Independent State of Samoa flag raised during ceremony in Hawai'i

Service and sacrifice of ‘Toa Samoa’ highlighted at Samoa flag raising

SAMOA HEAD OF STATE TUI ATUA SENDS LOVE AND PRAYERS TO ALL

by Tina Mata’afa-Tufele

Editor, tautalatala.com

(KALIHI, Hawai’i)—The service and sacrifice of our ‘Toa Samoa’ was highlighted when close to 200 members of the Samoan community in Hawai’i gathered for the Second Annual Independent State of Samoa Flag Raising Ceremony, Saturday, June 7, 2014 at Kuhio Park Terrace.

RAISING OF THE FLAGS

The flags of the United States of America and Hawai’i were raised alongside the Samoa flag by male members of Malofie Samoa Hawai’i, a Samoan cultural tattooing group where a traditional Samoan tattoo is required. The U.S. flag was raised by Matthew Fiatoa, a U.S. Postal Service employee; the Samoa flag raised by Ron Tominiko, a local fashion model, and the Hawai’i flag raised by Steven Price, an engineer for the U.S. Army at Fort Shafter. The event is hosted by Leo O Tumua Ma Pule, a community group that advocates for citizens of Samoa residing in Hawai’i, led by Ape Fuli Lei Poleki.

Papali’itele Jack Thompson, the Honorary Consul of Samoa in Hawai’i highlighted the service of our ‘Toa Samoa,’ sharing the inspirational story of Sualauvi Tuimaleali’ifano III, a Farrington High School graduate who was severely injured in Afghanistan in 2007, the ‘Toa Samoa’ featured often in the Honolulu Star Advertiser. Before doing so the Consul conveyed to all the well wishes of the Head of State of the Independent State of Samoa, His Royal Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi.

“I cannot think of a better way to start our special day of celebration of our independence and the raising of our Samoa flag then to lift up praise, glory and thanksgiving to our Heavenly Father for all the blessings that he continually showers upon all of us daily,” Papali’itele said after he welcomed everyone with Samoan salutations. He said the Head of State asked him to share a message with those attending the ceremony.

Tui Atua’s message reads: “Please extend to the organizers my warm greetings and best wishes. Please be assured of my love and prayers for all who will be attending the Independence celebration of our country there in Hawai’i. Alofa’aga (love).”

OUR ‘TOA SAMOA’

The Samoan people proudly and affectionately call our troops – ‘Toa Samoa’ – Samoa’s Brave.

“Many have sacrificed much so we may continue to enjoy living our lives freely in this great country of America,” said Papali’itele in his Samoan, English and Tokelauan language speech. “Some of our men were seriously wounded and returned home forever changed.”

Sualauvi, who has roots in Falelatai, Samoa, is “a true Samoan warrior…a hero, son of Samoa,” said Papali’itele. Sualauvi and his wife Shannon and Sualauvi’s parents, were invited by the Consul as special guests.

During deployment in early 2007, Sualauvi was with the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) – an elite special operations team based in Fort Bragg, N.C. – when he was thrown from his vehicle during a firefight and broke his neck. He was fighting with Green Berets at a location outside firebase Cobra in southern Afghanistan when the team was ambushed by Taliban fighters, according to a Honolulu Star Advertiser article published in 2009.

His injury was not immediately diagnosed and when he fell a second time, the damage was irreparable, said Papali’itele. Paralyzed from the neck down, Sulauvi’s injury required more than a year of recovery and rehabilitation at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Fla.

Shannon brought her husband home to an uncertain future in Hawai’i, the Consul noted.

It was difficult for Shannon to take care of her three young children while caring for her husband, who is now in a wheelchair, 24 hours a day. The family was faced with more trials than they could have imagined. It was their steadfast faith in God that kept them together.

Shannon reminded her husband why he signed up to go to war in Afghanistan. She created a poster with his photos on duty, hung the poster on the wall, wheeled her husband up to the poster and asked him to read it.

As the story is told by Papali’itele, Sualauvi stood up and read the poster: “Then said I, here I am Lord, send me.”

Service and sacrifice is a tradition among Samoans. American Samoa has the highest per capita death rate than any other U.S. state or territory. Samoans know all too well the heartbreaking and somber sounds of three rifle shots piercing the air, followed by the playing of ‘Taps’ as a Toa Samoa is buried at home in the village.

The following list of Samoan casualties of modern warfare known to date was compiled using two separate lists of names – one provided by Samoa News in American Samoa and another that appears on the Samoans in the U.S. Military Facebook fan page.

Seventeen Samoan soldiers were killed in Iraq, two women among the fallen Samoan heroes – U.S. Army Sgt. Tina Time and U.S. Army Sgt. Victoria Unutoa.

Samoans lost 15 men in Iraq: U.S. Army Spec. Farao Kevin Letufuga; U.S. Army Private Jonathan I. Falaniko; U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Salamo J. Tuialu’ulu’u; U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ioasa F. Tavae; U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Frank Tia’i; U.S. Army Master Sgt. Tulsa Tulaga Tuliau; U.S. Army Sgt. Jeffrey Sifoa Loa; U.S. Army Pvt. 1st Class David To’omalatai; U.S. Army Sgt. Nimo Tauala; U.S. Army Sgt. Raymond S. Seva’aetasi; U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Faoa Apineru; U.S. Army Spec. Avealalo Milo; U.S. Army Sgt. Lui Tumanuvao; U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Loleni Gandy and U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Max Galea’i, the first battalion commander killed in Operation Iraqi or Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), according to the military.

Five Samoan men were killed in Afghanistan: U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael T. Fuga; Pvt. 1st Class Timothy R. Vimoto; Pvt. Kirifi Mila (New Zealand Army); U.S. Army Sgt. Tofiga Tautolo and U.S. Army 1st Lt. Jason Togi.

U.S. Army Sgt. Litisone Aetonu served in the Korean War. Five fought and died in the Vietnam War: U.S. Army Sgt. Fuifuitaua Amisone; U.S. Marine Corps Pvt. 1st Class Willis B. Galu; U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Lokeni Fagatoele; Cpl. Levi L. Fatutoa and U.S. Army Spec. 4 Te’o F. Taulago.

In World War II, a Toa Samoa listed simply as “Vaimasima,” was killed, a Pharmacist Mate 2nd Class who served in the U.S. Navy.

The Samoans in the U.S. Military fan page states it was created “to assist all Samoan soldiers in their recruitment, enlistment and transition through and after the military.” Their hope is to unite all Samoans in the military “to ensure that we, as a united entity, can better serve our country.”

MESSAGE FROM THE SAMOA PRIME MINISTER

The happy sentiments of Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi were relayed from Apia, in a letter addressed to Leo O Tumua Ma Pule Leader Ape. The letter was read during the ceremony by Christian Va’a, admin to the Consul.

In his letter, drafted in the Samoan language, the prime minister asks for God’s blessings upon event organizers, the gathering and especially the families and children.

With extreme pride and gratitude, Tuilaepa thanked the community group for marking Samoa’s Independence Day in Hawai’i. While Samoa gained its independence from New Zealand Jan. 1, 1962, Independence Day is celebrated by the Samoa Government each year on June 1. Festivities celebrating 52 years of independence were held June 2 in Samoa.

The prime minister said he was grateful for all the positive efforts of Samoans living abroad who remember “our home.” He thanked the community group for the invitation extended to Samoa’s honorary consul, noting he is convinced Samoa’s name will be elevated in Hawai’i, as a result of the “good work” of Leo O Tumua Ma Pule.

The invocation was offered by Rev. Tine Tali Gafa, leader of the Ekalesia Fa’alapotopotoga Kerisiano i Samoa in Kalihi with hymns from the EFKS-Kalihi Choir. Performing arts groups were the EFKS-Kalihi Youth and the Kokua Kalihi Valley Senior Citizens Group led by Timena Brown. Malofie Samoa Hawai’i, founded by Tufuga Ta Tatau Samoa Su’a Sulu’ape Peter and Wadalife! Executive Producer Tracey Poleki Puaina, raised the flags and conducted an ‘ava ceremony to welcome dignitaries to the event.

The Star Spangled Banner was sung by the Samoan one-man band sensation Fa’afitauli Seiuli. Samoa Tula’i, and Hawai’i Ponoi, were performed by Waipahu vocalist Moana Achica Manuo Sulu’ape.

A moment of silence was held to honor the late Seumanutafa “Shadow” A’etonu, an original member of Leo O Tumua Mu Pule who helped to stage the first annual Samoa flag raising in Hawai’i June 1, 2013. His widow Sele A’etonu is still a member. The closing prayer was offered by Leo o Tumua ma Pule member Sele Limalelei Esau. Members are: Ape and his wife Mary Poleki Leali’ifano; Leafa Suliveta and Lufi Leafa Te’o; Sele Limalelei Esau and Lolita Sale; Fa’amausili Tau and Tina Galuvao.

In a statement, Leo O Tumua Pule thanked Tui Atua and Tuilaepa for their well wishes sent in messages for the people of Samoa in Hawai’i. They also thanked all the leaders, attendees, performers and volunteers who made the event possible. Lili’s BBQ provided assistance with food for attendees. Robert Faleafine and Pita Sala with KPT management assisted with the venue.

MESSAGE FROM THE U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE

In a May 30 press statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, on behalf of President Barack Obama and the people of America, congratulated Samoa on 52 years of independence.

"On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I would like to congratulate the people of the Independent State of Samoa as you celebrate the 52nd anniversary of your independence this June 1," Kerry said. "The United States and Samoa enjoy a warm friendship, strengthened by our cooperation in advancing our shared values and interests. We are working together to protect the environment and oceans, promote sustainable economic development, strengthen democratic institutions, combat the effects of climate change, and reinforce the rule of law in the Pacific region."

The U.S. "looks forward to further deepening our partnership with Samoa,” Kerry said, and wished “all Samoans around the world a joyous celebration and peace and prosperity over the coming year."

SAMOAN HISTORY

The Samoan islands lie 2,500 miles south of Hawai’i. The Samoan archipelago was split into two groups by 1900 – Germany taking the western group (New Zealand took control of Samoa in 1925) and the United States taking the eastern group now the unincorporated U.S. Territory of American Samoa.

Samoa’s non-violent struggle for independence from colonial rule is known as the Mau a Tumua ma Pule Movement, or simply, the Mau Movement. Its leader Tupua Tamasese Lealofi was shot by New Zealand police as he led a peaceful demonstration in downtown Apia, Samoa’s capital, Dec. 28, 1929. A leader of the demonstration resisted police arrest, a struggle between the police and the Mau demonstrators ensued, and the officers fired randomly into the crowd. The police used a mounted Lewis machine gun designed to disperse the demonstrators and Tupua was shot from behind and killed. Eleven including Tupua were shot, and about 50 were injured by gunshots and police batons. That day is called Black Saturday in Samoan history.

In his dying words, Tupua said peace must be maintained at any price.

“My blood has been spilt for Samoa. I am proud to give it. Do not dream of avenging it, as it was spilt in peace," he said. "If I die, peace must be maintained at any price.”

The Samoan community in Hawai’i holds two different flag raising ceremonies that reflect this political division among a people who share one language, culture and family ties – there is one flag raising ceremony for Samoa and another for American Samoa.

Atoa-O-Ali’I, a local council of orators and chiefs, will raise the flags of the U.S. and American Samoa during a weeklong celebration July 20-26 at Ke’ehi Lagoon Park. The American Samoa Government (ASG) marks the raising of the U.S. flag on Tutuila, the main island, April 17, 1900 with “Flag Day” festivities. It’s been 114 years since the U.S. raised its flag on Tutuila. A Manu’a Flag Day is celebrated separately by ASG – as the Manu’a Islands (Ta’u, Fitiuta, Faleasao, Ofu and Olosega), the easternmost group in the Samoan archipelago which were ceded to the U.S. separately July 16, 1904. Manu’a has been part of the territory for 110 years. Swains Island joined the territory in 1925 by an Act of the Congress. Authority of American Samoa lies with the U.S. Department of Interior.

Of the more than 184,000 people living in the U.S. in 2010 who considered themselves Samoan or a combination of Samoan and another race (or races), the majority of them reside in Hawai’i and California, Samoa News, American Samoa’s major newspaper reported in 2012. The report was based on summary data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on the 2010 census for Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander (NHPI). Samoans comprise the second largest Pacific Islander group in the country, after Native Hawaiians.

Hawai’i has the largest Samoan, or part-Samoan population in the U.S., more than 37,000, according to the U.S. Census. Samoans comprise the eighth largest ethnic group in the Aloha State.

Papali’itele, also known as Tihati, owner of Tihati Productions, a local Polynesian entertainment company of 800 plus employees, was installed as Samoa’s Honorary Consul November 2013. His appointment had to meet with approval from the State Department. The post was filled almost 11 years after it was left vacant by the death of Pastor Fitu Tafaoa, Sr. in March 2003. Pastor Tafaoa was leader of the Free Will Baptist Church in Waipahu and a U.S. Marine Corps retiree; he also served as honorary consul for Tonga, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Independent Samoa is preparing to host the United Nations Third International Conference on Small Islands and Developing States (SIDS) Sept. 1-4 in Apia, Samoa’s capital. It is international recognition for Samoa that “tells us that the world has confidence in our good sense and judgment,” Tui Atua states in his June 2 English language speech.

Twenty-two nations – Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Cook Islands, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Kiribati, Maldives, Mauritius, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Singapore, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Tuvalu, Samoa and the United States – are participating.

“Whenever Samoa achieves global recognition as a nation, people or government, we are reminded of our forebears’ struggle for Independence. We remember the taunts and condescension of disbelievers and doubters,” he said. “We hear them say: ‘Samoa is small; Samoa is poor; Samoa does not have the necessary cadre of leaders.’ But we have come a long way. Today and each year we celebrate independence with pride and confidence.”

Click here to learn more about Samoa and its fight for independence: www.samoaobserver.ws

Click here to learn more about our Samoan troops: www.samoanews.com

Click here to see the Samoa Head of State Tui Atua Tamasese Efi’s Independence Day speeches (in Samoan and English) delivered June 2, 2014 in Samoa: www.headofstate.ws

For photos from the Samoa flag raising in Hawai’i, LIKE The Picture Lady on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ThePictureLady.Hawaii

Photos from the Samoa flag raising in Hawai’i can also be found in our Photo Gallery.

Reach the reporter at tinamataafa@gmail.com

Photo Credit: 
The Picture Lady Miulan Nihipali and Tina Mata'afa-Tufele
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