An open letter to Tusitala

Talofa Tusitala.  Si o’u alofa.  

Well, a lot has happened since I wrote to you last year.  Please don’t assume that my formal letters are primarily an annual affair and that I only think of you once a year.  

In fact, there is not a day that goes by that you and Fanny and Teuila and Lloyd and Austin and the Samoan family of friends - and so many others - are not in my thoughts.

Last year, very shortly after I read my letter to you, our mutual friend, Tilafaiga, presented Samoa with absolute proof of your abilities in the Samoan language. Many scholars have minimized your abilities in the Samoan  language.  We know that you had your own tutor from Malua and you took opportunities to practice with the staff and other Samoan families who often visited you.   Through his connections in the outside world, Tilafaiga found a facsimile of a letter you wrote in fa’a Samoa to (your best friend forever!) Mata’afa Iosefa .  

While there are many ‘hint’s’ throughout your letters and journals that you were familiar with our language, having that actual facsimile gave all the skeptics something to think about.  Of course, the hearts of those of us who know of your fascination and respect for the fa’aSamoa were gladdened.  

We continue to resist and suppress the temptation to go to doubters with an enthusiastic Samoan response of UA LA IA!

The very presence of your name on our radar screen keeps us busy, Louis.  It never ceases to amaze me of the volumes of material about you and your family and your life that exists in libraries and other repositories throughout the world.  It’s been almost 122 years since you left us right here at Vailima, yet I’ve been contacted numerous times about the possibility of gaining support for one project or another.  Most of them are very worthy of support since they are led by honorable people who also revere your name and memory.  For example, late last year your name was used freely very close by at an English Literature workshop at the National University of SAMOA.  

It’s impossible for such a gathering to take place without your life being used as such a great example of how everyday living, love and circumstances influences writing and the ability to express passion and realism.  You were anything but ‘common’ yet your writings are so clear that they are understood by common folks everywhere.  

We continue to be in awe of your command of your Mother tongue.  Now, we respect you even more for your interest and love in the Samoan language.

In case you haven’t heard, it’s been an interesting year politically in Samoa. Politics and the Government have been a topic that interested you even in those early days at Vailima.  

As you know, we avoid participating in political dialogue but the upsets this past election surprised even the most jaded Samoan citizens.  There is a new parliament, a new and different cabinet and a strong female Deputy Prime Minister, a FIRST for SAMOA and most other small independent developing states.  This  major breakthrough has been applauded throughout the world by those who watch our every move.  It’s almost time for other political observers to develop a new and updated edition of A FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY. 

Speaking of Samoan political affairs, your greatest living American R.L.S.  scholar, Dr. Roger Swearingen has written a very popular book entitled ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON and SAMOA AFTER 100 YEARS. 

You would be pleased at the documentation and his observations written to honor your memory.  He and his wife Sarah paid visits to the R.L.S. Foundation offices in Scottsdale ARIZONA where he and Tilafaiga were able to exchange ideas and speak in the fondest and most respectful terms about who you are and what you stand for.  

He then visited with my wife and me in Provo, UT.  We were able to visit the Brigham Young University Library and see their collection of 1st Edition volumes written by you so many years ago.  You will remember that way back in 1998, he was the guest speaker at the Memorial Service we had to honor your memory.    

It was Dr. Swearingen who discovered one of the prayers you uttered surrounded by your family right here on the front lawn.  That prayer had somehow escaped being published with the others that are so widely known.  I’m certain you gave it in the proudest Samoan fashion and demonstrated once again that YOU knew how to speak to the Lord.  

Your prayers – even today – are uttered and read from diverse and sundry pulpits.  Why you might ask?  Because the words you spoke then resonate so clearly with so many hearts, desires and spirits in today’s world.  You were able to say to the Lord what most of us feel.  But you did it with such elegance and eloquence that it makes us feel that our prayers and requests of the Lord may actually reach his in-box and could possibly be answered.  We give you a big MALO LAVA in the way that you addressed God  about your daily concerns – and did so with such gratitude and extreme faith. Through your supplications we know that you knew that God hears and answers prayers.

Tusitala, I have so much more to tell you. Villa Vailima – the window into your world then and now, continues to be on the very popular list of 1000 Places to see before you die!  Being on that list says many things:  it’s a tribute to your legacy.  

It says a lot about the appeal of SAMOA.  And, it makes a statement about how much you are loved by Samoans, by those who read and study your writings AND by all of us here tonight.

Tusitala peleina.  Matou te fia fa’afetai atu ia te oe mo lou olaga fa’amaoni lava.  Fa’apena fo’i mo lou faletua  Aolele Fanny, Teuila Isobel, Loia Lloyd ma le aiga atoa.  Matou te fa’amamalu ia te outou uma i lou  auaiga, ali’i .  


Tofa Soifua.



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