To sail is an imperative, so too is to negotiate elements

Ua faapopo aso ua, ae le tuua aso folau

Over a hundred years ago our forebears set sail on a journey to reclaim Samoa for Samoa.They realised that if they did not take a hold of Samoa’s destiny, they– and we – would lose her forever. 

They realised that if they lost her then all that makes us Samoan – our faasamoa – would also, eventually, be lost.We come together today, on this 1st day of June, to remember and celebrate their success and their struggle to hold on to what is ours. 

This year we celebrate 54 years of independence as a nation. We celebrate 54 years of being at the helm of our destiny; of being able to decide how to hold on to our Samoan heritage, traditions, identity, language, lands, seas, and chiefly system. 

As an independent nation we have shown the world that we can maintain peace and order throughout Samoa;that we can uphold religious and political freedoms, and find balance in our application of the rule of law.  

We have shown the world that despite being a small country in the middle of the Pacific Ocean we have the knowledge resources and the will to stand up for what is right and good in our lives. 

As Samoans we believe that our achievements are blessings from God. Our national motto is: “Samoa is founded on God”. This was the prayer of our forebears and continues to be our prayer today. 

We are a deeply spiritual people and our spirituality is inclusive. It is not prohibitive, condemning, nor boastful. It is humble, loving and always forgiving. It is full of conviction and compassion. Not for selfish desires or gain but for the greater good of humanity.

On this 54thIndependence Day we have another opportunity to reassess the path, routes and vehicles chosen for our journey. 

This year marks the first year of governing for our 16th Parliament. Their five year journey has just begun. As any good tautai (captain or expert navigator) knows, right throughout the journey one must be constantly assessing the elements and its potential impact on us. The Samoan saying: ua faapopo aso ua, ae le tuua aso folau, reminds us that sailing is an imperative, but so too is the need to negotiate the elements.

Our culture of navigation – traditional navigation by the stars and the elements – was once core to Samoan life. Sadly it is no longer as widely practised nor understood. The word “faatautai” is commonly used to refer to somebody with the skill and manner of a tautai; or someone learning to be a tautai.The word “tautai” literally speaks to the image of being able to read or assess (that is, to tau) the tides (or tai) of the sea, both the high and low tides (the tai-sua and tai-pe).

The daily regimen of a tautai was one of great discipline. A tautai possesses the ‘anava or gifts of his or her tautai family or guild. This ‘anava is both divinely endowed and passed down from one generation to another. Those considered to have the ‘anava hold significant responsibility. Their natural talents are not to be wasted. A tautai when out at sea draws not only on his training, talents, and skills, but also on a deep conviction that he and his crew will reach their destination.

In September 2014 the Hokule’a came to Samoa as part of its Mālama Honua mission. I read a story told recently by Justice Joe Williams of how the famous Hawaiian navigator, Nainoa, first captain of the Hokule’a, learnt to sail. 

The story goes that Mau, a seasoned navigator, pulled Nainoa aside a few days before he was to set sail and asked him to recite the Star Chart from Oahu to Tahiti Nui. Nainoa knew this well and was able to recite it without problem. 

Mau asked him to do this a few times. This caused Nainoa to doubt whether he was reciting it properly or not. After the sixth time of reciting the star chart Mau asked Nainoa if he could see the island. Nainoa did not understand. Troubled he told Mau that he did not understand the question.

After a few times of this, Nainoa closed his eyes and finally began to feel and see the island with his body, heart, soul and mind. When Mau came next to ask him: “Can you see the island”? Nainoa replied: Yes, I can. Mau smiled and said: “You must keep the island in your mind, for you are the navigator. There will be heavy seas and storms and dark starless nights on your journey. You will be tested. You will be safe if you keep that island in your mind. If you lose it, you will die and your crew will die with you”. 

For Nainoa this was the most important lesson of his life. 

In achieving independence we can say that our forebears had kept the island firmly in their minds. In negotiating the elements they paid heed to the messages of leadership embedded in the navigation-oriented sayings: saili i le tai sē agavaa (the right leader can withstand the test of the seas) and ua faapopo aso ua, ae le tuua aso folau(to sail is an imperative, so too is to negotiate the elements).

Today we celebrate and remember the journey of our forebears. We celebrate and remember the lessons of their journey. And we know, in our minds, bodies and souls that the key to the success of any journey is humility and faith. Soifua.

 

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