OP-ED: Manu’a- Once a proud kingdom, today a dependency betrayed

Manu’a turned 108 years old as part of United States last week and her Flag Day was celebrated in a subdued manner as usual and rightly so. There have been no achievements for Manu’a worthy of a prideful celebration this year, like previous years.

Arguably the birth place of Samoa and Polynesia, the fiercest Tui Toga (King of Tonga), the mightiest Tui Fiti (King of Fiji), and the brave Kings of Samoa regularly visited Manu’a — the Motu Sa (sacred islands) — to pay their respects to the great Tui Manu’a. It took one of the world powers in 1904, with its steel-made war ship anchoring beyond the reef, to bring this once respected oceanic kingdom of 3000 years to an end.

In return for giving up his kingdom, Tui Manu’a Elisara, the last Tui, bargained for modern education and general welfare of the Manu’a people. I don’t think he would be a very happy Tui if he were alive today; in fact some heads would be rolling… literally.

The one thing Manu’a people want and need taken care of once and for all is a reliable means of transportation, both air and sea. Lack of transportation is the main reason people have migrated out of Manu’a and explains the lack of economic developmental activities in Manu’a.

 Alas it is one particular need the government of American Samoa appears incapable of meeting. Why?

Is it because Tutuila policymakers outnumber Manu’a policymakers therefore the needs of the more populous Tutuila are being met regularly at the expense of those of the Manu’a people? This question is a non-issue because: first, most if not all of ASG key political leaders of the past and today were or are from Manu’a or proudly trace their lineage to Manu’a; second, it’s a fair question to ask if the needs of the Tutuila people themselves are being met or not. Then why does the Manu’a transportation problem remain unresolved given that the Manu’a economic development and social fabric depend on it?

It cannot be lack of funding as there was funding for the Segaula airplane, the Foisia pleasure boat, the Matasaua long boat for American Samoa Flag Day races in Tutuila, and several other pleasure projects deemed anywhere else in the least developing world (of which American Samoa is a member whether she likes it or not) as non-essential. So how do you explain this long standing Man’ua transportation problem?

The words of a popular song — “out of sight, out of mind” — help shed some light on the problem. ASG political leaders and most if not all of those of Manu’a origin or significantly connected to Manu’a reside and raise their families in Tutuila; and only return or travel to Manu’a to attend family fa’alavelaves or on personal pilgrimage journeys to renew their “Manu’aness”. Despite the spoken loyalty to Manu’a by these leaders, it remains a verbal commitment because they don’t see nor feel the difficulties suffered by those who live in Manu’a on a daily basis.

Secondly, the Manu’a traditional leaders (Fa’atuis and To’oto’os) often engage in traditional politicking which result in some of them getting ousted from their respective villages. These conflicts tend to find their ways into territorial politics which influence what gets done or not done for Manu’a. 

Despite the above, the problem is simple and the solution is rather straight forward. As I see it, all it takes is full and earnest commitment from the governor, Fono leadership, Congressman, and Manu’a leaders to seek funding for a boat from the US government; then allow competent people who are knowledgeable about boats especially the types suitable for Manu’a waters and competent lawyers to negotiate purchase agreement contracts, so to avoid costly legal problems ASG has had with Marisco and MYD. 

There’s a popular argument that the territory’s limited resources are being utilized properly by spending them on Tutuila where most of the population resides and there has been a progressively significant out migration of people from Manu’a over time. 

This argument is lame for two reasons: first, the diminishing Manu’a population is due to the lack of reliable transportation, especially by sea. Get Manu’a a good boat and the people and economic activity will follow. Secondly, the treaty of cession signed between the Tui Manu’a and the United States of America obligating the new mother country to look after the best interest of Manu’a is binding, regardless of the population.

I recall attending a few Congressional committee hearings on American Samoa’s annual budget while attending school in DC from 1975 to 1978, by way of the late Malaetasi Togafau’s invitation (Malaetasi was AP Lutali’s legislative assistant when Lutali was the territory’s delegate-at-large to the US Congress).

In those days the Congress reviewed and approved the territory’s annual budgets if I’m not mistaken; thus the governor and Fono delegations made the annual DC trip to sell the territory’s budget, with the delegate’s office playing a supporting and lobbying role. 

In one of the hearings I attended, the funding of the bridge connecting Ofu and Olosega was discussed. The Fono delegation included the late Tuana’itau Tuia, Muasau So’oso’oalii Savali, Joseph Iuli, Auono Pili, Manaia Fruean (lone survivor of the group) among others. Tuana’itau was the leader of the Fono delegation and he went to bat for Manu’a with the most eloquence of speech (a trademark of his). 

If my memory serves me well, late Governor Coleman spoke on behalf of the administration and late Senator Alan Cranston of California who chaired the hearing asked why Manu’a needed a bridge when the people had and loved their canoes. Before Tuanai’tau or Coleman could respond, Joe Iuli in his trademark impetuous and casual manner retorted canoes were for fishing and racing only, which brought laughter and an end to the hearing. Manu’a got her bridge.

Yes, there was a time in our history when leaders were leaders; whether stately eloquent or island-casual, they made things happen for the people. 

The experience I shared above goes to show that if the needs of the people are presented to the US directly, things happen. In this vein, may I suggest to the people and leaders of Manu’a to start reviewing and discussing all options available to them in the treaty of cession their beloved and loving Tui Manu’a Elisara committed to for them.

If the American Samoa and Manu’a leadership — traditional and government — continue to be the thorn in the side of Manu’a, then the people of Manu’a, who are descendants of Tui-Manu’a and Tagaloa before them, should rise to the occasion and determine their own destiny.

Happy Flag Day Manu’a! Godspeed.


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