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Hawaii based entertainer sees ‘devastating impact’

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Jan. 15, 2010) - Don’t rush into tourism development without considering the consequences, a top Samoan entertainer has warned.

"Samoans would do really well to learn from Hawaii’s experience," said Pipi Kapeneta Suli Te’o-Tafiti.

The 43-year-old is the star of the Polynesian Cultural Centre, the most popular tourism attraction in Hawaii.

"In Hawaii today, the most devastating aspect is the fact that it has pretty much lost everything," he said. "They have no control over their land and even though they have chiefs and ali’is, they don’t mean a thing. I don’t want that to happen to Samoa."Back in Samoa to visit family and friends for a week, the Saipipi native said he keeps up to date with the news from Samoa via Samoa Observer’s website.

"And I see some very interesting people coming to Samoa saying they are millionaires with money to develop resorts here and there," he said.

Pipi said this happens all over the world.

"These investors always end up benefiting instead of land owners. They may have money, they may promise jobs but at the end of the day, it’s always about how they can make more money.

"More often than not, these jobs the local people end up with is cleaning the toilets and scrubbing the floor. I have seen it in Hawaii.

"Many Hawaiians are cleaning the toilets while everyone else gets the top jobs. Samoa must not allow this to happen here."

Pipi said tourism is important.

"But people must come to see the beauty of our country and land and then go back to where they come from," he said.

"The ones who come and want to stay and offer people money is the ones we’ve got to be careful about. There is always something for them. Don’t buy into the sweet talk they come up with."

Preserving the Samoan culture is vitally important, the entertainer said.

"These days, you give a kid a coconut in Hawaii to drink and they’re like ewww," he said. "One day our kids will become like that if we’re not careful. That’s the last thing you want, is have our kids lose their identity.

"We tend to reach for America and here and there. Parents need to teach their children our culture. They need to instill in them the values of the fa’a Samoa at a young age because they will never depart from it.

"We want flash cars, flash houses and all that. But is it really necessary? We can be happy in a hut. We can live life happily without a car. Why do we have to strain ourselves for outside influences?

"As long as we keep our culture alive, Samoa will always be a great place to stay."

Alienating customary land must be avoided at all costs, said Pipi.

"Our people sometimes do not have control over our longing for money and food and all these things," he said.

"But if we lose our land we have nothing else. If you sell a land for whatever million dollars, you’re going to finish that money one day. And you’re going to live on the beach, you’re going to find yourself, maybe not you, but your kids, grandkids, in a very difficult situation because it’s going to go that fast that million dollars."

The environment must also be looked after. "These investors don’t care about our land and our people," said Pipi. "In Hawaii, it’s really painful to see what’s happening to the natives.

"Tourism in Hawaii is massive. There is also a strong push for other trades like pineapple and sugar cane. If you go around Hawaii, you’ll find the corals are all dead, because of the chemicals they spray, like at the golf course or where ever. As soon as it rains, it runs right into the ocean and the next thing you know, there’s no fish, they’re dead. Because what happens in the mountain ends up in the water. "So we need to take care of our environment too."

Pipi is called ‘Kap the magic man’ at the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Laie.

The father of three is the son of Pipi Tafiti Suli and Metuli Tafiti. He is proud of how he is as a Samoan.

"Before there was electricity, we knew how to make fire. We already had a way of making a light," he said.

"Before there was a can of coconut cream, we knew how to squeeze it out of the coconut fruit. Our everyday life in Samoa is fascinating to millions of tourists."

The Samoan culture is a living culture, not one you can rehearse.

Pipi said he is keen on establishing contact with the Samoa Tourism Authority where they can work in partnership to promote Samoa.

Pipi holds a B.A. in Art 3D from Brigham Young University-Hawaii. He is a Senior Ambassador for the Polynesian Cultural Center.

A world class edutainer, he has been in the business for 20 years. And he’s more than just a performer. He is also an artist.

His sculptures, pottery, ceramics, paintings, carvings and weavings are in thousands of homes throughout the world.

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