SAMOA’S MAN OF THE CENTURY: HIS HIGHNESS MALIETOA TANUMAFILI II

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SAMOA’S MAN OF THE CENTURY: HIS HIGHNESS MALIETOA TANUMAFILI II

By Savea Sano Malifa

APIA, Samoa (December 31, 1999 – Samoa Observer)---He's the last of the freedom fighters. A true survivor. When most of those who had worked with him to secure Samoa's freedom from colonial rule have passed on, he is still serving his country. He has been doing this for the last 59 years. There is truly a purpose in his life. At his modest home at Faato‘ia surrounded by four acres of banana trees, paw paws, cocoa, pineapples and breadfruit, Samoa's Head of State, His Highness Malietoa Tanumafili II, 87, lives a simple life. "Tanu", as he is fondly called by those close to him, is the most unassuming Head of State there is. He does not ask for much, but his "family" makes sure he is not in need. And behind his simple cheerfulness is a mind very much absorbed with his country's well being. But "Tanu" is not as simple as he tries to make out. He is a Tama Aiga of the Malietoa clan, which gives him status and dignity. The Malietoa title was earned, not given.

It was earned some 785 years ago when his ancestors ended Tongan rule by defeating the Tongans in battle. "Malietoa" (Great warrior), conceded the Tongans as they fled. That was this country's first taste of oppression. Pride and love of freedom strengthened the resolve to defeat tyranny. But that is another story for another day.

"I am not a king. My ancestors drove the Tongans away and I became what I am today. Now the Tongans want to come back to Samoa but not as warriors this time, as friends and relatives."

When we visited to interview "Tanu" for this story however, he was waiting in an open space downstairs sitting at a small table with his secretary, Mrs. Audrey Faamausili Malietoa. And except for members of his "family" back in what looked like a kitchen, the house was empty. There were no security guards who usually surround Head of States everywhere in the world today. That explains how simple a life this man lives. The story is that when the Police offered to guard his house sometime ago when a political assassination took place in Apia, he refused it.

"Don’t worry," he told Police officers. "Why would anyone want to shoot me? Go home and have a good time with your families."

His Highness knew well he had done nobody any wrong. He had tried to do good to everyone instead. Besides, isn't he the Ao o le Malo to whom "all of Samoa listens?"

At times when political rivalry threatened to divide the country as it did in the past, Tanu remained calm and cautioned political leaders to exercise "patience." That word "patience" is the foundation of a philosophy he had adopted to guide him during testing times. It was a philosophy which proved useful time and time again.

"They (some politicians) come to me complaining about this and asking to do that," he said slowly. "I tell them to be patient, the problem will solve itself." But they thought that was not good advice, he believed. Then that big gun explosion "Bang" - he imitated the sound - went off and they started to wish they had listened.

His Highness was referring to the assassination of the late Minister of Public Works, Luagalau Levaula Kamu. It was a tragedy that saddened him deeply.

So as this Millennium is slowly merging into the next one, the Samoa Observer is proud to recognizes Malietoa Tanumaili II as its Man of the Century. Besides carrying out his duties for his country remarkably well, he is one of the "heroes" who gave Samoa its political independence in 1962.

His two other compatriots in the struggle for freedom, Tupua Tamsese Meaole II and Mataafa Faumuina Mulinu‘u II, have passed away. The three of them were knighted CBE for their roles in the independence movement.

Born at Matautu in Apia on 4 January 1913, "Tanu" was taken to Malie by a member of his family when he was five months old. He was raised there until he became a teenager when his adventurous spirit took control, and he found himself sailing the seas.

"A sailor on a boat from American Samoa was taken ill so I went on board to replace him," he said. And by doing so, he became what might be considered Samoa's first overstayer in foreign lands.

On arrival in Pago, he struck problems. He found he could not get ashore because he did not have an entry visa. Much wrangling went on until he was finally let go.

He worked in American Samoa until he saved enough for a boat fare to Fiji, and soon he was sailing the waters once again. But on arrival, the no-visa problem struck once more. He was refused entry and was allowed on land only when a "Mrs. Kane" took him under her wing, and gave him a job in her photo studio. There he worked saving for a boat fare to New Zealand. When he'd saved enough, he bought his ticket and took off on MV Maui Pomare, the passenger schooner in those days. And as you might now be expecting, he did not have a visa to enter New Zealand either. There is a young man who dared to defy the rules. He was detained on board for two weeks until "old Solomona" - a Samoan living in Auckland - came and took him to his home. Solomona sent "Tanu" to St. Stevens College in Auckland but his experiences there were not much to brag about.

"They treated us badly in Auckland in those days," he says. "They looked down on us. There were no scholarships, no money, nothing."

One day in 1939, Solomona came to the school and said, "Get ready to go home." He found out later that his father had died and he had been sent for. So back to Samoa he came. In 1940, he was conferred the title Malietoa. "I've been serving the country ever since," he says. That service included the trip to the United Nations seeking Samoa's independence from New Zealand. He was accompanied by Tupua Tamasese and Mata‘afa in the most important trip of their lives. Because that trip eventually secured freedom for Samoa, which we are enjoying today.

In January 1962, (Western) Samoa became the first South Pacific country to gain political independence from its colonial rulers. Malietoa and Tupua served jointly as Heads of State, and Mata'afa became Samoa's first Prime Minister. But Tupua's reign was short-lived. In 1963, he died. He was 60. His son Tupuola Efi was then recalled from Wellington where he was attending school to take over the Tupua title. On 20 May 1975, Mata‘afa himself died. He was 54.

Malietoa remained, became the sole Head of State. He has held the country together since independence. His belief in unity and trust in God's kindness have been his guiding principles.

Tuesday next week is his 87th birthday. But except of bad hearing in his left ear, he is fit as a fiddle. According to the Constitution, Parliament shall decide who the next Head of State will be when Malietoa will have passed away.

"Tanu" is well aware of that. But if there is an achievement he is particularly proud of, it is the attainment of his country's independence.

"We have raised the flag of freedom with Samoa founded on God," he reminds. "What more do we need? It's time to make peace in Samoa."

His only regret is that the "one (political) party system" they had agreed to with the United Nations before independence was granted has been breached.

"It started with Efi and Lealofi and then Tofilau grabbed it," Malietoa explains. "And look what's happening? Even 21-year-olds are now voting. I'm scared before God for this discrepancy."

The one law though he would like to see scrubbed is the "VAGST" one. "That is one tax that should be removed," he says, suggesting that it increases the burden on the poor. His advice to the government is to remain calm, be patient.

"The gun has exploded," he says. "That should not happen again. We have a government to run, the flag has been raised."

Without a doubt, his role as a peacemaker has long been established. The leaders of this country should listen to his advice. As the head of a large family stretching from Tuamasaga to Siumu, Manono and on to Savai'i, he knows respect, humility.

Proof is that his house at Faato'ia is humble by any standard. The land on which the house is built is his own. Those who provide for him are members of his family. Except for his salary, the public does not pay for his upkeep. He doesn't worry about his former official residence at Vailima either. Restored and turned into a Museum, the house used to belong to Robet Louis Stevenson, the writer. Now "Tanu" is resigned to the idea that he has been "evicted" from it. There was a time when he enjoyed the thought of soon living in a house up the hill at Vailima, which the former PM, Tuiatua, had promised to build for him. It would have a nice view with trees around it, and the promise of peace and quiet.

But that dream vanished when Tuiatua was defeated and the new government changed the plans, subdivided the land. Now that house would never be built. Recently also, the present government offered to build an official residence for him at Vailima. But then the Vailima village wants to build a rugby field there. Says Malietoa: "I'll sacrifice for the rugby field. The youth needs the field more than I need a house."

And so, widely considered the world's "longest serving Head of State," Malietoa lives a quiet, simple life. He is probably the only Head of State in the world today who lives in his own modest house because his official residence has been taken from him.

For additional reports from the Samoa Observer, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Samoa Observer.

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