Lolo’s chief of staff speaks on homelessness and ‘the Samoan way’ at Flag Day

Photo Credit: 
Miulan Nihipali, The Picture Lady
Fiu Johnny Saelua, Chief of Staff for American Samoa Gov. Lolo M. Moliga

[Posted Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014]

(HONOLULU)--Sharing the words of American Samoa’s ailing Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga at Samoan Flag Day, his chief of staff Fiu Johnny Saelua addressed homelesness among Samoans in Hawai’i, challenging members to come together and find solutions that will help Samoans prosper in the Aloha State.

He said the governor, who was on O’ahu for several months to seek medical treatment, went on walks and on these walks saw with sadness – mothers, Samoan mothers who are homeless.

“And his heart cried,” said Fiu. “O fea le atunu’u? Sa le masani. There were never any Samoan homeless in Hawaii but it’s growing. What can you do? What can we do?”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Samoans make less money per year than any other ethnic group in Hawai’i. This has been the case for the past 40 years, according to University of Hawai’i Ethnic Studies Professor Dr. Jonathan Okamura. These facts were reported by the Samoa Observer in October 2013.

Around the late 1970s and 80s when studying for his master’s degree at the University of Hawai’i, Fiu said it was around that time if you ask a Samoan if they are Samoan, the first response you get is: “Why? Why? Why do you ask? I think you know the answer.”

Around that time, it was not popular and even discouraged for one to acknowledge their Samoan heritage.

“And it is the desire of the governor, the honorable Lolo Matalasi Moliga where we have more days like this where the mothers and the fathers, the mamas and the papas congregate to discuss issues of how can we solve some of the problems here so our people can live joyously and prosperous and fellowship as true Samoans…so we can teach our children the culture, the beauty of our culture, the language. That is the governor’s wish so we can help the ministers.”

Fiu said a few days before Flag Day, held Saturday, July 26, 2014, he stopped by a home in Salt Lake where he saw a big breadfruit tree.

“I stopped by there and I knocked on the door and humbly asked the man inside: ‘Can I give you $20 and get me two or three breadfruit?’” said the chief of staff. “He was talking to some lady, probably his mother.”

The woman said: “Fesili ai po’o se Samoa,” or, ask if he’s Samoan.

Fiu responded: “O a’u o le Samoa (I am a Samoan).”

The woman replied: “Fai i ai o a’u e alu taeao i Amelika, e leai se ulu e avatua.” (Tell him I go to America [the mainland] tomorrow, no breadfruit will be given to him.)

“Is that a Samoan way?,” Fiu asked the audience.

He said in Samoan living and life when one seeks to borrow salt from you, you give it happily and when one’s catch is bountiful, you share it.

“What happened?,” he asked. “It is up to you, it is up to us to answer those questions and find solutions.”

On behalf of Lolo, Fiu thanked Pastor Joe Hunkin, leader of Lighthouse Outreach Center in Waipahu, for the invitation to participate in “a monumental occasion,” Samoan Flag Day, the longest running public Samoan event in the state that drew hundreds of Samoan families to Ke’ehi Lagoon Park during the week.

The chief of staff extended “sincere apologies” to the gathering for Lolo’s absence at the event which is mirrored after the annual celebration held April in American Samoa. He said the governor had obligations and commitments that were set forth before the invitation to Flag Day had arrived.