As the Samoan flag was roundly raised, I looked out over the malae at Mulinu’u in Apia, thinking this is truly a place of memories.
Here, on January the 1st, 1962, the Samoan flag was raised and a new independent nation was born.
Then New Zealand’s PM Keith Holyoake looked on with the Samoan PM, Fiame Mataafa Faumina Mulinuu II, as the symbol of nationhood slowly rose up the flagpole.
A day of symbolism and memories
At midnight on the night before, bells and ‘lali’ drums had rung out all over Samoa to announce the long fought for day had finally arrived. And a rain-swept Apia gathered for the historic moment.
At Mulinu’u, and only Mulinu’u, the clouds parted and the malae was bathed in sunlight! There couldn’t have been a stronger sign or symbol of this historic moment.
Samoan memories of all this are still strong. It was achieved with dignity and peace against sometimes provocative and clumsy colonialism in the early days by New Zealand, acting as master on behalf of its own colonial master, Britain, and the League of Nations.
My memories are of celebrations and especially the 10th Anniversary when we made a film about them.
The film – titled Samoa i Sisifo (Western Samoa) –– surveyed the 10 years since Independence, with a newly-confident Samoa reaching high. It is a trajectory that has continued.
As I looked toward the malae I had memories of my brother Roger leaving the home of his sister in Paraparaumu, on the Kāpiti Coast, as NZ’s first Volunteer Service Abroad teacher in Samoa.
He went to a remote school, Vaipouli, in Savaii – the ‘Big Island’ as they call it in Samoa. He helped satisfy the Samoans’ insatiable quest for education –- they know that it’s the key to everything.
Roger’s VSA stint was characterised by his affection for the Samoans and they returned the tribute. He was culturally enriched by his VSA role – but perhaps he got more than he gave in every way.
This year on the 50th the most powerful feeling for me came from the people in the parade.
None more so than those in wheelchairs and other handicapped people. They led the parade. They were a metaphor for all Samoa on this day… the vulnerable and the defenceless had risen above their imposed disabilities.
I saw Fiame Mataafa , daughter of the first PM of Samoa and wondered what her memories must be. Now, the longest-serving Cabinet Member in the Samoan Government she was the co-chair for the celebration organisation.
The organisers put together a dazzling array of pure Samoan culture, of memories, of sophisticated entertainment — and of pure fun too.
I thought of the memories of Fiame’s urbane and charismatic father as he led the nation to Independence. He went to the United Nations just before the big day and gave a typically poetic Samoan address.
I quote his memorable words to the United Nations General Assembly:
“We believe that a future should grow out of the past. … A slow-growing tree which has thrust its roots deep into the soil is better able to withstand a hurricane than one with shallow roots which has grown more quickly. Similarly, our new State, rooted deep in our custom, slowly growing and developing in response to changing circumstances, should be able to withstand the pressures and problems of the modern world.”