Afai ou te le manatua oe, ia pipii a’e lo’u laulaufaiva i lo’u gutu – If I forget you o Jerusalem let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth
(Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi Efi, Final Speech as Head of State of Samoa, Tuaefu, 19 July 2017)
Samoa: Today, Filifilia and I stand before you, to greet you on this new morning in our lives. It is also a new morning in the history of Samoa. We salute you for the great honour that you have done us throughout the last ten years. We pay tribute to the many people who have helped make our journey as Head of State a privilege; one we can never repay nor will ever forget.
We wish to open by giving special thanks to the Prime Minister, Cabinet and Parliament for the privilege of serving Samoa and her government as Head of State. We have received countless blessings from this opportunity; an opportunity we will treasure for the rest of our lives.
If you will indulge us this one last time, we would like to share this final message with you. The theme of our message is: “Afai ou te le manatua oe, ia pipii ae lo’u laulaufaiva i lo’u gutu: If I forget you o Jerusalem, let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth”. This theme comes from Psalms 137, verses 5 and 6. Samoa, you, your customs, traditions, values and verities, are our Jerusalem. It is in God that we entrust our love and our prayers for you; that you may live beyond us, through our children, and their children; that they may love you and protect you as we do, as our parents did, as their parents did.
Before leaving Samoa on my way to Rome, I sought permission to have audience with Pope Benedict. He had retired from office by that time. Despite this, I wanted to meet him because the gesture of his retirement taught me a lesson about humility in leadership.
When we arrived in Rome we received response that the Vatican Curia had reservations about our request. The Archbishop felt that if an audience was granted this would create a precedent and they would be bombarded with requests. It was decided therefore that Pope Benedict’ssecretary would greet and share with us, and in turn be able to relay our conversation back to Pope Benedict.
When we met with the secretary, I asked him to relay two things to Pope Benedict: First, that whenever I travel I carry with me at all times his encyclical “God is love”. Second, that the message of the manner of his retirement was his greatest legacy. The secretary Archbishop smiled and said: ‘You will make his day’.
Pope Benedict spent the last part of his life praying for the Church and for all of humanity. He also used the opportunity to continue to contribute to biblical and theological scholarship. We find inspiration in his example.
God gave us ten of the most productive years of our lives. He gave us the opportunity to contribute to the development of our Samoan indigenous reference, and in the course of this exposed us to some of the most stimulating conversations we’ve ever had. We have been truly blessed. In this new morning we hope to continue this work and these conversations, and to share especially with our young.
In this role we have had opportunity to not only learn from some of the best minds of our nation, but also from some of the youngest. The poignant innocence and wonder of children can literally take your breath away. The many children we met over the last ten years taught us time and again that God speaks to and through everyone, no matter how old. As the biblical text says: Your sons and daughters shall prophesy (Joel 2: 28).
The role, duty and responsibility of the Head of State is not that different to the role, duty and responsibility of a parent, a guardian, or a caregiver. Theirs is to warn and to advise against potential harms and dangers; to support and celebrate well-earned achievements; and to build strong foundations from the best of the past for the present and the future.
Our Constitution, like the Constitutions of many other great nations, is a gift to us from God and from our forebears. Their sweat, blood and tears are written within each word, each clause, preamble and article. We must tread ever so carefully when we embark on changing even one word of it.
Our political system has changed considerably since the birth of our Constitution. So too have our cultural institutions. In fact, most of these changes have occurred over the last 26 years. A significant driver of these changes is neoliberal economic reform. While change is inevitable, and it is indeed true that no society will remain exactly the same for all time. It is not true that any kind of change is beyond our control. God has given us the will and the intelligence to be able to discern when change is good and when it is not. God has given us the tools to help us know what to hold onto and what to let go; when and where. But that is not an exercise we can do individually. Nor is it something that we can do without prayer and spiritual guidance.
Holding onto our spiritual and cultural inheritance is a sacred duty enshrined in our Constitution. The transparency principle in our Parliamentary democratic processes can protect against corruption, but only if we fully appreciate the practical costs to individual members or interest groups if they were to go against majority rule.
Samoa, as a supporter of democracy and human rights, you must ensure that we support our parliamentarians to have the full protection of not only the wisdoms of democracy but also the wisdoms of our faasamoa.
Before ending we wish to say a word of thanks to some special people, whose love and support was invaluable during our tenure.
To Tutuila ad Manu’a: We thank Governor Lolo and Cyndy Moliga; we thank Lieutenant Governor Lemanu Mauga and the dearly remembered Poha, their governments, and the people of American Samoa. We thank you for your love and support. Notwithstanding the political separation, we are one people. Our relationship underlines the saying: o uo i aso uma a o le uso i aso vale.
We thank the many public servants who gave so much to us over the years.
We recognize the love and support of our lotoifale staff: the CEO of the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Agafili Shem Leo, and his staff; the former Police Special Response Unit (now Tactical Operations Section); the Commissioner of Corrections Services, Susuga Taito Edward Winterstein; ADCs Papalii Talamesi Fitisemanu, Soloi Iosefo Tuimaunei and Fasavalu Ernest Betham; we thank Luamanuvae Pu’eata Patu and the pou at Vailele; also Leituala Ben Matalavea, our private medical doctor; and finally to our Head of State office staff: to Ulugia Mareko Tulouna (our Private Secretary) and to all of our beautiful staff, thank you to you and your families for your faithful service.
We acknowledge the support of the former Attorney General Tuatagaloa Aumua Ming Leunga Wai, and his successor Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff.
To the staff of our Samoa High Commissions and Consul General offices in New Zealand, Australia, Belgium, Japan, and USA, we thank you sincerely for all you did for us.
If we have failed to mention anyone, please forgive us. Please know that we are forever grateful and that God has not forgotten your love and kindness.
May God bless you all and your children.
Samoa, if we have caused wrong or offended anyone at any-time, please forgive us. In the wisdom of our forebears: ‘E leai se faiva e asa ma le maumau’ (Even with the greatest of desire there can never be no fishing free of error). For whatever lapses you may have seen during our tenure, we humbly apologise and seek for your forgiveness.
We end with warm congratulations and best wishes to our successors, His Highness Tuimalealiifano and Her Highness, Masiofo Leinafo. May God give you both the wisdom and the strength to carry this sacred duty and privilege on behalf of Samoa.
May God bless the people of Samoa, especially all those who selflessly shared with us their gifts of service and time. Both have enrichened our lives and our work, and have allowed us to give our very best for Samoa. For all this we are so deeply grateful.
There is a Samoan saying, e le se timu na to, o le ua e afua mai Manu’a: it is not rain which falls but tears of love from Manu’a. The story is part of our Samoan indigenous heritage, it speaks with the fullness of love.
It is a story that carries the divinity of love, for rain not only fertilizes the earth that feeds us and keeps the air that we breathe clean, but it also soothes and renews.
Samoa, remember us in your prayers as we will always remember you in ours. For if, as the Psalmist says, we should ever forget you, may our tongues stick to the roofs of our mouths.