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Mormon elder denies banning Samoan language from services

The President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the Pacific, Elder James Hamula, says there is no truth in reports that the church has banned the Samoan language.

He has travelled to Apia to give the media that message.

But the lawyer representing a group of Samoan Mormons in Australia, who have lodged an appeal in the Federal Appeals Court, claims the church is preventing them from worshipping in Samoan.

Mary Baines reports:

A lawyer, Olinda Woodroffe, says Mr Hamula is misinformed if he thinks the Mormon church in Brisbane allows its members to use anything other than English during worship. She says a 2007 court decision proves that.

“OLINDA WOODROFFE: Is he not aware of the decision of the Federal Magistrate Courts in Australia where no-one of the Mormon church denied to the court that they stopped the people from continuing their worship in Samoan?”

Ms Woodroffe says the judge found members’ ability to worship in Samoan had been removed by the church, and doing so it did not undermine their human rights. She says a group of Samoans from five Mormon wards have lodged an appeal, based on an interpretation of the Australian Human Rights Act. She says members are being restricted from singing, praying and worshipping in Samoan inside the Mormon temple - but are permitted sometimes to speak it in other church areas.

“OLINDA WOODROFFE: In some circumstances, since the decision, some of the Mormon leaders have told some of the Samoans in very limited form You can have your Sunday school sometimes in Samoan. They never know one Sunday to another what they’re going to be told.”

Ms Woodroffe says she has gained the support of the Samoan prime minister, who is seeking advice from the Attorney General. The chairperson of the National Association of Samoan Language Teachers in New Zealand, Galumalemana Alfred Hunkin, says the ban is a form of neo-colonialism.

“GALUMALEMANA ALFRED HUNKIN: It’s saying that this the way the new order is going to happen. We’ve allowed you to use your language a wee bit, in time and space, but now we’ve decided that ’Hey, we’re going to control things again’. I think that’s going back to the old days of colonialism - ’Can’t be bothered. Let’s just make sure that this language of dominance continues to be strengthened and used by the church’.”

Galumalemana says language is an important factor in worship.

“GALUMALEMANA ALFRED HUNKIN: The church has ignored the most powerful factor that people like Samoans, whose first language is Samoan, can use to communicate with God. If that is the goal of the use of language, then why did they not think of the most powerful way for people like Samoa’s native speakers to communicate with the God they believe in.”

Galumalemana says such a ban makes younger generations of Samoans born outside of Samoa reject their native language. Our correspondent in Apia, Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia, was at Mr Hamula’s media conference. He says Mr Hamula was adamant there is no ban of Samoan or any other language.

“AUTAGAVAIA TIPI AUTAGAVAIA: The president was saying there is a group of Samoan people in this particular area of Brisbane, the Fijians members, and the Tongans. And they wanted to reorganise and bring this multicultural group of members of the church together and have their service in English. But the church always makes sure they have a translator who translates all the services into Samoan.”

Autagavaia says Mr Hamula would not discuss the pending legal proceeding. Mr Hamula was not available for further comment. The appeal case is expected to be heard in May 2014.



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