Maori and Samoan legacy: Sir Maui Pomare and Ta’isi Nelson
05/07/2013-Pomare Day is a memorial significant to Maori and the history of New Zealand.
In 2013, it celebrated for seventy seven years the legacy of the first Maori doctor, Sir Maui Wiremu Piti Naera Pomare.
He was involved in health reforms, politics and in particular the inquiries into land confiscations.
However, what is virtually unknown, is the significance of Sir Maui Pomare to the legacy of Samoa’s Mau movement and eventual independence in 1962.
On 29 June 2013, at Owae Marae in Taranaki, the Pomare Day memorial set that record straight. Through a research paper presented by historian Dr Patricia O’Brien, it detailed Sir Maui’s impact on the history of New Zealand’s rule of Samoa as known through his 1927 parliamentary speeches.
As a minister in the Coates government he spoke out against New Zealand’s increasingly draconian methods for dealing with Samoan resistance. But the other way he impacted this history, in quite profound and intimate ways, was through his friendship with Ta’isi O. F. Nelson.
That connection said Dr O’Brien, was conceived in 1919 when Maui Pomare and Ta’isi O.F. Nelson first met in mid-1919 when Sir Maui accompanied the Governor General of the time, Lord Liverpool, to Samoa.
And at Owae Marae last week, that ‘bond of brotherhood’ was reconnected and in the process unearthed new evidence to refine that period of Samoa and New Zealand history.
For the two families, Sir Maui’s great-granddaughter, Ms Miria Pomare spoke about the significance of reconnecting the ‘friendship bond’.
“It has been 77 years since Ta Maui’s Tangihanga,” she said with emotion.
“Seventy-seven years since our families last joined together. United in grief for the loss of our beloved leader, father, friend and true patriot for Samoa.
“Taisi Nelson and his daughters [Viopapa and Piliopo] attended the Tangi from Auckland where they were living in exile courtesy of the New Zealand government.”
She continued, “Those gathered here on that occasion witnessed for the first time the intermingling of Samoan and Maori customs as Taisi farewelled his friend here on this marae in the traditional Samoan way. Today our families are reunited in the close bond and legacy of friendship forged by our tupuna generations ago.
“The things that drew them together then as highly intelligent and influential leaders as exponents of their respective Maori and Samoan cultures and as proud descendants of a great Polynesian tradition are the same things that draw us together today.”
Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Taisi Efi, Samoa’s Head of State was present.
He was invited by the family of Pomare, to hear the historical account of Pomare and Taisi’s friendship as presented by Dr O’Brien.
As the grandson of Taisi Nelson the occasion was poignant for Tui Atua both at the family and national level. It was not lost on the occasion that history has a sense of occasion – that 77 years later, Tui Atua, at Owae Marae is not only the leader of the Taisi family, but he is also the leader of the Independent nation of Samoa.
But speaking exclusively to the Pacific Guardians at Owae Marae, he said his attendance is one of pilgrimage.
“I come on a pilgrimage to share a legacy of remembrance,” he said.
“My grandfather had always said to me, ‘Son you will remember the people who gave us succor in our hour of need.’”
One such memory is a White Sunday service when he was five years old. For his part, he recited a scripture text from St Matthews to honour Sir Maui.
“I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me,” recited all those years ago. It was a text in remembrance of a man that actioned the words of St Mathews for his uncle Tamasese Lealofi and grandfather when they were exiled in New Zealand.
He also recounted Sir Pomare’s famous speeches in parliament where he stood up for Samoa against his own government, and held nothing back even accusing his own Prime Minister (Coates), for spreading the bubonic plague of 1918 that killed over 20 per cent of Samoa’s population.
He reflected about why Sir Maui is held in such high regard by the Samoans.
“I wonder, if the situation was reversed, whether we as Samoans would stand up and defend our Maori brothers as vehemently as he did?” Tui Atua asked the Pacific Guardians.
“Would we, making that stance knowing full well the possibility that we may lose our ministerial post, our income, end our career and resulting scorn from government and society’s elite, would we?” he questioned.
“I don’t know,” he answered.
Then he emphasised, “For a politician to rile against his own party and his own prime minister as Sir Maui did, was unheard of – yet on behalf, and for Samoa he did.”
According to Tui Atua, Sir Maui’s words and opposition in parliament to New Zealand’s administration of Samoa were not empty or rhetoric. They were backed up by actions in support of the Mau movement.
These were seen through Sir Maui’s visits to Tupua Tamasese and Taisi while in exile, and providing advice on the peaceful strategy employed for the Mau based on his experience during the Parikaha movement against the Crown and settlers taking Maori land in the late 1800s.
Dr O’Brien’s research shines a light on the essence of their friendship.
She uncovered the following exchange between them that is testament. The occasion was during the parliamentary debate on the amendment to the Samoa Act. Ta’isi sent Sir Maui a letter saying:
My Dear Pomare, Often did I want to rush up to your Ministry Room for a chat but knowing how busy you were with the Parliament in Session I refrained from doing so. Then again, knowing your sentiments towards your Samoan Cousins in our hour of trial and the wrong impression which may be created on your own position in the Cabinet by my hanging around you, I thought it better to keep away until you needed me or required any information.
After Sir Maui read the letter, he berated Ta’isi for breaching Polynesian etiquette and not calling on him, despite Ta’isi’s explanation for keeping his distance. He sent Taisi the following response:
‘Ta’isi…do you really think that I would prostitute my honour or forfeit the heritage of our people for a seat in Cabinet or a portfolio in a pakeha government?’.
‘It is yet my sincere hope in life’, he continued, ‘to maintain and restore to my Polynesian kinsmen’ what has been lost for all time to Maori, governing themselves in ‘Maoriland’
And when Tupua Tamasese was killed, Sir Maui sent Taisi the following telegram:
Heart bleeds for your people sick unto death I sent Tamaseses widow message of condolescene no need to tell you to keep steadfast and above all to keep calm am writing aroha GalUmalemana’.
It is these types of exchanges that reveal the close and true nature of the friendship that existed between Sir Maui and Taisi [who was now addressing his friend as Galumalemana]
To these recently uncovered letters, Tui Atua told the Pacific Guardians, “For me, that shows what true love, true kinship is.
“It is a lesson for Maori, Samoans, indeed for any Pacific islander that we have one history, we have one culture, we have one language.
“It is why Sir Maui is a true Pacific kinsman. And he epitomizes the Samoan proverb O le lave i tigã, o le ivi, o le toto, o le aano.”
And is why, Tui Atua added, “Whenever we celebrate Samoa’s Independence Day we remember Sir Maui’s words, directed to his own government: ‘Samoa shall be for the Samoan’.
“And for me, it’s to honor my grandfather who always said to me, ‘Son you will remember the people who gave us succor in our hour of need.’”
And as Dr O’Brien noted, “The high regard and deep friendship shared between his [Tui Atua] grandfather and Sir Maui shaped the course of this history. It reunited Maori and Samoans through their Polynesian traditions and united them for the first time through strategies of resisting the violence of colonialism.”
It is a reminder to Samoa that Pomare Day 2013 was a celebration to the legacy of the Pomare/Taisi friendship that achieved Sir Maui’s prophetic statement from the grave: “‘It is yet my sincere hope in life’, he continued, ‘to maintain and restore to my Polynesian kinsmen’ what has been lost for all time to Maori, governing themselves in ‘Maoriland’.”
What is clear, as a result of Dr O’Brien’s research, is that Sir Maui’s strong and steadfast support for Samoa was based on more than a ‘bond of friendship’.
In his 26th of July 1927 speech in parliament he stated very clearly: “Ethnologically and genealogically the Maoris and the Samoans are one people. The Maoris can trace themselves right back to Samoans. That is not doubted.”
Sir Maui knew that Maori and Samoans were more than friends.
They were one and the same.
At the 2013 Memorial, Tui Atua ended his speech with a chant stating, “In Polynesian cultures there are moments when thoughts, while too deep for tears, find strength in song.”
Then he chanted, also remembering Sir Apirana Ngata and Hon. Harry Holland, other key supporters who stood up and helped free Samoa from its colonial chains:
Pomare le manamea
Mua ia na mua – mua o
Nagata le lavea’i e
Mua ia na mua – mua o
Hollani e le uso moni e
Mua ia na mua – mua o
Pomare the first in my heart
Let us chant this first – indeed he is the first in my heart
Ngata the first amongst redeemers
Let us chant this first – indeed he is the first amongst redeemers
Holland the first amongst brothers
Let us chant this first – indeed he is the first amongst brothers