ENI TO ASCC: ATAMAI, TŌFĀ MAMAO, FA’AUTAGA LOLO — BEST OF OUR CULTURE
“If there is anything I would like to emphasize to our graduates today, it is the fact that atamai, tōfā mamao and fa’autaga loloto represent the best of our Samoan culture,” said Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin, to the 120 American Samoa Community College graduates. He was the main speaker at the 85th Commencement Ceremony, held last Friday, at the ASCC gymnasium.
Reverend Atina’e Sheck conducted the invocation for the ceremony, with hymns sung by the ASCC Glee Club.
Faleomavaega in his keynote speech noted the ASCC’s some 43 years search for knowledge — “Sai’ili le Atamai” and the difficulty in pinning down the precise meaning of ‘atamai’ or ‘poto’ in English. He said there is that instinctive void that’s undefined that only Samoans can fully understand and appreciate their innate difference. That’s what I love the most about this special event — it is not only a celebration of academic achievements, not only in high school and now in higher education in college and university levels.”
“However, an old Samoan elder once told me, ‘Eni, you can be atamai but still be stupid.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ The elder said, ‘Yes, you may be smart and atamai with all your degrees, but in our Samoan culture, if you do not include the two most important character traits of our culture which are — tōfā mamao and fa’autuga loloto, your atamai or poto becomes hollow and without meaning or substance. In fact, you are no longer poto, but you’ve become a fia poto.”
“The person who truly personifies the highest level of tofa mamao are our tamaliis or high chiefs. When a tamalii is said to have tōfā mamao — it means he is a man of vision — a leader who can see what is beyond the horizon or that mountain — a leader who is honest, and when he speaks he commands the respect of his peers and members of his community.”
Faleomavaega spoke of Margaret Mead, the world famous anthropologist who published the book “Coming of Age in Samoa.” In it, he said, Mead stated she wanted to go to the most “primitive” island in Samoa to conduct her six-month study, and received the so-called best available data by interviewing several 12 and 13 year-old Samoan girls about community social behavior and this study later became her Master’s degree thesis, which later transformed into this book which became the most authoritative single source of information to the world concerning our people and our culture, suggesting that Samoans are without morals; and are highly promiscuous and full of mischief.
“In other words my young friends it is bad enough to be immoral, but to imply or suggest that our people are amoral, that in my opinion is most disgusting and a total insult to our people and to our culture.
“And by the way, the most “primitive” island described in Mead’s book happens to be one of the most sacred among our Samoan people, the “Motu Sa” or Manu’a!”
The congressman stated: this goes to show “that we cannot let outsiders define us.”
He then said, “Graduates, I submit to you today that the time has come whereby we need to better prepare ourselves, and become responsible citizens and leaders of our community. As we say in Samoan, “Ia tagi lava le Samoa I ona lava lima; the “return” has happened in case you missed it, and our forefathers, who had the foresight, wisdom and courage to start it for us, have rested in the cool shade of the forest, awaiting our turn to return and guide our people on its path for the better future.”
Faleomavaega spoke of his own return to American Samoa after years of being off-island, which included college studies, joining the Army, serving in Vietnam, and later for 6 years as a staff lawyer on Congressional committees in Washington D.C. He said, “life was good, and returning to Samoa was the last thing on my mind.”
“Then I met my father’s relative, the late Paramount Chief Letuli Toloa came to Washington D.C. as President of the American Samoa Senate, and he did not mince his words to me: “Eni, fo’i mai i Samoa. Sau se’i e ‘ai i le pefu ma e savali i le ma’ama’a, ona e iloa ai lea o le tulaga pagatia o lo’o feagai ma lou atunu’u.”
“To make a long story short, I’ve been here since then… and that was about 32 years ago. The amazing thing about it is that I never regretted the moment I decided to make the return. The late Paramount Chief Letuli’s counsel reminds me that none of us is here by chance. Our lives are by design and our purpose is to serve. The powerful Samoan proverb of: ‘E lele lava le toloa ae ma’au i le vaivai’ is proof of coming home at the right time for the right reason. It is a built-in clockwork Samoans believe is found only in themselves when they feel it is time to come back home,” he said.
Faleomavaega said, “When you come back and you will come back … your additional college education or acquired technical skills, will make all the difference to your decision making abilities. They are the best of both worlds at your disposal and with the challenges ahead of you the choices and opportunities will be tremendous!”
The Congressman also briefly spoke on the enormity of the task ahead of the graduates, including some of the issues that currently are at a critical point.
“I have always insisted in the years past that we must decide on the form of government we should have for American Samoa. We cannot continue forever as an un-organized, un-incorporated territory of the United States. It has become an archaic document in my opinion that is binding some of the most critical issues vital to our development from moving forward to meet the fast changing times.
“Then there are issues pertaining to our economic development, immigration reform, citizenship, land and titles system, our election laws, our health care system; of course our education system, just to name a few.
“The other most important issue is our relationship with the federal government. While it is always good to have the federal government help us and work for and with us, we must always be mindful and vigilant to protect matters that pertain to our basic rights as a people with a distinct and unique culture and traditions.
“My word to you now is — get out! Go away from Samoa. Get your degrees, your experiences, and your military careers. Then come back. Don’t forget to come back,” he said.
The Congressman had on the podium with him, the ma’afala breadfruit and the soa’a banana and offered a challenge to the graduates.
“Dr. Diane Ragone, Director of the Breadfruit Institute studied over 100 breadfruit varieties,” he said, “she is known for her extensive fieldwork and in establishing the largest collection of breadfruits.”
Faleomavaega said, “I am looking for a scientist who can find ways to develop the ma’afala. This can be a great source of income and an economic benefit. The same is true for the soa’a banana; it is very healthy for consumption. I predict if we ever develop and grow this banana on a commercial level, maybe convert it as a baby food item, we will not be able to provide enough of it to meet the demands of our consumers. The soa’a banana can also be beneficial to our economy.”
Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga also spoke and congratulated the students on their achievements.
This spring’s Graduation there was only one Summa Cum Laude with GPA of 3.90-4.00 — Marymargretrose Cheung-Fuk who received her AA in Liberal Arts.
The students named Magna Cum Laude with GPA of 3.75-3.89 who are;
Grace Lanu Felise, Tae Il Kim, Fiaai Robert Moliga, Tala Ropati Ropeti Leo, Darrell G Brandt and Jan JM Velghe
Those who were named Cum Laude with GPA of 3.50-3.74 are:
Angela Alvear Amata, Randall Paul Fitisone, Ulysses S Hopkinson, Pearl Faimafili Sheck, Chastity Leaso Tuiolosega, Magic Soli Auemoelogo, Amber Bernadette Fuaga, Valentine Vaeoso, Tafifua Lemautu, Iupesiliva Hine Pei and Leo Jr Setu.
(Online version shows correction to names of Magna Cum Laude and Cum Laude graduates.)