Independence, old fale fono and freedom

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 16 February 2017, 12:00AM

Here’s the good news. In a few months time, Samoa this year is celebrating 55 years of political Independence. It’s an exciting time. 

It’s a milestone that’s well worth anticipating. After all, Samoa, relatively tiny compared to her Pacific neighbours, became the first country from hundreds of islands in the vast Pacific Ocean to break free from outside political interference. 

It was a brave move. One that no doubt would have been done with strong faith and believing in the unseen. We say this because for our forefathers, not having the slightest idea about freedom would have felt like, they really had to believe. They would have had to have a strong conviction. 

And here we are nearly 55 years later. Happy and free. 

To be honest, it’s long period during which even the toughest of foundations could have been easily shaken and destroyed by testing challenges.

But the fact Samoa has been able to remain amicably strong during these many years is a testament of her character and the rock-solid foundation upon which her Independence was founded.

What would Samoa be like today if we weren’t independent? Some of us do wonder from time to time. It’s not a bad question to ask. 

Glancing across the ocean at our brothers and sisters in American Samoa and their continuing struggle to break free from the United States, one can only wonder.

Mind you, the road to freedom and independence for Samoa was not easy. It was a journey fraught with difficulties, sweat, tears and blood. To appreciate how far we have come, it’s worth to stop for a moment and look back at some of the defining moments in that journey.

Briefly, according to historical account, from the end of World War I until 1962, New Zealand controlled Samoa as a Class C Mandate under trusteeship through the League of Nations. 

The most significant event at the time was the non-violent Mau movement, which had its beginnings in the early 1900s in Savai’i and led by Lauaki Namulauulu Mamoe, an orator chief deposed by Solf. 

Recalls the Encyclopedia; “In 1909, Lauaki was exiled to Saipan and died en route back to Samoa in 1915. By 1918, Samoa had a   population of some 38,000 Samoans and 1,500 Europeans. “By the late 1920s, the resistance movement against colonial rule had gathered widespread support during the mistreatment of the Samoan people by the New Zealand administration. 

“One of the Mau leaders was Olaf Frederick Nelson, a half Samoan and half Swedish merchant. Nelson was eventually exiled during the late 1920s and early 1930s, but he continued to assist the organization financially and politically. 

In following the Mau’s non-violent philosophy, the newly elected leader, High Chief Tupua Tamasese Lealofi, led his fellow uniformed Mau in a peaceful demonstration in downtown Apia on 28 December 1929.

“The New Zealand police attempted to arrest one of the leaders in the demonstration. When he resisted, a struggle developed between the police and the Mau. The officers began to fire randomly into the crowd and a Lewis machine gun, mounted in preparation for this demonstration, was used to disperse the Mau.

 “Chief Tamasese was shot from behind and killed while trying to bring calm and order to the Mau demonstrators, screaming “Peace, Samoa”. Ten others died that day and approximately 50 were injured by gunshot wounds and police batons.”

“That day would come to be known in Samoa as Black Saturday. The Mau grew, remaining steadfastly non-violent, and expanded to include a highly influential women’s branch. 

“After repeated efforts by the Samoan people, Western Samoa gained independence in 1962 and signed a Friendship Treaty with New Zealand. Samoa was the first country in the Pacific to become independent.” 

It’s a day that will live in the history of this country forever, when Samoa’s flag was raised at the Malae o Ti’afau in front of the old Fale Fono. 

Sadly that old fale fono is no longer there. Parliament has yet to honour its word about building a monument to remember that place. 

It’s sad because that particular place is a remnant of the struggles by our forefathers to secure our freedom and independence. Come to think of it, you would think this government would have valued such an important piece of history by preserving it? 

Obviously not.

The question today is how is freedom maintained in Samoa?

We all have different answers. 

But if you were to judge purely from what has been happening lately, some of the developments have been extremely sad.

Freedom of expression and freedom of worship guaranteed by our Constitution are under threat. Whereas the government is insisting with its Media Council designed to intimidate and bring the last bastion of democracy in Samoa under its powerful authority, the government is again amending the Constitution with another bill that will make anyone who is not a Christian feel unwelcomed on these shores. These are sad times. We need to remain alert.

Have a peaceful Thursday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 16 February 2017, 12:00AM

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