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.

In closing his speech, Fiu said Lolo wishes for more days like this, for Samoans, to come together and discuss ways to ensure prosperity and harmony among Hawai’i’s Samoan community.

“I just want to relay a sincere thank you from the Honorable Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga and First Lady Cynthia Malala Moliga for all the support, your prayers, your gifts while he was here to seek medical attention,” said Fiu.

While in Washington D.C. for meetings mid-February, Lolo fell ill and was hospitalized, the media in American Samoa reported. He spent roughly seven months away from the U.S. territory for medical treatment. First he was hospitalized at George Washington University Hospital in D.C. then admitted to Straub in Honolulu in mid-March. He returned to American Samoa early this month.

Fiu told attendees to visit the local American Samoa Government Office under the directorship of Afimutasi Gus Hannemann, where the door is open every day. He invited Samoans to visit or call the office for help from the governor and the ASG.

“[S]o once again… if I ask you, your son or your daughter if you are Samoan – they can raise their head up high and they can say ‘I am proud to say I am a Samoan’,” he said.
In response to a tautalatala.com inquiry, Fiu said he was able to find someone who shared their breadfruit with him and that it was thoroughly enjoyed by Gov. Lolo Moliga. He said the governor was “very happy” to have his breadfruit.

From Sunday, July 20 to Saturday July 26, the Samoan community celebrated the raising of the U.S. flag on Tutuila, the main island of American Samoa, during the 49th Annual Samoan Flag Day Commemoration in Hawai’i. This year marked 114 years since the U.S. Flag was raised in American Samoa.

Event host is the Atoa-O-Ali’i, a council of Samoan orators and chiefs in Hawai’i, under the leadership of Atoa-O-Ali’i President High Chief Alo Lupeomatasila F. A. Williams. Pulefano Galea’i. Flag Day committee chair, told tautalatala.com he was hired by Atoa-O-Ali’i to chair the committee.

A gift of $5,000 from ASG, was presented to Alo.

The flags of the United States, the Independent State of Samoa, American Samoa and Hawai’i were raised, respectively, by four of the six new U.S. Army recruits who took the Oath of Enlistment at Flag Day. Two of the six new recruits were born in independent Samoa and one of the recruits is of Tongan heritage. A special 21-gun salute, employing cannons, was rendered in honor of our Toa O Samoa, our Samoans troops in the military.

Check back with us for our military story and more from Flag Day.

Reach the writer at tinamataafa@gmail.com