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Samoa’s resilience a feature of last 60 years of Independence

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

John Utanga | (News Editor) Producer

Mangere’s Malae O Samoa was the venue for a special community event on Wednesday to celebrate 60 years of independence in Samoa.

Local MP and Pacific People’s Minister Aupito William Sio, on hand to pay tribute to his homeland and acknowledge the journey many Samoans have made to settle in New Zealand. It’s a link, he says, that  makes the community stronger.

“I think this is a day for us to reflect on that journey, to reflect on that sacrifice but also to look to the future and acknowledge what are the values that we take with us; the values of alofa, the values of Osi aiga, the values of tausi-matua, all of those values are really important because  that’s what is unique about Samoa and Aotearoa,” Aupito says.

For Samoans here who’ve been watching with interest the progress of their homeland, it’s a good time to assess how far the country has come. Among those observers is Auckland University of Technology lecturer, Lefaoali’i Dr Dion Enari.

“I would characterise Samoa’s growth over the past 60 years as one of resilience. We came through the tsunami; as a nation we came through the measles epidemic and through Covid as well,” he says.

A special flag raising ceremony was held at the Fale O Samoa to commemorate Samoa’s 60 years of independence.

As well as acknowledging significant changes in Samoa like the moving of the international dateline and changing the side of the road vehicles travel on, Lefaoali’i says seeing how much more connected Samoans are with the rest of the world, has also been a game-changer.

“Once upon a time we used to cry like someone was dying when we would farewell them from Auckland airport, when they were going to Apia,” he says.

“Now, we’re more connected than ever before, you know; communicating through Facebook messenger, Instagram.

“Just seeing how much influence from the outside world has come to Samoa and also how much Samoa has influenced the outside world as well, has been really interesting.” 

When Samoa became independent in 1962, it enjoyed a relatively peaceful transition and several decades of stable politics. But this all came undone last year when the new “Fast” party became government after a succession of court cases which put the country’s constitution under the microscope.

Auckland university law lecturer Fuimaono Dylan Asafo took a keen interest in proceedings.

When the new F.A.S.T. party became government after a succession of court cases, it put the country’s constitution under the microscope.

“It’s not easy having conflict and division, especially on that nation-wide and diasporic level but I think even though the crisis was damaging and hard for relationships that those sorts of crises actually help to strengthen legal systems and to refine democracies.” 

Asafo says, among the lessons learned from last year was the need for transparent law-making  especially when it comes to the constitution but he also says, Samoa needs to better understand how its modern laws and customs can co-exist.

“I think on a deeper level probably one of the biggest lessons will be to understand that western legal concepts like the rule of law can only take Samoa so far,” Fuimaono says.

“It’s only so powerful because we do have Fa’a Samoa, we do have indigenous customs and knowledge which do play a really important role and, unfortunately, what we saw in Samoa was a conflict between these two different legal systems that co-exist within Samoa.” 

In the meantime Samoa’s government continues to forge ahead. The current concerns about China in the region, sparking a renewed look at international relations. 

As a member of the  New Zealand government, it’s a relationship minister Aupito William Sio knows only too well.

In the meantime, Samoa’s government continues to forge ahead. The current concerns about China in the region, sparking a renewed look at international relations.

“It’s a strong relationship founded on the treaty of friendship and we have shared heritage with family in many ways,” he says.

“But it’s a relationship also of two sovereign nations, separate and distinct, and so from time to time, there’s always tension but, you know, as we grow up and  better understand each other’s aspirations, we have collective aspirations.”

For Samoans here, there’s always hope for the future and even a role to play back in the homeland. Lefaoali’i says he’d like to see more of his people return to contribute to the country. 

“I believe they have a lot to offer the country and I also believe the country has a lot to offer back to them and teach them as well, in terms of anchoring their place and where they belong in the world.”

Fuimaono says: “My hope for Samoa is the same for all Samoans everywhere, that Samoa’s able to overcome challenges when it comes to poverty, when it comes to inequality, when it comes to climate change and obtaining economic independence from foreign aid. 

“Samoa mo Samoa, which I think is the vision that our forebears had.”

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