(TI'AFAU, SAMOA)--There is a Samoan saying, “E sili le toa e pulea lona loto i le toa e a’ea le ‘olo”. This means: “He who conquers his impulses is greater than he who conquers the fortress”. This Samoan saying provides the theme for my Independence address this year.
Independence is a goal that demands the ability to conquer one’s impulses. It includes ensuring that despite our personal biases that in our teachings of Samoan Independence history that we make visible, audible, memorable and sensible all that motivated, shaped, defined and enabled the Independence we enjoy today.
Recently I listened to an audio-recording of a public lecture given by Toeolesulusulu Damon Salesa at the Turnbull Library in Wellington. He spoke on the First World War and the Pacific. He explained that histories of the First World War typically suggest that it was a European war. When one reads the archives carefully, however, one finds, he argues, that the Pacific, including Samoa, was a central part of the First World War. Indeed New Zealand took over colonial administration of Samoa from Germany because of the First World War. Much of the Pacific’s involvement in the First World War is not told in First World War history, at least until now. The obvious question is, why?
I was relieved and encouraged by Damon’s scholarship; by his emphasis and orientation. Why do we as Samoans sing in praise of Roggeveen and his landing in Manu’a in 1722 and not about Lata and his voyages across the Pacific, from Samoa to Tahiti? Why is it that our children do not know of Lata of Sala’ilua and of his role in the great Polynesian migration story? The most compelling question that Damon’s work gives rise to is, how is it that we come to tell and remember some histories and not others?
Today we celebrate history. We celebrate all those events and all those people whose thoughts and actions brought us to this moment; to this time of celebration and remembrance. Today we celebrate our history, our Samoan history, the history of our forebears, in particular their stories of conquering the odds and protecting our lands and heritage. Today we make our stories visible, audible, memorable and sensible in the context of the history of the world and of our region.
I attended last month the funeral of one of our Maori fanauga, the former chairperson of the Maori Language Commission and a highly respected Maori elder, Erima Henare. Erima remembered our shared history as kin. I can still see him and hear his resonant voice and powerful articulation as he claimed with aplomb that Maori had migrated to Aotearoa, New Zealand, from Manono, Samoa. He proudly made this claim in Wellington in November last year in front of a room full of Maori dignitaries, diplomatic and government representatives, university staff and students, and the Wellington Samoan community. This took great courage and conviction for someone of Erima’s status to say.
It is this same conviction that drives historians such as Toeolesulusulu Damon Salesa to re-examine and make visible for contemporary and future imaginations histories that have been marginalised by overpowering discourses and storytellers.
Standing by such conviction takes courage. Persuading others of the merit of that conviction takes discipline, patience and talent. When we lose or have ill-informed convictions we lose the ability to know ourselves well; we lose the ability to find our proper bearings; and we lose the ability to know why and what we should fight for. In these moments of ill-discipline and indecision we become vulnerable to the irrationalities and biases of our impulses.
Today as we celebrate our Independence we take pause to remember what it meant for our forebears then and what it means for us now. We take pause to reflect on who we remember, on what we remember, and why. And we take pause to consider that there is in the bosom of our Samoan references a message about conviction that is worth fighting for.
The Samoan saying “E sili le toa e pulea lona loto i le toa e a’ea le ‘olo” – “He who conquers his impulses is greater than he who conquers the fortress” is a reminder of our need as humans for conviction and courage. It is also a reminder to ourselves as Samoans of the need to remember our own references. It is a reference that draws from the same well of wisdom that inspired the proverbs made famous by Buddha and Sir Edmund Hillary: “To conquer oneself is a greater task than conquering others” and “It is not the mountain we must conquer but ourselves”.
To celebrate Independence is thus to celebrate our ability to know ourselves and our history, in all its fullness and colour.
I wish you all a blessed Independence Day.
(Source: Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi Efi, Head of State of Samoa, Independence Day Speech, June 1, 2015 www.headoftstate.ws)