Center hosts Sāmoa Head of State

Samoa Head of State, 2011
AO O LE MĀLŌ: His Highness Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi, Head of State of Samoa, at the Center on September 21, 2011. (Photo by Mike Foley)

[Reprinted from Church News, September 27, 2011]

LAIE, Hawaii — The Polynesian Cultural Center hosted the Head of State of Samoa, His Highness Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi, his wife the Masiofo Filifilia Tamasese and traveling party on September 21, 2011, with traditional Samoan and Polynesian protocol, entertainment, the giving of gifts and fine mats, and feasting in the popular visitor attraction’s Samoan village.

The protocol included oratory by a representative of Samoan matai (chiefs) from the surrounding community and the presentation of a sua and ta’alolo as well as entertainment and a banquet in His Highness’ honor in the chief’s house.

“Hosting the Head of State is such a huge occasion for us that we wanted to include the community, because we know it’s as meaningful to them as it is to us. They were more than willing to come and help,” said PCC Director of Cultural Presentations Delsa Atoa Moe, who is originally from Samoa.

The Polynesian Cultural Center stopover occurred as the traveling party returned to Samoa from visiting welfare, humanitarian and other facilities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah. While there, His Highness met with the First Presidency of the church and participated in lectures and forums at the University of Utah and Brigham Young University in Provo. He also spoke at a student and community forum at BYU-Hawaii on September 22.

Other members of the traveling party included Aide de Camp Papaliitele Talamesi Fitisemanu, Deputy Commissioner of the Samoa Police; Mary Lou Ofoia, the Head of State’s secretary; and Tupuola George Hunt (who has since passed away), Welfare Manager and Country Director of Media Relations and Public Affairs for the Latter-day Saint Church in Samoa.

“He was also very impressed with what he’s seen at the Polynesian Cultural Center and their hospitality,” added Tupuola, who worked at the PCC while attending the Church College of Hawaii as a student in the 1960s (renamed BYU–Hawaii in 1974).

Tupuola, who organized the 15-day trip, said the Head of State and his wife were very pleased with their experiences in Utah. At one point he told Elder Ben Banks, an emeritus General Authority of the Latter-day Saint Church who accompanied the traveling party in Utah, “I see God in the work that you do in humanitarian aid and in helping the needy, not just in Samoa but the world over. This is love, done with so much commitment and dedication. You folks put yourselves and your resources out.”

Following the banquet, the Head of State thanked his hosts and shared several observations from his trip. “Part of the reason I wanted to come is because I’ve seen so many good works done by the Mormons in ours and other communities. I’m aware of their humanitarian work. It’s very impressive. I came to probe the reference, the source for people being motivated to want to do good,” the Head of State said.

In reference to the “family of Polynesians and Pacific islanders” he met at the Polynesian Cultural Center, including Tahitians, Hawaiians, Tongans, Fijians and New Zealand Maori, the 73-year-old leader said, “It was a great thing to be with them and to share this special occasion.”

He told the Maori, for example, how much he appreciated the contributions of Sir Maui Pomare and Sir Apirana Ngata, members of New Zealand’s parliament during the time Western Samoa was seeking independence a half-century ago. “It was a tremendous struggle,” the Head of State recalled, “but came the crunch, these two took on the government to speak on our behalf. We know very well it’s because of the pull of kinship and a shared heritage.”

“As my grandfather would say to me, always remember the people who gave us succor during our hour of need.”

The Head of State thanked all those who made his visit memorable. “It touches me no end. I want you to know that I am very happy to be here.”

As the official party prepared to attend the PCC’s famous evening show, Ha: Breath of Life, the Center’s Chief Operating Officer Puataata Alfred Grace, a New Zealand Maori who escorted the group throughout the day, said he was impressed “with the caring His Highness has for Polynesian and indigenous people. He said one of the primary motivations for his traveling is so he can speak to the young people. He stresses that when we move into Western society, one of the most important things we should do is not forget where we came from.”

“He also loved the fact that in front of him during dinner a Samoan, Maori and Tongan were dancing Hawaiian hula.”

The Polynesian Cultural Center was founded in 1963 as a non-profit organization. Since then the PCC has entertained more than 34 million visitors while preserving and portraying the culture, arts and crafts of Polynesia to the rest of the world.

In addition, the PCC has provided financial assistance to nearly 17,000 young people from more than 70 different countries while they attend Brigham Young University–Hawaii.

As a non-profit organization, 100 percent of PCC’s revenue is used for daily operations and to support education.

 — Story and photo by Mike Foley