The We Are Samoa Festival was established to perpetuate the values and traditions of Samoan culture through learning and performance, and to increase knowledge, harmony, and respect for one’s self and for others.
We Are Samoa Festival 2023, held May 6, 2023
The 30th Annual We Are Samoa Festival 2023, held Saturday, May 6, 2023 was filled with cheers, laughs and Samoan pride. Five groups representing high school Samoan cultural clubs across the island gathered to honor their heritage with a day long celebration. At 9:00 am the festivities opened in the Pacific Theater, at the Polynesian Cultural Center. From the beginning welcome to the final words of thanks, attendees were treated to speeches, friendly competitions and heartfelt presentations. It truly was a day to remember.
Taking on the roles of Masters of Ceremony was the extremely entertaining and informative Delsa Moe, who also serves as the VP of Cultural Presentations, and Steve Laulu, who serves as the Island Director here at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Delsa Moe shared that due to the COVID-19 shutdown, this was the first time that the full festival has been held since 2019 (with a smaller scaled event named “Fealofani Day” held in 2022).
The We Are Samoa Festival Festival, 2023 begins
As each student representative was introduced, their tie to Samoa was outlined, and their traditional style of dress was reviewed.
Three flags were raised by participating students while their national anthems were sung, led by Steve Laulu with each participant and guest invited to join in. Each one was presented with grace, honor and respect.
Participating Schools for We Are Samoa Festival, 2023
The schools that participated in the event were Kapolei High School, Farrington High school, Radford High School and Kahuku High School. Additionally, the ILH Polynesian Club, with representative from the following high schools attended: Lolani, Punahou, St. Andrew’s Priory, Damien, St. Louis, Sacred Hearts Academy, Maryknoll, Kamehameha, and University Lab School.
‘Lāuga (Speech) of the Tulafale (Talking Chiefs)
Three orators were given an opportunity to present a formal ‘Lāuga (speech). Each presenter began impressing the audience before even opening their mouth through their personally written biographies which not only provided their background, but also discussed their hopes, dreams and inspiration.
15-year-old Talosaga Amituana’i-Tiuli, the first orator, representing Farrington High School, gave a flawless presentation to the audience. Si’itu Ta’amilo Pesa, of Radford High School, spoke with passion and grace. The final speech was given by Efren RJ Felise SIuloa, from Kahuku High School. He showed great courage in delivering his presentation to such a large crowd.
“This is probably the most difficult parts of the festival … for our young students to come and give this welcome speech” Delsa Moe explained. “You know, although it’s nice to have it memorized, … for many of them, this is a foreign dialect. They are used to speaking the common everyday Samoan language, but the chiefly language is very, very different.”
“It takes a very special person to be an orator because there are certain pieces that are required to be included in their presentation today,” Steve Laulu added. He then outlined the specific sections found within a proper ‘Lāuga:
Folasaga – introduction
Fa’afetai – thanksgiving to God
Pa’ia – recognizing the dignity of chiefs
Auga ole aso – reason for gathering
Taeao – recounting significant historical events in Samoa
Faamatafi – conclusion and bestowing blessing upon the occasion
Intermission Entertainment for We Are Samoa Festival, 2023
The audience was treated to an amazing presentation made by representatives from the Oriana Siva Academy which included high energy dances.
According to the academy, …”the Theme ‘We Are Samoa,’ couldn’t have been more suitable. It not only is a platform but a golden opportunity for OSA to showcase our Samoan heritage. Not just here in Melbourne but internationally in the 808.”
Games for the We Are Samoa Festival 2023
Specific students from each club then participated in various challenges. We may call them games, but in actuality, our students get to try their hand at typical daily chores found throughout Samoa. These included basket weaving, banana peeling, coconut husking and fire making.
“Games are really for our use so that (our children) do not forget their culture”, Steve Laulu explained.
Special Presentation from Down Under
Club Presentations for We Are Samoa Festival 2023
For the second half of the festival, each club presented a program filled with dance, music and cultural relevance. This year the schools included a new element that both entertained and moved the attendees by introducing a historical theme for their presentation.
Kapolei High School
Kapolei High School recognized the Hurricane of 1966. Many elders in the audience could remember that dark day when so many of their family and community members lost loved ones, their homes and possessions. Likely many of these performers had grandparents who shared personal experiences to inspire them.
Taupou – Maxijaneeucharistina Ponafala , Senior
Faaluma (song/group leader) – Kaleikaumaka Tumanuvao
IHL Polynesian Club
The ILH Polynesian Club chose the “Mau Movement”. One of the darkest days of this quest for Samoan independence was Black Saturday where one of the brave Mau leaders, Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III was shot down during a peaceful march in Apia against foreign powers.
Taupou – Liana Tanuvasa, Senior, Sacred Hearts Academy
Faaluma – Tausaga Tatum – Senior, St Louis School
Farrington High School
The Independence of Samoa was Farrington High School’s theme. They focused on events that liberated Samoa historically and contributed to their eventual independence in 1962 including the Mau Movement – freedom from Western oppressors, the Influenza epidemic in the early 1900s – freedom from a tragic disease, and the Legend of Tuna and Fata who led the conquest against the ancient Tongans to regain their freedom.
Taupou – Alanna Collins, Senior
Faaluma – Judy Sefo, Senior
Manaia – Laurence Mandac Jr, Sophomore
Radford High School
Radford High School dramatically covered the 2009 Tsunami which killed over 300 citizens of Samoa. They showcased a typical, happy September evening filled with celebration and joy. Suddenly a radio announcement warns of two earthquakes and the caution of a possible tsunami. You could tell that the students really felt the power of this tragic event.
Taupou – Elolia Tuvaifale-Sheck, Senior
Faaluma – Nathan Toni, Senior, Aiea High School
Kahuku High School
Kahuku High School, a long-time supporter of the Polynesian Cultural Center, highlighted the organization and success of the World Fireknife Championship. It was thrilling to see the display of skills utilized by our great warrior performers. No doubt, future performers can well be found amongst these students.
Taupou – Sene Taosoga, Senior
A Rich History for “We Are Samoa”
The late O’Brian Eselu was recognized as the organizer of We are Samoa. It was originally held on the Ewa side of Oahu until its growth exceeded their venue capacity.
At the same time, the villages of the Polynesian Cultural Center “were challenged to find different ways to enhance Polynesian culture.” Since We Are Samoa was designed to help our youth of Samoa to learn their culture, moving the festival to the Center was a perfect fit.
With O’Brian’s blessing and the approval of the Polynesian Cultural Center’s administrators, the reigns were handed over to the late Pulefano Galeai in 1993. The Center is so proud that thirty years later this festival is still going strong.
With emotion in her voice, Delsa Moe shared that “our Samoan community has higher graduation rates and lower crime. Many more Samoan students are going to college. Hats off to the schools, to the parents, and to the grandparents who encouraged them on”.
A Samoan proverb says “E le tu fa’amauga se tasi”, which means, that no one can stand alone (like a mountain) and be successful. A heartfelt faafetai and faamalo to (those) who TOOK CHARGE and did whatever was needed to make today a success…
Delsa Moe, VP – Cultural Presentations
Bio of Nina S. Jones, Blogger for the Polynesian Culture Center
Nina Jones, a mainland gal from way back, is now a transplanted Islander. With her husband of 39 years, she volunteers at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Her hobbies include swimming, traveling, studying and writing about what she is learning from the various Polynesian cultures. Her blogs focus on their history, beliefs, practices and – as an added bonus – delicious food! To her, Polynesia is not just a place to visit, it is a way to live and she is very honored to be able to be a part of their amazing world.