As Samoa celebrates 57th Independence, let's not forget the past

Samoa should not forget the past. 

That's the message from Academic and Historian, Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea, as the nation pauses to celebrate 57 years of political Independence from the New Zealand administration on 1 January 1962.

Leasiolagi was among the Samoans who rejoiced on that historical day. 

During an interview with the Samoa Observer, he said it was an emotional day for Samoans who walked the streets of Mulinu’u to celebrate freedom from colonialism. They remember the fight from the ancestors before them. 

The German Empire governed the then Western Samoa from 1900 to 1914. In 1914, New Zealand took control of Samoa under Class C mandate trusteeship through the League of Nations. 

Today, Leasiolagi said Samoa has a lot to be thankful for its independence.   

 “Whilst people are still very proud of the feeling of freedom and Independence from colonialism, there are still a lot of reminders around the world of people suffering from that," he said. 

“We have a lot of reasons to be very proud of Independence, grateful and privileged that we have that compared to several other people and ethnic groups that are still suffering from the power struggle.”

While he does not want to underestimate the privileges of Samoa becoming an independent country, Leasiolagi feels that the celebration has become more of a routine in the past years. 

He explained that questions of who we are and if we know who we are is very relevant but have been “diluted by the euphoria of the Independence in the sense that the celebration becomes just another celebration”. 

Furthermore, he made reference to the removal of the much traditional fautasi race and Samoan kirikiti held in the past during Independence Day celebration. 

The traditional sports were axed by the Organising Committee some four years ago to have it moved to the Teuila Festival.

However, the fautasi race on the Teuila festival was dropped in 2017 and has been replaced with traditional dance groups. 

 “It seems to me that people are just going through the routine of celebrating,” said the 71-year-old historian. 

“It’s not a nice feeling but I do feel that sometimes. 

“I think the significance of those events (traditional sports) for me, is the fact that they were bringing people from the rural areas to participate and rightly so the Samoan kilikiti and tu’uga vaa. 

“Now they have cultural groups which is fine, but for me there was very little difference of rural and urban cultural group performance. 

“But events like the tu’uga va’a and kilikiti and its symbolism cannot be underestimated in terms of participation from rural areas.” 

According to Leasiolagi, kilikiti was banned by colonial officials back in the days because it took up a lot of time. 

He said although organising the sports for the celebration will cost a little bit of money but Government should allow it so that people can have events to watch and enjoy. 

“You could argue a lot of people in rural areas are now becoming more active in implementing government decisions whether it’s economic development, education, women committee and others,” said Leasiolagi. 

“A lot of them are not being paid so why not the Government spends a little bit on that (hosting the sports) so they can have a little fun.”

He recalled that in 1962 the traditional sports were the highlight with a women tulula race (half sized fautasi) and va’a alo for men. 

It attracted a lot of people from around the country to enter the race and had their families and villages cheer on for them. 

“It was a huge celebration and it was wonderful to see it all,” he said. 

“My memories of the Independence day in 1962 was everybody was kind of swept away by the whole psychological and emotions of it. 

“The cheering, people cried and during the time of the ceremony and all the emotions. 

“It was a very joyous and emotional day. My vague recollection of it was that people were crying and praying and it was emotional in reference to parents who did not quite make it but fought, some not physically but struggled at the time.”

“I guess that is the other difference not just the spirit of it it was how it was done

These days things have improved in terms of facilities, air conditioning - those days people were poor but had lots of spirit and courage.”  

In addition, Leasiolagi who had marched the first Independence celebration when he attended the Samoa College said one of the things that stood out for him is the decoration made by hand. 

 The march had started from Savalalo where the current bus terminal is and the Fish Market. 

“We marched from there to Mulinu’u and there were a lot of food stalls made from coconut leaves and the whole town was littered with food stalls,” he recalled. 

“They were selling lemonade, bun and ice cream as well as Samoan food. 

“It was a huge celebration and people did not want to go home after. 

“The villages and committee used fatu (woven leaves) to decorate the poles and did not have flags then. 

“It was the feeling of homegrown things made from your hands, from the food stalls to the decorations and those are the things I remember.” 

Lastly, Leasiolagi hopes that the celebration in the future reflects more of the reality of time with the formal speeches instead of the formatted type made to fit a particular audience. 

“I hope in the future people will try and reflect more on the reality and make it a bit more relevant to people’s current situation and life issues,” he said. 

“Some of them may not be pleasant but that is the reality. 

“It is good to remind people of the past, the struggles of parents and grandparents had to go through and I hope more interesting events like the tu’uga va’a and kilikiti will be revived to have that unity spirit.”  

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