Celebrating Rich Samoan Heritage
Wednesday - August 19, 2009
A student came up to me before class (a decade or so ago) and asked: “Who was that incredibly handsome politician I saw waving at the intersection by Waipahu High School?”
I rifled through my mental file of “incredibly handsome politicians”: Bobby Bunda? Wrong district. Arnold Morgado? In political retirement. Mike McCartney? Ditto. “Damned if I know,” said I.
“Real tall man,” said she.
“Ooooh,” I said, opening my “real tall” politician file. “Do you mean Mufi?”
Mufi, of course, running for re-election to the City Council or mayor, depending on the exact year of the starry-eyed young lady’s question.
Mayor Mufi is, of course, handsome. But somehow, don’t ask me why, he had not yet made it into my “incredibly handsome politician” file.
If I had any doubts, however, about why he’s such a good-lookin’buggah, I had them erased a couple of Saturdays ago at Keehi Lagoon. There, for the closing ceremony of Samoan Heritage Week 2009, were a goodly number of the estimated 30,000 to 35,000 Samoans residents in the state of Hawaii (20,000 of whom are resident nationals, the rest working on green cards).
And I was struck anew by what an “incredibly handsome” people they are - nevah mind the Mufster. And what colors they wear: greens and yellows and reds - all the brightest of the Pacific rainbow and beyond.
I came in on the festivities at the end of an opening parade - and at the end of a week of Samoan heritage events. But the remnants of the parade were there: floats representing various churches and a language school, the Marine Corps and Royal Hawaiian bands, the Aloha-O-Ali’i, i.e., the Council of Chiefs and Orators in Hawaii, and cricket teams named the Sons of Samoa and Tupu Laga Moa A Taeao.
Gus Hannemann, the mayor’s brother, served as master of ceremonies. The Rev. Faulalo Leti of the Methodist Church Nanakuli gave the invocation. The keynote speaker was the Hon. Togiola T.A. Tulafono, the governor of American Samoa.
The governor’s speech, like the reverend’s, was long and, for the most part, in Samoan. The part that was in English (and that, therefore, I could understand) was eloquent. Tulafono warned of regrettable divisions within Hawaii’s Samoan community, including one over which community faction would hold the authorized Samoan flag day every year.
Then he reminded the assembled that their ancestors had not left “a birthright of gold and silver. Our parents left us a precious culture of respect, sharing, love, unity and kindness. Our culture is our gold, silver, our pearls and diamonds.”
Then the state’s most prominent Samoan, Honolulu Mayor Hannemann, rose to speak. He introduced himself as “a proud Polynesian and a humble Samoan,” and urged the assembled “not to forget your roots: God comes first in everything we do, we love our country, and we share love - alofa, and we must share that love every day.”
Hannemann also warned against divisions within the community and beseeched his fellow Samoans to grumble less and “focus on finding solutions” to their problems.
He counseled hard work as well. “We are a talented people. We have produced orators and entertainers. We’re prominent in sports. Hawaii has two Samoan judges, labor leaders, educators. We have evolved as a people.” Unmentioned, but obvious to all in the crowd, Samoans could also boast the mayor of Hawaii’s largest city.
I, like the poor Marine Corps band, had stood through the speeches on a hot Saturday morning. So I didn’t stick around for the awarding of honors to some of the prominent Samoans.
I headed instead for the food vendors. There I ate talo, chicken and fish served at the Tamasavaie family food booth.
I also took a bite of a turkey tail. Just one bite.
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