A gift to the people of Samoa of a million-dollar sailing canoe was an unexpected highlight of a ball held in Apia on Saturday night as part of the 50th anniversary independence celebration.?
The vaka moana, or double-hulled ocean sailing canoe, is called Gaualofa and was one of seven built in Auckland by the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea.
The foundation was established in 2005 by Dieter Paulmann of Germany to focus attention on the wellbeing of the world's oceans.
Mr Paulmann initiated the "Pacific Voyagers" project to recreate early Polynesian migrations with seven vaka representing New Zealand, Samoa, Fiji, Cook Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu and Kiribati.
Built at Greenhithe, the seven vaka left Auckland in April last year sailing to San Francisco via the island groups. They arrived back in Apia last week, in time to join the 50th anniversary celebrations.
The announcement of the gift of Gaualofa by Cook Islander Tua Pittman, on behalf of the Pacific Voyagers, was as joyously welcomed as it was unexpected.
Samoa's Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi said it would enable young Samoans to learn more of the sailing and navigation skills of their ancestors.
Gaualofa will come under the care of the Samoa Voyaging Society, whose president, Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale, has been a leading force in the naming and crewing of the vaka.
The other highlight of the ball, attended by New Zealand Governor-General Sir Jerry Mataparae, was an exhibition of Samoan dance and song by a group from Falefa, culminating in a siva by Miss Samoa, Olevia Ioane, dressed in full traditional taupou costume.
As is customary, her graceful performance was acknowledged almost immediately by older men leaping to the floor to dance around her, while other people threw banknotes on the floor behind her.By Terry Dunleavy