“This is where we belong. This land is our grave.”
This is an old story that would just not go away. First published in the Samoa Observer on 8 August 2016, under the headline So sad a story it could make a tyrant break down and cry, it is that kind of story you can neither belittle nor ignore.
It was about the closely knit Sogi community - that relatively peaceful seaside village on the Mulinu’u Peninsula, where its residents had been living for many years - and yet today they were told by the government, they would be evicted and relocated to an inland community, called Falelauniu.
As it turned out though the government’s insistence was unwavering. Soon afterwards, the residents of Sogi received a letter from the government’s Samoa Land Corporation (S.L.C.), that warned: “Today, is the last day of the 30-day notice, that had been given to you to relocate.”
Asked for a comment at the time, an S.L.C official pointed out: “We will abide by the law as stated in the Letter of Eviction. That’s all I can say for now, until further notice.”
But a Sogi resident, an older man who asked not to be named, was bluntly defiant, as he was saying: “Whatever decision the government will come up with we are not going anywhere.”
“This is where we belong and this is where we will stay.”
He went on to say he had been told about the government’s Letter of Eviction, but then “evicted or not, it does not matter, it would not change anything.
“We are aware of the consequences but we will stay here until they come and move us away.”
And then an elderly mother, Tala Leiataua, who said she had been living in Sogi all her life, made it quite clear she would not move anywhere.
“Please let us stay on this land,” she begged, and it was quite clear that the person she was addressing was none other than Prime Minister, Tuilapea Sailele Malielegaoi.
She repeated: “Please let us stay on this land. Our ancestors worked hard to level this swamp for us during the German colonial times, so this is where we belong. Please, we want to stay.”
However, should the government insist on evicting her and her family, Tala said: “I will ask the government to dig a hole and throw us all in there.”
“I’d rather die and be buried, in the land my ancestors had passed down to us, so we’re ready to face the consequences, Tuilaepa.”
She went on to remind: “This is where I’ve lived all my life, and this is where I’ll be buried. This is where we belong. This land is our grave.”
That was two months ago.
Last week, a Samoa Land Corporation (S.L.C.) officer revealed that during discussions with Sogi residents, the majority agreed to relocate, except one family.
The officer asked not to be named.
But the one family who is not going anywhere is that of Nanai Tokuma, a well-respected Samoan leader whose forebears, were among Sogi’s original settlers.
Asked for a comment, Nanai told the story about how his family got the land the government is now trying to evict them from.
He said it was when his father was accused of the death of a businessman, and now he was about to be hanged for murder.
“I remembered when our father said goodbye to us with his hands already handcuffed,” he explained.
“He was about to be executed. His hands were already tied, there was a rope around his neck, and a piece cloth was covering his face.”
“And then as he was walking towards where he would be hung, two Chinese men ran up and told the Police, they were the ones who had killed the businessman.”
“My father’s life was spared. He walked out a free man while fighting back tears from his eyes, right in front of us children, and our mother. And that was why we were offered this land where we’re living on now.”
“This land was given to our father, the late Tokuma Torurae, by the late Mata’afa Faumuina Mulinu’u II, the first Prime Minister of this country.”
“And as he did, he said to my father: ‘Now go live on this land with your children; the government cannot afford to pay for what we owe you. Now the land is yours forever.”
And last week, Nanai Tokuma said: “That’s why we’ve been living here. And now after all these years, the government is telling us to go away, but where to? We have no money to do that.”
It’s a poignant story all right. It is so sad you can’t help thinking that just listening to it, would make even a tyrant break down and cry.
Now two years later, the Tokuma Family had launched an appeal against that Samoa Land Corporation in connection with the dispute, and on 27 October 2018, the ruling was delivered.
It said: “The Court of Appeal has upheld Supreme Court Justice, Leiataualesa Daryl Clarke’s decision, dismissing the lawsuit against the Samoa Land Corporation, by the Tokuma family.”
It also said: “The appellants are ordered to pay the respondent costs of $5,000 together with reasonable disbursements.”
And then it added: “The Samoa Land Corporation’s superior rights of legal ownership of the land were always going to prevail.”
“The company had not acted or omitted to act in any unconscionable way, that might have benefitted it unfairly at the Tokuma’s expenses, or comprised its legal entitlement as registered proprietor.”
But what about the late Tokuma, who said: “This land was given to our father, the late Tokuma Torurae, by the late Mata’afa Faumuina Mulinu’u II, the first Prime Minister of this country.”
Indeed, what about Mata’afa who told Tokuma Torurae: “Now go live on this land with your children; the government cannot afford to pay for what we owe you. Now the land is yours forever.”
No wonder this story is so sad it could make a tyrant break down and cry!
Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless.