyone was allowed an opinion. Now we have laws that support and count the voice of just one person. So in another 55 years – what’s the next step?”

Mr Steve Keil and his wife Pam were also participating and Mr Keil said that he was there to exercise his civil right to have a say,

“We are here to support our freedom of protest and also fight for the future generation’s right and access to their lands.” He said

“Yes I have got overseas experience in witnessing the loss of indigenous land. My wife is a Maori and most of their land in New Zealand has been taken away because of these kind of policies with the small print. 

“I think we’ve got it pretty good here in Samoa because we’ve got our own lands and we are free to do what we want with it. But we don’t want to get to that stage where it’s too late for our younger generation who will be struggling to live on our own land because it might not be our own land. So that’s why we are here to support our future generations and our children”

One observer of the march working yesterday as a taxi driver who did not want to be named, spoke on how he fully supports the march even though he is a supporter of the current government, 

“My feeling is that I support and I thank the leaders of the government. I am the head of my family in Savaii and Upolu. However my feeling is that this law is not right.” 

 “For example in our family, the siblings may have divided up the land and claimed parts of it as their own.  However the sa’o may come along with his son and then what do we siblings do when we no longer  have a right over the lands  even though we have already come to an agreement on the lands after the passing of our parents?

Under this law, the sa’o of the family has the sole power of the land because it will be under his name.

What that means is that the sa’o of the family and their children have sole rights over the lands that belong rightfully to me and my siblings.

I am so thankful to our government and I support them because they have done so many things for our country but this is the one thing about the government that I can’t side with them on. “

Tana of Vailoa brought his wife and children with him as he believed that this was an important occasion for his family to participate in,

“The main reason why we are marching is because  I want our lands to be protected and not bought by outsiders and the Chinese who are coming in groups. It’s good to get a little bit of money from the lands but they shouldn’t be bought by outsiders.”

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