Papali'i Dr. Semisi Maiai passes away

An eminent Samoan physician who was also the author of the first ever bilingual Samoan-English dictionary, Papa’ali’itele Dr. Semisi Maiai, has passed away.

He was 91. 

In a statement issued by the Ma’ia’i family, they confirmed that Papa’ali’itele - better known as Dr. Ma’ia’i - died peacefully in Wellington Hospital in the early hours of Sunday, November 3. 

Born and raised raised in the Savai'i village of Sapapaali’i, Dr. Maia’i studied medicine at the Fiji Medical School and Otago Medical School graduating in 1962. 

Dr. Ma’ia’i worked in New Zealand and Samoa in the 1960s before becoming a General Practitioner (G.P.) in Kumeu on the outskirts of Auckland. He took over the practice in 1974 and remained there until 1992.

In 2011 Dr. Semisi Ma'ia'i's work was recognised when he received the Insignia of a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the Samoan community.  

Dr. Ma’ia’i was a General Practitioner in the Auckland area for more than 40 years and in 2010 published a modern and comprehensive Samoan dictionary, Tusi’upu Sāmoa, with the aim of ensuring the Samoan language remained alive and vibrant.  

According to information provided by the Pasifika Medical Association, Dr Ma’ia’i in the 1970s was the only Samoan G.P. in Auckland. 

After becoming aware of the language barrier many Samoans faced visiting doctors, he began translating common medical terms in Samoan. 

This began a lifelong passion for preserving Samoan culture through recording and translating the language. 

In 1991 he published a Samoan Medical Glossary and, after 40 years of painstaking work, he was until his recent passing, engaged in updating the work for a new edition in reflection of the growing demand for his groundbreaking work. 

In 2010 he published the first ever bilingual Samoan/English dictionary: "Tusi’upu Samoa"

He gave regular talks on health matters on Pacific radio. 

In 1999 Semisi became a Fellow of the College of General Practitioners and was awarded a Pasifika Medical Association Service Award in 2002. He retired from general practice in 2003; in that same year he was award a Queen's Service Medal for public service.

Papa’ali’itele is survived by his wife Jennifer and their three children: Kim, Katrina and Chris. 


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