Ten years on we remember them

Foremost, this is a week for honouring those no longer with us. 

As Sunday’s tenth anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that claimed 143 lives approaches, we will be stopping to pause and reflect on those whom we lost on that day of devastation.

Our hearts ache for the families not joined by loved ones at the breakfast table today, or congregations who had members absent yesterday. 

They will be forever mourned by their families, their communities, their villages and the nation. 

But this is also a week for recognising the quiet resilience Samoans have shown in the aftermath: the families who have continued on, villages that have rebuilt and communities and a nation which has continued despite its scars. 

Their stories are a testament to the paradoxical way in which tragedy can bind communities more tightly together - especially in Samoa. 

On today’s front page we read the story of Perelini Ulugia, who was shaving early on a Sunday morning in the village of Saleapaga, when the foundations of his home began to shake; he suspected his brother-in-law of playing a joke; but the truth was devastating. 

Like so many faced with the surging wall of water, the family was at a loss. 

His nephew and wife grabbed his children: two-year-old Jay Jay and seven-month-old Mary Lyne, one running east and one running west. But the wave was too strong. The children were taken. 

“I hadn’t prayed so much in my life. From evening to the night, to the early morning till the sun got up, we just prayed, and our prayers were answered because that is all we wanted, to find our babies,” he said. “That was the only thing we wanted from the lord, is to find our babies and give them a proper burial. Our prayers were answered.”

Four years on, Mr. Ulugia and his wife returned to her family’s land at Saleapaga and together they started Jaymy’s Beach Fales.

Their eight-year-old, Jaymy, takes his name in honour of his lost siblings. 

Stories such as Mr. Ulugia’s are joined by those from many other families and villages who have shown resilience in the face of tragedy.

As much any other day in its modern history, September 29, 2009 wounded Samoa and still leaves ineffable pain. 

But it was also the day that showed that Samoan culture and society are unique in the ways they provide comfort to the afflicted when they need it most.  

The foundations of Samoan society - God, churches, families, villages and an ethic of leaving no one behind - all played a vital role in the immediate response to the disaster, but also in the longer-term by providing solace to the grieving. 

All across the nation, leaders and members of churches and villages and relatives helped and visited those in need of spiritual, emotional or physical support. Together they helped people to resume and to continue.

We acknowledge that there are many who, unlike Mr. Ulugia, may still find it difficult to speak about the events of ten years past. 

But for those who can, in the lead-up to this Sunday, we will also be telling their stories of rebuilding in the shadow of loss. 

Have a blessed week Samoa. 

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