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Samoa Head of State hosts ASCC-SAFF during cultural visit

More than 30 members of the Student Association for Faasamoa (SAFF) at the American Samoa Community College returned earlier this month from a cultural excursion to the Independent State of Samoa, which included among many highlights a personal visit with Samoa’s Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese.


The visit, which also included stopovers at the National University of Samoa and the Mapuifagalele home for the elderly and climaxed with the SAFF participating in Samoa’s Independence Day parade, provided the students with an immersion in Samoan culture as practiced by our independent neighbors.


SSI Director Okenaisa Fauolo-Manila explained that one goal of the Samoa visit was to give the SAFF students the opportunity to contrast the practice of the faasamoa here in the Territory with its practice in the Independent State. To provide the students, seven of whom had never before visited Upolu, with a glimpse into the lifestyle of Samoa’s past, the group spent the first night of the trip at the beach fales in Taufua at Lalomanu.


Plans for a day of relaxation changed spontaneously when a contingent representing the Samoa Cancer Society unexpectedly arrived at the beach resort by bicycle. Upon learning that the Cancer Society group was holding a bike-a-thon around the full length of Upolu, Fauolo-Manila and the SAFF organized an impromptu performance for the other guests at Taufua and raised $300 WST in donations, which they in turn passed on to the bike-a-thon participants.


The SAFF performed again the following day during a visit to the home for the care of the elderly at Mapuifagalele. Both the students and their advisors described their time at Mapuifagalele, Samoa’s counterpart to Tutuila’s Hope House, as a highly emotional experience.


“The home invoked deeply rooted emotions, especially for those of us who may have been very close to our grandparents or elderly parents,” said SSI instructor Sia Achica. “The residents expressed gratitude for our visit, which moved some of them to tears and some of us too. They loved the students’ entertainment, which I think sparked some nostalgic reminiscing for many of them.”


Their highly anticipated meeting with Samoa’s Head of State Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese took place on their third day in Upolu, and they enjoyed the honor of being hosted not at his official government residence, but at his home in the village of Tuaefu. “He received us as a father would receive his esteemed children,” reflected Achica, “and even mentioned that he preferred we think of him as a father to us.”


Following a performance and presentation of gifts, the SAFF joined His Highness for a meal, after which he shared with them at length his views on the Samoan language in a modern context. “In this humble manner, he shared his insight on some factors affecting the Samoan language presently,” said Achica.


“He discussed how modern linguistic adaptations to the written Samoan language, primarily the usage of diacritics, have largely strained the language’s original form. His views on the rising use of the linguistic marks is that they are unnecessary and are a distraction.”


Achica clarified that the use of diacritical marks for the benefit of writing and pronunciation remains a matter of debate among scholars of the Samoan language, but that she nevertheless came away impressed with the depth of Tamasese’s analysis. “He believes that diacritics should only be inserted when there is more than one meaning to a word, whereas they should not be used if there is only one way to pronounce it. I take delight in this argument because I’ve heard the debates among Samoans here and abroad on this subject, but this is the first time I’ve heard such a prominent person make such a simple, personal, clear and palpable distinction with so much honesty, humility, weight and validity.”


The remainder of the Upolu trip included a visit to the National University of Samoa, where the SAFF students toured the campus and attended a talk by renowned Samoan academic Dr. Malama Meleisea, as well as a presentation by  guest speaker Seth Quintus, a PhD Candidate at the University of Auckland and a graduate from North Dakota State University.


Quintus discussed his thesis, “Archaeology and Manua: A Four Year Project Dedicated to Understanding the Samoan Past Through Archaeology,” which is based on research he conducted on Ofu, Manu’a. The SAFF also spent time in the new government building in Apia and explored other portions of the town before, on their final day in Samoa, they participated in the country’s Independence Celebration Parade at Malae o Tiafau in Mulinu’u.


Reflecting on what the trip achieved, Fauolo-Manila emphasized how the visitors will long remember the respect and hospitality they received. “We got to see the values of our culture as practiced by a prominent leader and father figure of Samoa,” she said, “and we were overwhelmed with the hospitality that was shown to us. I think the greatest lesson of all is that despite positions, titles and whatever else, our Samoan values all make sense in how we carry ourselves and how we treat other people. The acceptance of our group and the quality of hosting made us feel so important and most of all humbled by the experience.”