Looking back: 54th Independence Day celebration

Public servants and students attending government schools were yesterday spoiled with an extra day to mark the 54th Independence Day this year. 

While the rest of the country returned to work and school yesterday, the government officials had granted themselves a third national holiday, called a commissioned holiday, so they could go shopping. 

Whether that would have translated into a frenzy at the cashier tilts in town remains to be seen. From what most businesses told the Samoa Observer yesterday though, it was pretty much business as usual.

Yesterday was another first. As far as government workers go, it’s the first time three days had been allocated to celebrate an independence day.

On Wednesday at the Tuanaimato Hockey Fields, the temperatures might have been boiling but that did not spoil the mood. It was where thousands gathered for the official programme. The crowds started arriving before dawn and by daybreak, the Hockey Stadium was packed to the brim with Samoans and special guests who witnessed the event.

Among the special guests were the Governor of American Samoa, Lolo Moliga, the President of French Polynesia, Tagaloa Eduard Fricth, the Ulu of Tokelau and many others.

The Head of State, in his Independence Address, hailed the vision, foresight and paid tribute to the journey of Samoa’s forebears.

In a message titled “To sail is an imperative, so too is to negotiate elements,” His Highness Tui Atua, took the crowd for a trip down memory lane. 

“Over a hundred years ago our forebears set sail on a journey to reclaim Samoa for Samoa. They realised that if they did not take a hold of Samoa’s destiny, they– and we – would lose her forever,” he said. 

“They realised that if they lost her then all that makes us Samoan – our faasamoa – would also, eventually, be lost. We come together today, on this 1st day of June, to remember and celebrate their success and their struggle to hold on to what is ours. 

 “This year we celebrate 54 years of independence as a nation. We celebrate 54 years of being at the helm of our destiny; of being able to decide how to hold on to our Samoan heritage, traditions, identity, language, lands, seas, and chiefly system. 

“As an independent nation we have shown the world that we can maintain peace and order throughout Samoa; that we can uphold religious and political freedoms, and find balance in our application of the rule of law.  

“We have shown the world that despite being a small country in the middle of the Pacific Ocean we have the knowledge resources and the will to stand up for what is right and good in our lives. 

“As Samoans we believe that our achievements are blessings from God. 

Our national motto is: “Samoa is founded on God”. This was the prayer of our forebears and continues to be our prayer today. 

“We are a deeply spiritual people and our spirituality is inclusive. It is not prohibitive, condemning, nor boastful. It is humble, loving and always forgiving. It is full of conviction and compassion. Not for selfish desires or gain but for the greater good of humanity.”

For the Head of State, this year’s Independence was an opportunity to reassess the path, routes and vehicles chosen for our journey. 

“This year marks the first year of governing for our 16th Parliament. Their five year journey has just begun,” he said. 

“As any good tautai (captain or expert navigator) knows, right throughout the journey one must be constantly assessing the elements and its potential impact on us. 

“The Samoan saying: ua faapopo aso ua, ae le tuua aso folau, reminds us that sailing is an imperative, but so too is the need to negotiate the elements,” he said.

“Today we celebrate and remember the journey of our forebears. We celebrate and remember the lessons of their journey. And we know, in our minds, bodies and souls that the key to the success of any journey is humility and faith.”

Apart from the change of venues as one of the firsts for this years national celebration, one of the changes that raised eyebrows was the absence of a prayer at the beginning of the celebration on Wednesday morning.

The government’s justification was perhaps that this year’s celebration was officially opened with a thanksgiving service held the night before at the Methodist Church, Matafele.

There, the Chairman of the National Council of Churches, Reverend Kasiano Leaupepe and other pastors from the different church denominations led the service.

In his message, Rev. Leaupepe said that Samoa has come a long way and reminded that God does discriminate between people. He urged the nation not to waver in their commitment to God, reminding that commitment to the church is the same as showing one loves God.

Rev. Leaupepe also talked about the N.C.C. and their decision not to march this year. He said since the venue has changed for the celebration it was best for them pastors not to march in Tuanaimato “in case someone gets hurt there.” 

“We will wait until we return the celebration to Mulinu’u.”

Back at Tuanaimato, Wednesday’s official programme breezed by rather quickly. By 9.30am, most of the marchers had left the facility having done their dash. One of the most noticeable – of perhaps disturbing aspects about this year’s venue in terms of the special guests was the sun being directly in their eyes during the march past. It certainly created some funny moments when the salute offered by the marchers were met with a salute of a different type from the special guests, who were trying to shade their faces from the sun.

This was not lost on Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi when he closed the event where he expressed his apologies to special guests and the hundreds of performers about the heat.

Speaking in Samoan, Tuilaepa said that during the preparations, the Organising Committee had prayed for good weather.

What they got was more than just good weather. They also got the boiling heat and the sun’s rays, which is something they will have to consider moving forward.

All in all, the Prime Minister said this was yet another indication of God’s blessings upon Samoa as the country paused to celebrate independence.

About the occasion, Prime Minister Tuilaepa told the crowd that Independence Day was an opportunity to offer praises and thanksgiving to our heavenly father for his protection upon Samoa.

He acknowledged the attendance of Governor Lolo Moliga, President Tagaloa Edouward Fritch as well as the presence of Samoa’s development partners and donor countries.

In particular, Tuilaepa reiterated the importance of the relationship between Samoa and French Polynesia. He spoke about a recent trip in Tahiti where he found that in their history, they too have places called “Savai’i” and “Upolu.”

He reminded President Tagaloa that he has been bestowed a very important matai title so that he now knows where the real Upolu and Savaii are located. Looking at the intricate histories of Samoa and French Polynesia, Tuilaepa said it makes a lot more sense to pursue the partnership between Polynesian Airlines and Air Tahiti Nui to rekindle the links between the two Polynesian brothers.

In addressing the country and the entertainers, Tuilaepa said the emphasis as is always the case is about keeping their performances short and sweet. 

When this is achieved, people would want more as opposed to the audiences suffering from boredom.

The groups who offered entertainment included the E.F.K.S Fa’atoia Youth, Lepa College, Leone American Samoa, Falealupo, L.D.S College, Amoa College, Fasito’o-uta and the Ola Toefuataina Group from Tafa’igata.

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