Former Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio arrived in Samoan style to deliver his final speech at Parliament.
There were gasps and cheers as Aupito walked into the room shirtless and wearing full traditional Samoan finery from head to toe - including a feathery headdress called a tuiga reserved only for special occasions.
A fine mat wrapped around his waist allowed for the display of his pe’a - a traditional Samoan tatau only for men - another show of cultural pride from the former Minister.
“I am in my traditional attire as a matai [chief] of my aiga [family] Samoa reserved for special events such as tonight.”
Aupito said he presented himself this way as a sign of respect to the Pacific communities and leaders who have supported him; as well as his wife Jean, their children and Aupito, Tiumalu, Toeolesulusulu, Tofae and Su’a families.
“I am also in my traditional attire because I want to give confidence to the people who look like me - tall, dark and handsome, with lots of stomach muscle,” he joked.
“That they can know that they too can be standing where I am standing and be proud of who they are. To not be afraid to claim the right to sit at the table of decision-making at all levels of Aotearoa.”
The latter comment led to applause from politicians and visitors alike.
An ode to the past and future
The theme of his valedictory speech was a focus on the future of Pacific peoples of Aotearoa, the hopes and dreams of Pasifika youth and a challenge to those who wanted to lead New Zealand.
He honoured those who came before him, including former National Party MP Anae Arthur Anae and the late Taito Phillip Field, who became the first MP of Pasifika descent when he took up the role in 1993.
Then came the likes of Vui Mark Gosche, Dame Luamanuvao Winnie Laban and Charles Chauvel.
Aupito’s time in politics has spanned 22 years - the same age as his youngest son Daniel - and includes a stint on the then Manukau City Council, during which he was appointed deputy mayor in 2007.
Over the years he has been involved in various causes and movements, which he highlighted in his last speech.
The proud Māngere MP paid tribute to the Ministry of Health’s Pacific team, health providers, churches and Pasifika community leaders who were instrumental in the Covid-19 response during what he described as a challenging period.
“I will always credit you for your tireless efforts to keep our communities safe and protected during the Covid pandemic.”
Aupito also thanked Prime Minister Chris Hipkins for his support of Pacific communities when he was minister for education and health.
“I appreciated that you listened to my challenges on Pacific health matters for Aotearoa and across the Pacific through the Pacific Health Corridor.
Be proud to be from the Pacific
“And I am grateful for your support in the Pacific Education space as we pushed for reform on Pacific languages, Pacific history, Pacific scholarships and Pacific staffing.”
There was also a nod to former PM Jacinda Ardern; who made history when she took part in a traditional Samoan apology - ifoga - in 2021 during the Government’s Dawn Raids apology.
Aupito encouraged Pacific youth to be proud of their point of difference, no matter their faith, sexual orientation or identity.
“It is okay to love your cultural heritage, even if you don’t speak the language. It is okay to pursue your dreams and don’t ever allow your surroundings - or anyone - to prevent you from that pursuit.
“Be proud of your cultural intelligence, your language and your community. Never leave it outside the doors of your workplace,” he said.
“Take it with you wherever you go. Nurture it, study it, pursue it. Be proud of it.”
He also managed to get a plug in while urging young people to vote.
“Remember Labour and Chris Hipkins are in it for you - and he’s the Chris with hair.”