Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Birthday nation buzzes with excitement

Malotuto'atasi Mareta Sione. Photo / Supplied
Malotuto'atasi Mareta Sione. Photo / Supplied

Samoa this week celebrates 50 years of independence. Vaimoana Tapaleao visits her ancestral home for the country's big party.

In a tiny village in Samoa on June 3, 1962, a young mother decided to name her newborn child in honour of one of the country's most significant events - independence.

Almost 50 years later, that child - Malotuto'atasi ("Independence") Sione - is getting ready to celebrate her own milestone, as well as taking part in celebrations for her namesake.

Samoans are preparing for what is tipped to be its biggest Independence Day ever on June 1, marking 50 years since the island nation became independent from New Zealand-administered United Nations trusteeship.

Samoa actually became independent on January 1, 1962, but the event is observed on June 1 each year.

Blue and red decorations have already sprung up in most parts of the country's capital, Apia. National flags hang from rooftops, lamp-posts and trees and adorn flowerbeds and gardens in many villages.

Mrs Sione, born two days after the first official celebrations in June 1962, says she has always understood the significance of her name, but admits she tried to change it once because she felt the name was "too big" for her.

Speaking to the Herald at her home in Safune, Savaii, she smiles shyly as her children gather around to listen to her explanation.

"I never liked my name. When people asked for my name, I would say my middle name [Mareta]. I told my family one day I was going to town to have my name changed and everybody said, 'Don't! Do you know how important your name is?'

"My parents never really explained why they called me Malotuto'atasi - it's something I've always known.

"I think my mother just wanted to call her baby that, so I would always remember I was born at an important time of our country's history."

Mrs Sione is among a group of women from her village who will travel to Apia, in Upolu, this week to take part in a march. A flag-raising ceremony will be held in the capital.

Celebrations begin this week and will include a variety of events such as parades, cultural performances from village groups from around the country, arts and crafts shows, exhibitions, sports events and a special Independence Day concert put on by reggae royalty: band UB40.

Mrs Sione, who has family in Mangere in South Auckland, said there were no plans for a big 50th birthday party at this stage. She expected to get emotional during the march.

"My parents have both passed away now," she said.

"It would have been something else were they still alive to see where our country has come. I'll be thinking of them on that day."

- NZ Herald

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