ANZAC Day, sacrifices and Tupua Tamasese’s death on Black Saturday
The commemoration of ANZAC Day yesterday morning in Samoa couldn’t have taken place at a better time. Given the issues that have been the subject of public debate lately concerning Constitutional amendments, freedom, fundamental human rights and the dreams of our ancestors, ANZAC Day provided another opportunity for many of us to pause and reflect.
Observed on the 25th of April each year, the day honours the memory of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli against the Ottoman Empire during World War I.
But ANZAC Day is not just about Australia and New Zealand. Here in Samoa, many of us are descendants of Samoans who fought and served alongside the Australians, New Zealanders and other Pacific islanders. Which is why ANZAC Day will always have a special place in our hearts.
Unlike previous years, the State of Emergency (S.O.E.) lockdown did not allow the usual early morning parade and wreath laying ceremony, which would normally see the Head of State, His Highness Tuimaleali’ifano Sualauvi II, among others lay wreaths at the foot of the iconic Clock Tower. But the sacrifice, tears and blood made so many soldiers so that the rest of us would enjoy the freedom we have today was not forgotten.
On the front page of the newspaper you are reading is a story titled “Lest we forget.” The story is from a much-reduced ANZAC Day commemoration on Saturday morning where a limited number of Samoa Returned Services Association (R.S.A.) members were allowed to lay wreaths and pay their respects at the Magiagi Cemetery.
Among them was a former Samoan soldier, Fogalepolo Lepou, who provided his views on why the day matters.
“I think it is very important to honour and remember those that have gone before us and who have made this sacrifice just giving up their life to serve their countries and honour the commitment of their families,” he said.
But no one could have summed it up better than the Acting New Zealand High Commissioner to Samoa, Taua Pati Gagau. Said Taua: “It is a day to celebrate our ancestors who fought during times of war for the freedom that we now enjoy. It is important that we do not forget the sacrifices and courage that they went through for us to enjoy peace, security and freedom.”
Let’s put ANZAC Day aside for just a moment and think about what’s happening in Samoa today.
During the past few weeks, the debate about the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020 has galvanized so many people to speak up. These stories have been published on the pages of this newspaper and they are unlikely to be the last ones.
At the heart of all these concerns is the fear that in their pursuit of power, the Government is ignoring the dreams of our ancestors who paved the way and accepted the principles of the separation of powers as part of a democracy they saw would protect the fundamental human rights of Samoans then and now.
The man behind the proposed changes, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has maintained that the bills are in response to complaints from members of the public about the delays in Lands and Titles Court decisions.
He has also said that under the existing laws, Samoan customs and traditions in relation to land, titles and matters of village affairs are ignored by the Westminster system. He added that Samoa’s ancestors did not understand what the palagi inserted in the Constitution back in 1960, which makes the changes they are pushing through necessary. Well that’s sad, isn’t it?
Now let’s get back to ANZAC day and the sentiments echoed by the Acting New Zealand High Commissioner Taua.
Think about our ancestors and their long struggle for political independence. Think about their dreams and wishes. Think about the sacrifices they made so our people today could live and enjoy in an environment of peace and freedom.
Speaking of sacrifices and struggles, the mind immediately races back to a day etched into our memories as Samoa’s “Black Saturday.” The day was the 28th December 1929 when the leader of Samoa’s non-violent Mau a Tumua ma Pule Movement, Tupua Tamasese Lealofi, was shot by New Zealand police as he was leading a peaceful demonstration in downtown Apia. He was among eleven Samoans killed that day.
On that day, Samoa’s dream to be free from oppression was born in blood. But Tupua’s final words are even more significant and are worth remembering today.
“My blood has been spilt for Samoa,” he said. “I am proud to give it. Do not dream of avenging it, as it was spilt in peace. If I die, peace must be maintained at any price.”
Think of ANZAC Day and how the Government had removed a public holiday dedicated to honour the memories of those great men.
Think about the Constitution and the attitude from our including Prime Minister Tuilaepa about the sacrifices and wishes of our ancestors.
Think of Tupua Tamasese Lealofi, his leadership and his parting words for Samoa. Do you think we are honouring the memory of Tupua and our forebears who sacrificed so much for the freedom we have today?
Lest we forget!