Historian offers views on independence cancellation and Samoa of today

With Independence Day celebrations being put on hold, a Historian has cautioned that over the years Samoa is not losing its history but “people in power are attempting to redefine our history.”

This is what Academic and Historian, Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea, said in response to questions from the Samoa Observer.

He said that this is not a new phenomenon - human civilisation is riddled with examples of people in power - individuals, organisations, governments, etc. trying to reinterpret and rewrite history to justify their actions and agenda.

This year, Samoa will mark 58 years of being politically independent. Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi has announced that this year’s Independence celebration will emphasise social distancing requirements for coronavirus, imposed by Cabinet.

He added that a small ceremony with a prayer will be done by one of the National Council of Churches members, followed by the Head of States remarks from his home in Vailele to mark Independence Day. 

Asked for his thoughts, Meleisea supported the Government’s decision in cancelling the independence celebrations this year.

“It seems that the government has learnt a lot of lessons from the measles outbreak last year,” he said.

Leasiolagi added that the Government has adopted a “better safe than sorry” approach and it seems to be working in keeping Samoa free of COVID-19.

“In this context, cancelling the independence celebrations this year makes sense," he said.

“Independence to me celebrates a number of important episodes in the history of our country.

“Independence Day in 1962 marked the regaining of control/stewardship by Samoans of their own country after some terrible events of the previous 100 years.”

It also marked the end of German and New Zealand control during which much of Samoan society (their values, philosophies and ways of doing things) were severely challenged by the onslaught of new thinking and new ways of doing things from outside, he added.

“Independence to me also celebrates the unification of Samoa after the terrible civil wars during much of the 19th century when the country was torn apart by the internal rivalries to find a tafa'ifa.

“These fighting weakened Samoan society and made it very vulnerable to an array of exploitative demands from foreigners. It certainly made it easy for Great Britain, USA and Germany to decide the fate of Samoa (both western and eastern) for the next 60 years.”

However, the current division of Samoa into Samoa and American Samoa is still a string reminder and independence ushered Samoa into a new era, added Leasiolagi.

“Its leaders for the first time had to plan for the future of a country and its people as a member of the global community of nations through the United Nations and the values they represent.

“It was the first time Samoans participated willingly in a form of centralised government - different from the village-based system which was decentralised.

“Independence was not simply just grabbing control back from the colonial powers.”

While reminiscing on the past, when he was amongst the few Samoans that were present during the first independence celebration, he said that it was a joyous occasion.

“The participation in the events both formal and informal entertainments was truly Samoan. 

“I don't think I was as emotional about it as my father was, but being a quiet man, he didn't share much of what he thought.”

He added that it was more focused mainly on the notion of freedom from colonialism and rightly so.

Dr. Meleisea was also asked on what his opinion was on some major historical and significant changes in Samoa over the years.

“We have witnessed a lot of changes since independence - and a lot of these in the last thirty years or so.

“Perhaps the most significant one in my view is that our country's population has increased from about 30,000 in 1900 to probably more than 500,000 - including Samoans living overseas.

“Migration (internal and external) has of course changed Samoan ways of living, their values, their priorities and their lives and livelihood.”

This has impacted their definition of who they are as Samoans regardless of what they do, who they do it with, where they do it and why. 

The Historian added that the Samoan cultural horizon has expanded and enriched hugely. 

“The current conversations on the proposed amendments in the constitution would benefit a lot by reflecting on our recent history.

“And seriously engaging in the implications of all these changes in our values of who we are as a people and where we would like to be in the global community which we are a member of - whether we like it or not. 

“I have my doubts that the changes proposed through the current amendments will provide the solutions.”

He added that in his opinion Samoa is not losing its history.

“The problem is that people in power are attempting to redefine our history.

“What I suggest is that we have not quite grasped the huge and irreversible impacts of the changes our society has gone through, and have serious dialogues on the long-term implications of these on our society and its people - and not just short-term benefits.”

Leasiolagi also mentioned that he has no doubt that Samoan ancestors were fully aware of what went into the whole document in reference to Samoa's Constitution. 

“To me the main problem was how to integrate Samoan structures and values at the time into the document.

“There were issues about human rights but once the Samoan members fully understood these they agreed. The two constitutional advisers (Professors Davidson and Aikman) were very pro-Samoan in their approach.

“This is obvious in their contributions during the convention but also in their subsequent writings reflecting on their participation in the drafting of Samoa’s Constitution but also in other countries where their expertise were required.”

History as a discipline accepts differing views and interpretation, he said.

“Human beings do not always agree.”

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