P.M. tells churches to speak, sing in Samoan

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi has called on churches and leaders of churches to help ensure the survival of our native Samoan tongue by utilising the national language in speeches, sermons and when singing hymns. 

Tuilaepa issued the call when he spoke on Thursday before 22 culturalists and linguists who comprise the committee that has been commissioned to compile the first Samoan language reference dictionary. The committee, which includes church ministers, met the P.M. at the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.).

Tuilaepa said there are church leaders who abandon the Samoan language and choose to speak in English at government events and to his surprise even in large church meetings.

One year, the Prime Minister went to Sataoa to attend and speak at an event. The minister stood up to lead the opening prayer and he prayed in English. Despite Tuilaepa’s criticism of the reverend’s choice of language when he was given the chance to address the audience, the closing prayer was also given in English by the same minister.

“The preacher prayed in English. Nothing was in Samoan. Also when they sang the song, the songs were in English,” he said.

He whispered to someone nearby asking why the prayer and song were in English. They were instructed by a government official to use English.

“When it was my turn [to speak], I said I would not speak in English. I could see there is just one palagi sitting there and I am not going waste my time. The choir laughed,” Tuilaepa said.

“But when the faifeau stood up again, he did the closing prayer in English.”

Ministers who speak in English rather than Samoan deter the Prime Minister from inviting them to speak or pray at government functions. 

“That is why I don’t like to invite some faifeau because some of them come and they abandon our language and they speak English,” said Tuilaepa.

“Even when they have big meetings for churches suddenly they are having them in English! And when I look in the meeting, there are only Samoans in there.”

When a past president of the Methodist Church died, he said at the funeral, three elders stood up and spoke in English instead of Samoan. The Prime Minister was exasperated.

Tuilaepa boasted of passing aoga faifeau “with honours” adding he is adept with the Samoan alphabet.

He urged the committee to “use our words,” as opposed to borrowing words from other languages and emphasised repeatedly the importance of perpetuating the Samoan language.

He commended the people who use the Samoan language in their work with the Bible and in newspapers.

The National Council of Churches was also criticised and accused of being “lazy minded” for not using “our words.”

“We have our own words but they are not using them,” said Tuilaepa.

The Samoan Catholic church, he said, uses the term “kalesia” for the English word “grace” as in ‘the grace of God’ but there is already a Samoan word for it, he added.

The Prime Minister has seen the phrase “e le tu, e le tu lava,” used in publications from the Catholic Church.

“I had no clue what that is so I looked it up,” said Tuilaepa. “It’s ‘forever and ever’…there are words for this used by our ancestors but we don’t use them anymore.”

When the Prime Minister watches TV, he sees that “a lot of our children” have abandoned the Samoan language and speak English.

So many native languages have died because the use of English is being promoted above indigenous languages, said Tuilaepa.

In regional meetings, government leaders have expressed the challenges they face in development due to language.

“A lot of native languages have died because they promote English…Papua New Guinea has problems developing because they have 700 languages [dialects] and other times they say they have 800 or 900 in their country,” said Tuilaepa.

“It’s difficult for the government to move forward because they do not have one language…it leads to pidgin…and then they leave their native languages eventually and then the language will die and they will have only English.”

He said the government must create laws to lead the way in preserving and perpetuating the Samoan language.

“For example, Cabinet’s newspaper [Palemene] is not in English. The entire paper is in Samoan. Any government gathering of [government] ministers’ speeches will not be conducted in English anymore…if there is an English speech then we will translate it into Samoan and it will be distributed,” said Tuilaepa.

One ugly thing happening at government gatherings these days is speeches delivered entirely in English when there are only two palagi in the audience.

As people of God, he told the committee their work is necessary in seeking God and will lead to blessings.

He commended the committee on their work, noting that they have a big task ahead of them.

Cabinet will be their right hand, the Prime Minister said.

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