Today marks the 51st year since (Western) Samoa gained independence. (Well, it actually happened on the first of January, 1962, but we celebrate it in June). For a relatively young island nation, Samoa has a rich and spirited history, and every year on this day we remember with gratitude the long and painful protests our ancestors waged against colonial injustices…the struggles that eventually lead to our freedom.
To celebrate Samoa’s Independence this year, One Samoana is proud to introduce guest blogger Richard Vainu’upo Eletise Umuti. Born and raised in Samoa, he shares with us his heart-warming memories of the Independence Day festivities in Apia, as well as his thoughts on what it means to be a proud Samoan.
My Memories of Independence
Independence Day meant a lot of things to me. Having a day off from school and taking part in the annual independence march was a highlight because you get to march past the Head of State, PM and other dignitaries, but especially to be on TV. I marched from an early age with the numerous schools I went to, firstly with Robert Louis Stevenson primary school (RLSS) and then Samoa College in later years. I remember not being able to sleep the night before Independence Day as I was very excited to march. Days before the event we would play host to some of our relatives from rural villages and Savaii.
I remember one independence day in particular where I had couple of cousins about 3 of them from Savaii and Aleipata who were staying with us, as they were guests I thought at time they should have the honour of using the showers first then me. When it came to my turn to shower much to my dismay the shampoo had run out, I would later find out once I got into the car for my dad to drop us off at the flea market that my cousins had used the shampoo as gel for their hair, let’s just say that thankfully the heavens didn’t open up.
There are really 3 things I look forward to Independence Day that is the girls, to be on TV and freedom in no particular order.
It’s the only time my parents gave me money and allow me to go out for most of the day. My parents were very restrictive in where I go and what time I could go out for. I didn’t get to go out to lot of my friends’ birthday parties. So Independence Day offered me some respite from the usual work I do each morning before I go to school like picking up leaves that have fallen from our mango tree and weeding grass around our taro patches in the plantation we had.
After my dad drops me off at the flea market I have a little brekky with the money he gave me. (I generally have panikeke and koko samoa). Then I’ll be making my way from the flea market to Malae o Tiafau where the March takes place. At Malae o Tiafau people have already been lining up to wait for start of ceremony, so I use this time to catch up with some friends who go to other schools but also try and impress some of the girls there with my English linguistic skills. Clearly it worked as girls were impressed with not only my good looks but my English speaking skills as well. I would probably say the latter…LOL…
We then line up whilst waiting for the Head of State to arrive and inspect the Guard of Honour by the Police. Then we have a morning lotu where the preacher is generally either the Archbishop of Catholic Church or the President of Methodist church. If you know what Samoan churches are like then it’s quite a long service we would stand there in the sun and sometimes you feel that sermon drags on with no end in sight. I love when the late Rev Oka Fauolo is leading the service as his sermons are usually short and right on message. Then we would sing our hearts out with a beautiful rendition of Samoa Tula’i whilst Council of Deputies or PM raises the flag.
Once these formalities finish we would then March, I always stand on the right hand side as most TV cameras were on that side. Whilst marching I would look at the makeshift house that has been built for the VIP’s and thinking that would be me in 20 years’ time. When we make in front of the makeshift house for VIP’s I remember the late Head of State Malietoa continuously clapping and smiling and waving throughout the whole ceremony and whenever I march past him he would always say malo lava atalii something that I would never forget even to this day. Others in VIPs crowd would stand up and waive probably at their children, grandchildren marching and I can clearly see the joy in their faces looking at us and it might’ve reminded them of their younger years as students and marching as well.
Once the march is done it was time to make our way back to town and whatever poor girl I manage pick up along the way would then pay for our lunch at Pinati or McDonalds if she’s rich…hahaha.. and then it was straight to the movies to watch whatever was on. End of day I would promising this poor girl I would call her but truth is I don’t as I didn’t have a mobile phone back then and I didn’t want to use our phone at home as my parents might catch me talking to this girl. By days end I’m absolutely tired and just go straight to bed and only to be woken the next morning by my dad asking me if I want to go with him to town to get an early seat at the seawall to watch the Fautasi races. Most of time I just say no as I’m still recovering from previous day and it’s much easier to watch it on TV. When I do go I would always root for Telefoni o le Vainuu as my mum’s family is from Manono and that boat dominated the seas before Don Bosco Segavao came along.
The last time I marched was 2007 Independence Day that was the only Independence Day that I’ve witness so far that it rained, of course it was somewhat of a sombre independence day as it was the first independence without the beloved and humble Malietoa Tanumafili II who had passed away a month earlier. There were rumours swirling around that Independence Day celebrations might be cancelled altogether. Glad it didn’t happen as Malietoa wouldn’t have wanted, as he knew the country was bigger than him and he always held the nation’s national day with utmost respect it deserved. I will always miss his smile and the black sun glasses that he wore whilst watching everyone pass by.
On reflecting back about Independence Day I’m glad that I did participate even though for the wrong reasons. I’m Proud to be Samoan as I feel this country has been blessed and like the saying goes ‘Ua Tofia E le Atua Samoa”; loosely translated, God chose Samoa. I’m thankfully that the forefathers of our country chose our motto that Samoa is founded on God. Although Samoa has faced a lot challenges in preceding years and no doubt in the future as well but the fact remain we have blessed with fertile land and unique culture unmatched anywhere else in the world –“Fa’a Samoa.” That’s why I refuse to believe that there is poverty in Samoa. As everyone in Samoa all belong somewhere to a family, to a village, to a district. O le tagata ma lona fa’asinomaga. No one is without a family. As my late grandma would always say your bellybutton is buried there referring to my village of Vailoa, Aleipata. (I have other villages like Moata’a, Sapapalii, Faleu Manono and Salani Falealili).
Right now I feel so patriotic that I just want to sing the national anthem. As there is no place I would rather be this weekend than home. Unfortunately I’m not gonna be there due to my studies at university, but I will be in spirit. Happy 51st Independence Day Samoa.
Ia manuia tele le Faamanatuina o le Aso Tuto’atasi o le Malo a Samoa
WRITER’S NOTE: I DID ATTEND LAST YEAR’S INDEPENDENCE CELEBRATIONS BUT DID NOT MARCH.