We love you Sāmoa
To date, the outbreak of misela (measles) in Sāmoa has killed 60 people, mostly infants and children, over the course of the last two weeks. Ongoing updates suggest that an increase in the number of fatalities is inevitable. As a result, the Samoan government has declared a state of emergency and ordered with immediate effect the closure of all private and public offices, services, businesses and operations between the hours of 7am-5pm for both the 5th and 6th of December. No vehicles are to be on the road, unless for medical reasons. Exempt from this order of closure are the electricity and water authorities who are to monitor and ensure that these amenities remain accessible across Sāmoa.
Like many Samoans living abroad, social media has kept us informed and it goes without mention that what has unfolded back home is a tragedy. Since the news broke, I have been thinking a lot about our Sāmoa lately, and the impact that misela is having on families and the nation as a whole. It hurts to even think about it. But we must. We must find some good in this tragedy.
Today, there is a national push to vaccinate our people back home. Public servants have turned into makeshift medical personnel as they drive the ‘Door to Door Mass Vaccination Campaign’. To make their efforts easier in the interests of time and resources, the government has ordered families to hang a red flag in front of their homes to indicate that their family has not been vaccinated. As I have been keeping up to date and thinking about the developments back home, the ‘red flag’ order reminded me of the blooded door frames in the First Passover story in Exodus where God ordered Moses to instruct the Israelites to paint their door frames red. By doing so, their sons were spared. But the use of the colour red is not all biblical. It is a colour of great prestige in Samoan culture, along with the colour white (sina). Both colours signify rank and purity. Oh how the significance of colour has changed in the space of days from one of great prestige to one of worthlessness and hope. No matter what people say, we are religious people, and we use both indigneous and biblical ideologies for the greater good.
But the collective extends well beyond our homeland. In New Zealand alone, mass shipments of goods and medical supplies are being shipped to Sāmoa by our people living here. It reminds us that the battle against misela in Sāmoa is not a battle being fought only by the 200,000 of our people back home, but by all Samoans worldwide. Yes it is human nature to help, but to us it is more than that. We believe that as Samoans, we were made from the land (eleele). Our souls (mauli) are, therefore, embedded in the land. So wherever we go and live we take our land with us. We are forever connected to home. When you hurt, we hurt also.
But while there is a collective effort being made by Samoans at home and abroad, there is also a regional and international collective taking place. Our dearest relatives from Aotearoa, Hawaii and French Polynesia, for instance, are driving the Pacific collective. Medical personnel and supplies are also being sent in from the United Nations, Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom. What we are witnessing is both local, regional and international commonalities founded on love. In Samoan love is known as alofa. As a concept and term, it originates from the four (fa) sides (alo) of a Samoan house. We believe that love can only be achieved when these four sides, which are occupied by our leaders and people, are in harmony.
Despite the hurt we are feeling, it is important to find some good in all this. Like the influenza of 1918, and the countless cyclones and tsunami events that have decimated not only our homeland but the lives of our people, I know we will overcome this epidemic. We will overcome it because we do it for the purpose and betterment of the collective. That is why we will okay. To our children and loved ones who have passed because of this tragedy, you are our blessing. You have taught us to continue to think and act collectively. May you all rest in God’s peace. We love you our Sāmoa.
By Le’ausālilō Sadat Muaiava
Lecturer in Samoan Studies
Victoria University of Wellington