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By Fili Sagapolutele Special to the Pacific Islands Report

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (April 26, 2000)---A native of Guam, Capt. Peter Cumataotoa, has been bestowed the Samoan honorary chief title of "Leali‘iva‘a" by American Samoa Senate President Lutu Tenari Fuimaono, who is also a ranking high chief from the village of Fagatogo.

Cumataotao is the commander of the U.S. Navy destroyer, USS Decatur, which took part in the Centennial Celebration last week.

He said the chiefly title was the culmination of an extraordinary experience, one that will remain with him for the rest of his life.

Public tours were allowed while the vessel was in port for several days.

As the USS Decatur was preparing to leave Pago Pago Harbor, the gangway got stuck and wouldn't pull up. This caused a one-hour delay in the ship’s departure.

When the vessel finally left, Samoan music was playing on the loud speaker and the voice of Captain Cumataotao could be heard saying, "Tofa Soifua (farewell) American Samoa."

Capt. Cumataotao gave Samoa's Head of State, Malietoa Tanumafili II, a special naval gift.

The following is an interview Samoa Post editor Monica Miller had with Capt. Cumataotao just before the vessel departed the territory last week Wednesday:

"I saw a lot of things that I never really thought truly existed. And I've seen a lot of places but what you have here in this little island of American Samoa is a very beautiful thing.

"You have your whole life centered on God. I see that with everything you do from the ceremony of the flag. Before you even raised the flag you had a two-hour ceremony the night before with all your ministers going up and giving the blessings to the island.

"I saw the actual people going out even late at night, putting up the flowers and helping each other out. I saw people painting the rocks, red, white and blue. I saw the appreciation of an entire village, when they danced and did all their performances for like half an hour or 45 minutes. I know that must have taken at least three to six months to even have that little sound bite. I'm very proud to say I've had an opportunity in my life to experience that because you really don't get a chance to see that much togetherness, closeness in the people that I have with you.

"Yesterday, last night, I mentioned to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, personally it has enriched me more than you could ever imagine.

"After 100 years of colonization, that's what happens to a beautiful island. And I know that the Chamorro people are, in their hearts, just as giving as the American Samoan people but what they do not have that you have, is something that I yearn for, even now more after I am leaving your beautiful island. We have lost everything of what our past is and now I know truly the significance of why the past needs to be understood and appreciated and lived out in the present so that you can still continue to be a great island and a great people in the future. All three are tied together. I see that now clearly in my heart.

"And you made this one little island boy very homesick first of all. You made this one island boy very proud that I was involved in a very beautiful ceremony, the centennial celebration. I thought it was wonderful and that I will always remember it for the rest of my life.

"I don't know if you know this but your President of your Senate, Mr. Fuimaono, had bestowed upon me an honorary chieftain level title and my name is "Leali‘iva‘a" from the village of Fagatogo. He did that to me last night. He gave me the honorary chieftain lei, the one that was orange, gold tip. I am very humbled by that. I do not deserve it actually to be honest with you. I did not want that but I was given that and I will always wear that with pride. And if I see American Samoans in the future I would take good care of them and I will give them the same fa‘a-Samoa type of spirit that you have given me."

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