(WAIPAHU--GOOD FRIDAY, MARCH 25, 2016)--Dancing to the distinct sounds of Samoa, an older version of the Tamasese tune that tells of Samoa's historic Black Saturday, 18-year-old Natalie Oloa beat the competition to earn a place of honor among Kahuku High School's student body.
She will represent the Red Raiders as their Taupou at the We Are Samoa High School Cultural Arts Festival happening May at the Polynesian Cultural Center in La'ie.
Natalie's story is one of persistence and dedication. She competed for the title every year in high school. On her fourth attempt, in her senior year, she got it.
"I'm just so glad it's finally over," the Samoan-Filipino beauty said happily after performing her victory siva at the Kahuku school gym Saturday, March 19.
Three girls vied for Taupou: Natalie, Tulima Malufau and Keleane Tapusoa.
SAMOANS IN HAWAI'I
The winner, nickname "Nati", comes from a dancing family. She is the youngest child of Isitolo and Evelyn Oloa of Waialua, a husband and wife Polynesian entertainment team that owns and operates the Mauga Mu Siva Afi (Fireknife Dance) Club and Kalena's Polynesian Ohana. Both groups are very active at events hosted by the Samoan community in Hawai'i. Her family also hosts the Vai Tupuna Samoan and Tahitian Dance Competition in Waialua.
Her long and hard-fought battle for Taupou at Kahuku is a stark contrast from the unopposed title she gleaned at the Loto Tasi "Aso o Tupulaga" Youth Festival held September 2015 at Ke'ehi Lagoon Beach Park. She is Miss Loto Tasi crowned during the weeklong event that celebrates the youth of Samoa in Hawai'i.
The Loto Tasi event is hosted by entertainer and author Pulefano Galea'i, a native of Aua, American Samoa and resident of La'ie, a pre-dominantly Mormon town on O'ahu's North Shore. La'ie, adjacent Kahuku, is an important place in contemporary Samoan history. It is where the first group of Samoans who migrated to Hawai'i settled, according to numbers compiled by the Hawai'i State Public Library. Those Samoans were Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The Hawai'i library system places the earliest Samoans in the state in the year 1925. Whether Samoans settled in Hawai'i before 1925 -- or not -- is still a topic of contentious debate among book writers, academicians and historians across the region and the world.
WE ARE SAMOA
So what is "We Are Samoa"? It is an event founded at Paradise Cove on the Leeward coast of O'ahu by the late Kumu Hula O'Brian Ta'avili Eselu. Since its inception in the 1990s and its relocation to PCC on the North Shore, the event has grown tremendously, part of a week that celebrates the performing arts of Samoa at PCC. It was his love for the Samoan youth that drove Eselu to found "We Are Samoa."
As this is being written, hundreds of students across the state are preparing for the We Are Samoa Festival, hosting siva fundraisers to pay for uniforms, costumes, travel and other costs associated with the annual event. For Samoan youth in Hawai'i, it is the highlight of the year, a time when high schoolers celebrate their Samoan culture through siva (the Samoan art of dance), lauga (oratory) and essential village skills like coconut husking, basket weaving and firemaking.
Family, friends and veterans of Hawai'i's Polynesian entertainment world -- a big community that plays a key role in the state's worldwide identity as a prime tourist destination -- converge at PCC to support the children.
Natalie's role in the event is not one that can be downplayed. It's huge. As the American dance movie exclaims, she'll have to "bring it." The Taupou, commonly documented by western scholars as the "village princess" in a Samoan village, is the girl who is tasked with the responsibility of punctuating the group performance for her school. She closes the show.
Nati's not just dancing for any school. She's representing the proud Red Raiders alma mater that molds dancers who entertain and have entertained droves of Hawai'i visitors for several generations. It is the same school that breeds state football champions.
Dancing is Natalie's passion. In her list of hobbies submitted to contest organizers, dancing is all you'll find: Siva Samoa, Siva Afi and Kapa Haka.
For the March 19 contest she wore an outfit made of ie toga (fine mats). The bodice was dyed red to represent the blood of Tamasese that was spilt in peace for Samoa. On her head Nati wore the traditional Samoan headdress made by Faletuiga's Maleko Magallanes. The malu she wears (the work of Tufuga Ta Tatau Samoa Su'a Sulu'ape Peter) and the music that guided her graceful siva, most definitely sealed it.
Her song was an excellent choice, a slow-tempoed "Tamasese," a well-known track that shares, among other historical facts, a defining moment in Samoan history -- Black Saturday, Dec. 28, 1929. It talks of the gatlin gun used by New Zealand police to shoot into a crowd of Samoans who were quietly protesting a tyrannical New Zealand.
It talks about the Mau Movement, Le Mau A Pule. While the Mau was being led down Beach Road in Apia, police fired the gatlin gun killing a group of Samoans including the Mau's leader -- Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III. At the time, Samoa was under the political control of New Zealand. Samoans would fight for their freedom, eventually becoming the first Pacific Island nation to wrest its political independence from colonial rule. This year the Independent State of Samoa will celebrate 54 years of sovereignty. It is marked annually on Jun. 1.
The song, shared by The Tuis on YouTube, also laments New Zealand's denial of shooting and killing Tupua and members of the Mau. It reminds that children bore witness to the event. Even as Tupua lay dying, he insisted that Samoa preserve the peace. On Wikipedia.com, Tupua is quoted: "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. If I die, peace must be maintained at any price."
Nati's dance instructor for the Taualuga contest was her sister-in-law Lagi Oloa. Nati's sisters Charlene and Salamsina Oloa dressed her for the competition. The winning Taupou's older brother, Mikaele Oloa, a World Siva Afi Champion, was one of four soga'imiti who were part of Nati's presentation.
Judges for the event were: Halona S. Wily, Kosena Fonoimoana, Tui Pule, Lewis Wolman and Moana Achica Manuo Sulu'ape.
"She was the best out of all three girls," Sulu'ape remarked.
After high school, Natalie will seek a degree at Windward Community College. She plans to major in Business Management with a minor in Physical Health. For now, she and Taupou representing their respective schools are gearing up for We Are Samoa. Schools represented in past We Are Samoa events include: Kamehameha Schools, Farrington, Radford, Waipahu, Kailua, Wai'anae, Pearl City and Nanakuli.
The influence We Are Samoa has on its participants is long lasting. Stories of the event relayed from a mother who danced as Taupou for Waipahu -- to her football player son, resulted in the founding of a similar event in 2015 by the Pacific Club at Mount Rainier High School in Washington state. Many participants refer to the Mt. Rainier event simply as "We Are Samoa."
The Aloha State's We Are Samoa festival, which flies the flags of both the Independent State of Samoa and American Samoa, takes place in May.
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