Fifty eight years later, it is almost as if the late Tamasese saw what is happening today
Fifty-eight years ago at the Malae o Tiafau, Samoa proudly hoisted her flag of independence for the very first time.
With that gesture, this nation under the leadership of our forebears tore up the “Trusteeship Agreement” ending New Zealand’s control of more than 40 years, symbolically giving Samoans full authority to govern their own affairs.
But that day was not just about Samoa breaking free from New Zealand’s control. There was a lot more to it. It was the culmination of a painful, bloody and a difficult struggle by Samoans to regain control of their country from colonialism and the rule of others – including Germany.
It was a struggle that lasted many years. It cost lives, many tears were shed, families were torn apart, freedom fighters were exiled and there were many other unpleasant memories. It was not an easy time.
Which is why the moment when the late Malietoa Tanumafili II, the late Tamasese Meaole hoisted Samoa’s flag of freedom with the late Mata'afa Fiame Faumuina Mulinu’u II looking on, would remain one of the most important moments in the history of this nation.
Those who were privileged enough to be part of that historical day would often talk about how God shined his face upon Samoa. They recalled how it had been raining heavily and when the time arrived for the ceremony, the rain stopped at Mulinu’u. The rest as they say is history.
For 57 years, Samoa, rain or shine, had proudly celebrated independence not just at Mulinu’u but across the country. And with Samoans spreading out across all corners of the globe, Independence Day is always an occasion to behold.
Almost each and every one of us would have stories to tell about the early morning parades, traditional entertainment, fautasi regattas and all sorts of ways we remember and honour our independence.
This year there will be no official celebration at Mulinu’u. To be honest, we find the decision disappointing. Despite the fact that Samoa does not have a case of coronavirus, let alone a suspected case, the Government has used the COVID19 State of Emergency as the official reason to cancel the celebration.
Which means the only sense of celebration we will have is a national holiday on Monday where the hoisting of the flag by the Member of the Council of Deputies, Le Mamea Ropati Mualia will be televised. This will be followed by the Independence address from the Head of State, His Highness Tuimaleali’ifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II and that is it.
You’d think that independence day, of all days; they would make an exception especially when we still don’t have a coronavirus case. But then many of us shouldn’t really be surprised that the Government is not keen to celebrate.
This year’s independence arrives amidst a hugely controversial debate about the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Lands and Titles Court Bill 2020, and Judicature Bill 2020, which threaten the foundational document of Samoa, the Constitution, upon which the hopes and dreams of our ancestors who gave us this freedom, are pinned. The gist of the debate about these bills has been well documented on the pages of this newspaper and we will not talk about them in this piece. Suffice to say the threat to the rule of law and democratic rights, the same rights our ancestors shed blood for, cannot be ignored.
On this day, let us be reminded about what matters. We pay tribute to our forebears and the path they carved out for Samoa with their blood, tears and sweat. We must never lose sight of their struggles.
Let us be reminded about the original freedom house at Mulinu’u that was demolished a few years ago with the promise by the Government of a monument in its honour that we still haven’t seen. That building where the first flag was raised in 1962 epitomised the story of Samoa’s journey to independence.
Let us also not forget the old Courthouse on Beach Road in Apia that is being demolished as we speak. That building stood proudly as a symbol of law and order, of governance, and decades of history. To have it demolished without acknowledgement or ceremony speaks volumes about what is happening in Samoa today. Is it a coincidence that the demolition job is done during independence? Does it surprise anyone then that the celebration of independence this year has been scrapped?
Today in Samoa, there is a lot to be grateful for. Since 1962, the development of Samoa as an independent country has remained a beacon in the Pacific and the world of how to maintain peace, political stability and respect for the rule of law. While we have not been problem free in the process, we have done reasonably well in our development while at the same time preserving our heritage, traditions, identity, language, lands, seas, and chiefly system.
The different governments since 1962 have all contributed. The ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) under the guidance of the late Tofilau Eti Alesana and now Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi have done a lot to develop this country. We acknowledge their work with gratitude.
But as we pause to reflect on the history of this nation this weekend, we want to remind everyone what the late Tupua Tamasese said when he spoke on the day Samoa’s flag of freedom was hoisted for the very first time. In particular, we want to think about his “word to the young generation of our country.”
To them, he said: “It is in your hands that lies the destiny of a successful Samoa in future, and it will be a matter of duty for you to bring forth the torch of freedom in order that it will shine in all corners of the country as a whole.
“There is a very well - known saying by one of the famous statesmen that “Freedom is the prize of vigilance”. As I have said that God has given us this very memorable day to remember and it is only hoped that our motto will indeed be a reality in that “Samoa be founded upon God”.
“It will be up to each and every one of us to bear the burden of our future State and it is right therefore for us to do everything in accordance with the Will of God.”
Thinking about what has been happening in Samoa during the recent past, today and the threats we are looking at, it is almost like the late Tupua Tamasese saw what was coming 58 years ago.
He could have delivered the same remarks tomorrow at Mulinu’u and they would still be very much relevant. Such is the wisdom, vision and dreams of our forebears that as we celebrate and rejoice, we must always tread carefully, especially when it comes to the issue of the Constitution.
Happy Independence Day Samoa, God bless!