Tautai: A book about hope and redemption

12 November 2017, 12:00AM

Tui Atua Tupua 

Tamasese Ta’isi Efi 

Speech at Tautai Book Launch, Sydney

Australia Museum

I wish to thank Dr Patricia O’Brien, and the Australian Museum’s Executive Director Kim McKay, for the opportunity to say a few words of thanks on behalf of our Ta’isi family. 

I acknowledge the support and presence of the O’Brien family, in particular Patty’s parents, John and Sandra O’Brien. 

I acknowledge also the presence and support of the Honourable Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, members of the diplomatic corps, including our Samoa High Commissioner to Australia, Hinauri Petana and members of her office and the office of the Samoa Consul General.

I also wish to acknowledge the presence of our two Gaualofa Trust Board members: Taimalieutu Charlie Ah-Liki Westerlund, and Associate Professor Tamasailau Suaalii-Sauni.

I want to acknowledge the presence of Tugaga Misa Foni Retzlaff, former Deputy Prime Minister and one of the principal title holders in the Ta’isi family.

This is the third launch of Patty’s book titled Tautai. Tautai is the biography of our grandfather, Ta’isi O.F. Nelson. The first launch of Tautai happened in Samoa in early August; a second happened in Auckland, New Zealand, in late August; and now this third launch, the finale launch, if you like, is held here, today, in Patty’s home city of Sydney, Australia. 

In our Samoan traditional housebuilding culture there are two main ritual celebration points. The first happens at the beginning of the housebuilding exercise when the first house post (or poutū) is put into the ground. These posts provide structural strength. That ritual is called o le faatuga o le poutū. The second ritual happens at the end when the final touch is added to the roof of the house, signalling the completion of the house. This is termed the taualuga ritual. The term taualuga literally means the work has reached or touched (tau) its highest point (luga). 

These two rituals marked Samoan traditional beliefs in the spiritual and genealogical connections between earth, sky and human beings. When a major work or undertaking has reached its pinnacle, it is celebrated by a ritual taualuga. 

Today we are engaging in a taualuga of Tautai, and it is fitting that our taualuga occurs here in Patty’s home turf, together with her family and with those who helped to bring this book to fruition.  

I was introduced to Patty in early 2012. At the time she was at the start of her journey exploring the life of my grandfather and the period during which he lived. In May that year I met her in person for the first time. She came to Tuaefu to give a talk on her research. I was impressed by her passion and by her meticulousness. I remember feeling excited by the prospect that long last my grandfather’s story might be told. His story, as Patty has written in Tautai, is not only a story about a man and his achievements, but also a story about Samoa, and about world history. It is a story about human nature and culture; about dreams and visions; and about the struggles that people face when trying to overcome huge odds. 

The writing of Samoan history is not easy. As acknowledged by Meleisea Leasiolagi Malama Meleisea at the Samoa book launch, writing Samoan history requires not only a lot of resources in order to get to key archives and living informants, but also a combination of scholarly tenacity and personal sensitivity. This is not easy to come by and is perhaps one of the main reasons why my grandfather’s story has not been told until now. It is indeed, as Toeolesulusulu Associate Professor Damon Salesa described at the Auckland book launch, an exercise in walking a tightrope, an exercise that Patty he admitted was able to do well in producing Tautai. 

On behalf of the Ta’isi family, I too thank all those who helped to fund the research work necessary to bring Tautai to life, including the Australian Research Council.

The significance of our grandfather Ta’isi’s contribution to the Samoan Mau movement, to Samoa’s fight for Independence, has not, as was acknowledged by Meleisea, been properly told until this book. For the children of Ta’isi there is peace in hearing this. This is a huge admission for a Samoan historian and I thank him on behalf of the Ta’isi family for the courage it took for him to say so.

In 2002 New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark apologised to Samoa on behalf of her government and the New Zealand people for the injustices caused by the New Zealand Administration during its colonial rule of Samoa. My grandfather, as detailed in Tautai, was greatly affected by the injustices of this administration. At the Auckland book launch of Tautai, Helen, after reading Tautai not only reaffirmed her belief that the apology she gave was definitely the right thing to do, but promoted the value of exploring the making of a film based on Tautai. The family is excited about this prospect.

Earlier this year Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove presented me with a didgeridoo when he visited Samoa. I was touched by this gesture not only because of the symbolism it carried, but also because having witnessed several decades of Samoa-Australian-New Zealand political relations this gesture gave hope that we are moving towards affirmation of a shared common culture.

Ta’isi’s fight for justice was one he shared with his Māori friends and kin, Sir Maui Pomare and Sir Apirana Ngata, who as Ministers in the New Zealand administration stood against their own government in support of the Samoan Mau. It was a fight he also shared with his Australian friends, as Patty records, such as Sir Joseph Carruthers, Herbert V. Evatt, and Charles Brunsdon Fletcher. 

I leave you with my fondest memory of my grandfather. I am the eldest male grandchild of Ta’isi Olaf Nelson. At 9 months old, as per Samoan custom, I was weaned off my mother and taken to live with him. I will never forget running as a child every morning to pick pink flowers from the gardens in Tuaefu to gift to him. And when I saw mangoes that had fallen off the tree, I would pick them up, even if rotten, to give to him. I remember he would take them in his hands, as if they were diamonds, and smell them as if they were the most fragrant and beautiful things in the world. He would then place them on his bedside table with strict instructions that no one was to touch them or throw them away. This was the unconditional love of a grandparent; the unconditional love of family. This was the kind of love or alofa that sustains us and impels us to go beyond, especially during hard times. This is his legacy not only for us as a family, but also, we believe, for Samoa and the world.

We will forever be grateful to you, Patty, not only for the scholastic integrity, dedication, love and care that you gave to our grandfather’s story, but also for bringing to light a story, his story, our story, that has been for too long kept in the dark. 

Tautai is a book about redemption and hope. It offers redemption for the pain caused by the unfair silence that surrounded the truth of the Mau. It offers hope that it is possible to write good, sensitive, well-researched, nuanced and balanced Samoan history. Even if it took an Australian to do it. Soifua.

12 November 2017, 12:00AM
Samoa Observer

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