Samoan Head of State visits BYU-Hawaii Campus
Bradley Holden | University Relations | 28 September 2011
“To sufi or negotiate the boundaries or tuaoi of religion, culture, custom, history and identity there is really only one bridge and one meaning that survives, that is the bridge of love – God’s love.” This was one of the messages His Highness, Tui Atua Tamasese Tupua Efi, Head of State of Samoa, relayed to an audience of students, faculty, staff, and community members on campus of BYU–Hawaii on September 22, 2011.
This was a first-ever visit to BYU–Hawaii by the head of state. Having first traveled to Salt Lake City by invitation of the First Presidency, His Highness made time in his schedule to stop in Hawaii on his return home, giving BYU–Hawaii the honor of hosting him and his wife in Laie. Though he is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, he expressed his respect and admiration for those of the LDS faith and the generous contributions of service and humanitarianism they have administered to the Samoan community.
The visiting dignitary addressed the BYU–Hawaii forum on the topic of Sufiga o le tuaoi, which he translated as reference to the actuality and manner of negotiating boundaries. His topic specifically centered upon the fact that such negotiations should maintain a certain standard of gentility and peace, bypassing all forms of aggressive or violent behavior and language. This topic choice was extremely applicable to the students, faculty and staff of BYU–Hawaii. Each day, in one way or another, participants of this institution are required to negotiate many forms of cross-cultural boundaries when interacting with fellow students, professors, and colleagues from various countries and cultures all over the world.
The three main examples in defining his point throughout the forum were extracted from the Samoan culture. First was the explanation of the ava or kava ceremony, which is a sacred ritual preliminary to negotiations that were perhaps contentious in nature. The ava ceremony is a central key point to the hospitality and culture of Samoa. He then spoke about the great emphasis he placed on the family. In the Samoan language, the word ‘family’ not only addresses blood relatives, but expands to also include a people or nation. This alone causes one to re-define boundaries and the way we see relationships with others. He complimented the Church’s beliefs on the importance of the family, as well as the emphasis it places on genealogy work. Third was the integration of fagogo, or children’s bedtime stories, when negotiating boundaries. He describes these bedtime stories as tools in defining boundaries not only between individuals, but also between their environment, themselves, and God.
Love was the ultimate undertone of the forum. The Head of State concluded by saying, “God’s love shines through all our clutter and pettiness and links what is good in us. It gives us meaning and helps us to see past our differences.”
The Head of State and his wife, Her Highness Masiofo Filifilia Tamasese Efi, also visited the Polynesian Cultural Center, toured the Laie Hawaii Temple grounds, participated in a historical presentation of the Church in Laie by BYU–Hawaii historian Riley Moffat, and were special guests at a banquet with university students from Samoa and American Samoa. At the conclusion of the banquet, His Highness reflected on how they had been touched by so many things during their visit to Utah and Hawaii. Commenting specifically on his experience at BYU–Hawaii, he said, “I have been so impressed with how you have opened up this place for so many people.”