Ta'i's Take: Observer Column 3
Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, our former Head of State, headed his tribute to Savea Sano Malifa, Editor-in-Chief of the Samoa Observer, Hail to the Chief, and acknowledged his wife, Muli’aga Jean Ash Malifa, for ensuring the show goes on and has kept the ship afloat, despite severe setbacks.
I’ll call mine - Hail to Hard Work and Friends.
Fata Sano Malifa (Sano), as he was known then, came to journalism with a collection of poems, "Looking down at Waves", already published.
At the start, he had some difficulty in adjusting to reporting but with hard work he soon mastered the craft. As Tui Atua says, when he writes about the things that he is passionate about: the cause of democracy and freedom of expression, caring for the elderly, the sick and the young, and when he is attacking arrogance, greed, conceit pomposity and cruelty, his prose acquires a life force which is as vibrant as it is lyrical.
I left The Samoa Times in 1977 and Sano left shortly afterwards. I had resigned but Sano, I heard, had a much more interesting parting of ways with The Times.
The story goes that Sano had a scoop and worked very hard on his story; saw it laid out on the front page dummy of the paper ready for the printers, before going home happy with his day’s work.
The next morning, his happiness of the night before disappeared, with his story vanishing, not only from the front page but from the paper altogether.
Apparently, after Sano had gone home the night before, the lawyer for the company featured in his story, rang and told the editor that if the story that Sano had so diligently researched goes to print, then prepare to go to court.
Hence the remade front page. Hence Sano’s walkout, after some choice words to the editor. And hence the founding of the Samoa Observer in 1978, with his very close friend Ieti Lima.
It was in the middle of Mr Lima’s family banana patch, inland of Vaimoso village, that the Observer's first “office” was set up. The office is in commas because there was no room, just space covered by two iron roof sheets as a shelter for the electric typewriter and a table for the layout work. It was as basic as it could possibly be.
But Sano and Ieti had an asset in the form of Mrs Lagi Leavai, the former Times’ stalwart, R.I.P., office and advertising manager. And as the cliché goes, the rest is history.
When the Observer expanded and set up an office in Auckland, Mr Lima moved there and later went back to university and did a PhD in the health field. Dr Lima was a senior health promotion strategist at the Health Promotion Forum based in Auckland, New Zealand.
At home, his mate Sano publishes a second collection of poems – Song and Return (1992) – and a novel – Alms For Oblivion (1998) - and gets conferred another matai title so he is now Gatoaitele Savea Fata Sano Malifa, the Editor-in-Chief of the Samoa Observer.
What does he think of the Samoan media? In Samoa, the media can be described as a tree that has no shadow. It offers neither shelter nor hope. It can be described as a flower that blooms but then quickly withers, as if afraid of the sunlight.
Others see it as a confused animal; a sick dog that barks but won’t bite because it is afraid. Meeow!
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