Chinese migration under the microscope

 

The Chinese indentured labourers of the early 20th century in Samoa are rarely discussed today, but they are at the heart of a photography and archival exhibit at the Museum of Samoa from tomorrow.

The exhibition, by guest curator and Chinese Samoan Ronna Lee, is launching tomorrow evening with an invite-only documentary screening and panel discussion on the waves of migration of Chinese to Samoa.

“There are so many Samoans with Chinese ancestry, but not many if any, know the story of the history of Chinese in Samoa,” Ms Lee said.

Dragons in Paradise is a documentary released early this year, directed by Tuki Laumea, and features Ms Lee, former Attorney general Tuatagaloa Aumua Ming Leung Wai and other familiar faces on the story of indentured labourers from China and how they were treated here.

Dr Safua Akeli, director for the centre for Samoan Studies of the National University of Samoa, Dr Taomi Tapu-Qiliho, academic director of the US World Learning SIT Program, Tuatagaloa and a Chinese scholar will discuss the impact of Samoan migration then and now.

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A “tension” in Samoa about Chinese business owners means difficult conversations just have to happen, Ms Lee said.

“The seminar is all about asking academics, how do we begin to integrate the new wave of Chinese into fa’asamoa, and asking the hard questions.”

The exhibition is about indentured Chinese labourers, but its opening is an opportunity to look at Samoa’s present and future as well.

“The first two waves of Chinese migrants were well assimilated into Fa’asamoa, and they were a part of Samoan community. 

“The recent arrivals of Chinese are not as assimilated,” she said.

“The conversations need to steer more towards how to we integrate the new wave of Chinese,” she said.

Ms Lee said hopefully, by telling the story of indentured labourers, the new wave of Chinese migrants learn about the Chinese that came before them and how they integrated into society, as well as the hardships they endured.

The labourers, brought by the German administration to work their plantations from 1903 suffered harsh working conditions and minimal civic rights.

“This is a part of history that has been fossilised in pages gathering dust on bookshelves,” Ms Lee said.

“I am just a curious Samoan Chinese girl interested in bringing out this issue from bookshelves and illustrating it for anyone who is interested.”

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