Fifty Years of Independence in Samoa

Posted by David Huebner
May 31, 2012
Marching Band Practices in Samoa

Tomorrow will be a great day. I am in Apia, and will be participating in celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the former Western Samoa's independence from foreign rule. I feel a particular connection to the event because New Zealand was Samoa's former administrator, and I am officially accredited to both nations.

Also, as an American, I have an affinity for independence days. Americans, like Samoans, instinctively understand the importance of empowering citizens to direct their own destiny, to speak freely, to assemble as they wish, and to pray to their Creator as they see fit, without government interference. Independence is not about nationalist rhetoric, it is about personal liberty.

The first of the island territories to regain independence after World War II, Western Samoa -- officially renamed in 1997 as the Independent State of Samoa -- has been a democratic stalwart and trailblazer in the Pacific region. The 50th anniversary is indeed a golden milestone, worthy of celebration. To support our good friends and commemorate the occasion in robust fashion, I have brought with me a U.S. Navy frigate, NOAA climate research vessel, Coast Guard C-130, military marching band, and African American step troupe. But I'll talk about all that in subsequent blog posts.

For now, though, on this special occasion I would like to focus on Samoan memories, feelings, and perspectives on what occurred here 50 years ago. I have thus invited a few of my good friends to share their thoughts. Rather than recap, I thought you might enjoy hearing from them directly in their own words, via videos that we shot (click on their names to view the videos on YouTube).

Back in 1962, Leasiolagi Malama Meleisea was a 14-year-old boy in his first year at Samoa College. He is currently a Lands and Titles Court Judge as well as an expert in Samoan history, language, and culture. He is the author of several history books including Lagaga: A Short History of Western Samoa, which is widely used in Samoan secondary schools. He also wrote The Making of Modern Samoa: Traditional Authority and Colonial Administration in the History of Western Samoa. Most recently he co-authored book about Samoa's struggle for independence that will be launched later this week.

Papali'i Doctor Viopapa Annandale Atherton was a young woman during the independence process. A retired medical doctor, she is now a strong advocate for women and children's rights and is at the forefront of the campaign to eliminate discrimination against women. She is known in Samoa for her work with the PanPacific and South East Asia Women's Association and other NGOs.

Va'asilifiti Moelagi Jackson was a Samoa College student when independence was achieved. She traveled from the big island of Savai'i to Apia to take part in the celebrations that year. A keen advocate for the rights of women and children, Va'asilifiti is now the Vice-President of the Samoa Umbrella for Non-Government Organizations (SUNGO), as well as a member of the Samoa Red Cross board.

Le Tagaloa Pita was actually in the United States as a sophomore at Drew University at the time of independence. Le Tagaloa is now a high chief from Gautavai and holds the paramount title of Le Tagaloa in Sili, Savaii. During a political career spanning more than 30 years, he was a Member of Parliament, founding member of the Human Rights Protection Party, and a Cabinet Minister with the portfolios of economic affairs and the post office. Prior to entering politics, Le Tagaloa was Acting Principal o the South Pacific Regional College of Tropical Agriculture.

The moving words of these four pillars of Samoan society -- Leasiolagi Malama Meleisea, Papali'i Doctor Viopapa Annandale Atherton, Va'asilifiti Moelagi Jackson, and Le Tagaloa Pita -- speak for themselves. I wish only to again congratulate all of my friends here on the special day tomorrow.

Malo le tau, malo le finau Samoa! Ia faatasi atu le Atua, a'o alo atu le atunuu ile fa'amanatuina o le 50 tausaga o le tuto'atasi.Charlina Tone from U.S. Embassy Samoa contributed to this entry. You can learn more about Samoa's 50th anniversary celebration by visiting the embassy's website and viewing photographs on the embassy's Flickr photostream.

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