I read a wonderful tribute by Michael Field to one of the most amazing academics that I met during my teaching career. Reading the tribute brought back a flood of memories.
His name is Tupua Tamasese Tupuola Tufuga Efi
I knew him as Tupua and that is how I addressed him. As a child growing up in Samoa we knew the Tamasese family name because they lived up the road from us. My younger sister went to school with one of the boys. I also knew his name because he became prime minister of Samoa a few years after we emigrated to New Zealand.
As a young teacher I was so fortunate to get to first get to know him when he agreed to be the plenary for our 2002 Ulimasao Bilingual Education Conference in Auckland.
I set up his webpage and this is what I wrote about him.
“Tupua studied law at Victoria University, New Zealand, before embarking on a long career in Samoan politics that spanned almost four decades to the present.
He became prime minister twice, during which he had been an influential voice on issues concerning Samoa and the Pacific region. Part of Tupua’s present profile is his active involvement in scholastic learning, in his enormous capacity as an experienced politician and man of letters. Tupua has published three books, two in the Samoan language. Occasionally, Tupua is a guest lecturer in Victoria and Auckland universities respectively. Always in high demand for his views as a prolific bilingual speaker and scholar.”
He was our conference dinner speaker and the title was, ‘In search of Meaning, Nuance and Metaphor.’ I was the one chosen to introduce him when he spoke at another session. I was determined to do it in Samoan and so I did. I had heard the term tama’āiga to describe him and presumed it meant like an esteemed family member. However later on I realised how much more of a title that is.
I believe it was this speech that caught his attention because after that he made a point of making me sit with him and talk when I was serving him tea. As is typical Samoan he asked, “O ai oe? O ai lou aiga. Fea lou nu’u?” (Who are you? Who are your parents and what is your background?)
When he found out who my mum was, then the stories began. He told me that he did not live far from her in Moto’otua where my mum grew up. We shared names and he told me that he knew my aunty Marina and her family and my cousin Patrick who still lives in Moto’otua. He asked me how come I could speak Samoan and I told him that mum insisted on us speaking le gagana at home even as we grew up in New Zealand. I also shared how I actively look for opportunities to speak and listen to Samoan such as through songs or on the radio. He asked me about church and I said that was more of a challenge because mass was always in palagi. He suggested that I look for one that has a Samoan mass and even if I attended at least once a month to just listen and so I did.
Whenever I found out he was speaking in Auckland, I would find a way to get a ticket to hear him speak. He is an inspirational orator. I really admire him because of the way he instinctively knew that I wanted to practice my Samoan and would converse with me only in Samoan. My vocabulary exploded every time I heard him speak.
When I was in Samoa for the second Ulimasao conference in 2005, he asked me to introduce him to our travelling New Zealand plenary speaker Professor Stephen May and again it was about making connections. He wanted to learn more about our work with Bilingual Education. My cousin Tanya suggested that we sit in the front bar at Aggie’s Hotel and it was a perfect spot because the two academics had a chance to speak with each other and share their stories and of course I had a chance to just sit and listen.
During the time too of our second conference a group of us were invited to his house. My Aunty Marina schooled me up on etiquette before I went. This visit was where I met his beautiful wife, Filia for the first time. I also found out that she is a writer and orator too. Her work is where I got the inspiration for the header of my blog. (Lookup and you can see it.) From her I learnt all about the importance of service as a leader. Filia put on an incredible spread for us of traditional foods and we sat around talking and sharing stories. Again I was in awe sitting with the academics listening to their stories. However on reflection I can now see the importance of always growing the next generation. Again that is something that I now find myself doing.
What struck me most from that visit was the collection of photos that he had documenting Samoan history and the high balcony around his house.
Soon after that my Grandmother Matala’oa passed away and Tupua wrote a heartwarming tribute for her that we read at her funeral. I was so grateful that he took the time to commemorate our own family treasure. I have included this below.
Matala’oa Thompson (Tusia e Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese _ Samoa – 16 May 2004)
O le matua o la’u fe’au: o le faiva o le Matala’oa e tiu ma afifi. Pe atonu o le mafuaaga lea o le suafa o le tama’ita’i; ona o le muafetalaiga e faasino iā Falealili, o se tasi o nuu o le latou aiga. Ma e masani ā ona faatūtū i le alofa o le matua e faamaopoopo ma aputi lona faiva aua le fanau ma le aiga, o loo faatali mai i se nuu e mamao i uta.
Sa ou iloa Matala’oa ona e nonofo i ga’uta atu o lo matou aiga. E masani ona usu mai i le taeao i le Misasa i Mulivai ma toe fo’i i lo latou aiga. Ae ou te le’i mafuta tele i ai vagana ona ua matua.
O mea nei ou te mātauina. E tāua iā te ia le gagana Samoa. E tāua iā te ia, o ia o le Samoa. E ma’eu lana gagana aemaise sa ou manatu, ona e nofo i le papalagi ma e nonofo ā lo latou aiga i Leififi, sa fa’ita e ave le faamuamua i le gagana Peretania. E ola lona mafaufau ma e ma’eu lona taofi o mea sa tutupu, tainane ua matua ona tausaga.
A talanoa mai, e talanoa lava o ia o le tinā faamaoni. E talanoa fiafia ma sanisani. O le talanoa a le tinā o loo teu afīfī le faiva e faasoa mai i lana fanau. E le gata i ē na ifo mai i lona manava, ae soo se tama fanau a Samoa.
Ou te manatua pea ia i lona talanoa mai faale-matua iā te a’u. Ma ou te manatua fo’i lona igoa ma le muafetalaiga e fai iā Falealili: O le tiu a le matala’oa, e tiu ma afīfī. Ou te lagona ma le agaga faafetai, o a’u o se tasi o tama fanau Samoa na ia faasoa mai i ai lona faiva.
When Tupua became Head of States of Samoa in 2007 and Filia his Masiofo. I thought about how appropriate this was because they are keepers of our stories and our history. When you read Michael’s Tribute you can see how far Tupua’s spread is. In keeping with Samoan tradition I also think about Filia because behind every successful man sits a strong woman. I also see their time serving our beautiful island as part of our our Samoan genealogy.
To both Tupua and Filia I wish you all the best in your golden years and I look forward to more of your writing and talks. You have so much to share and we still have a lot to learn from you both.