APIA: SATURDAY 1 JUNE 2013: English threatens to replace Samoan as our language.
“If we lose our language, we lose the meaning of why we are here today,” said Head of State, Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, in his Independence Day speech today.
His Highness’s speech in full:
The Gift and Legacy of Language
In June last year, we celebrated fifty (50) years of independence. However, it is important to be clear that Samoa was independent long before. Our forbears fought for the return of our independence because it was taken from us by force. The milestone of fifty years that we celebrated last year was celebrated because of what was lost and then regained in 1962.
Today we remember this legacy. We find the message of this legacy in our national flag: in the colour blue, the colour red, and the colour white.
The colour blue stands for the Pacific Ocean that our forbears navigated. This Ocean sustained them as a people for over three thousand years. When paying tribute to her, Samoans refer to the Ocean by her honorific name “vasa,” meaning the va (space) that is sa (sacred). The Ocean is symbolic of navigation; it was home and teacher to those who were gifted with the skills of navigating the seas, of knowing how to read the tides and the waves. This ocean represented good food in that it provided our forbears with fresh fish, lobsters, and other seafood for their physical health and sustenance. This Ocean connected Pacific peoples and is the va that is captured in our genealogies, histories and mythologies. The blue of the ocean and of the sky was evidence for our forbears of the pure and sacred relationship between them.
The colour red stands for blood and sacrifice. The message of sacrifice in the Hebrew tradition as is recorded in the Bible is no different to that recorded by our own history: the blood split in the act of selfless sacrifice is the ultimate gift in the protection of tofi. The soul and mind of the patriot is inspired by the message of sacrifice conveyed through words and symbols.
The colour white stands for the colour of light, the light that comes from the stars that form a Cross, the Southern Cross, which illuminates, like the Cross of Jesus Christ, our pathways. This light is metaphor for renewal: we are redeemed and renewed through Christ’s sacrifice.
The purpose of today lies in its message: first, in its message about history; second, in its message about sacrifice; and third, in its message about redemption and renewal. And, we communicate these messages through words.
In the Bible, it is written: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
The uniqueness of a people is transported through word and language. Our Samoan words have been gifted to us from God. The Hebrew language is God’s gift to the Hebrews, as is the Greek language to the Greeks. God speaks to us through our mythologies, our history, values, customs and culture, and our language.
It is on this note that I comment the Government for its Draft Bill to establish a Samoan Language Commission. The imperative of the Bill is the prioritization and protection of the uniqueness of our language.
The Samoan language, like the languages of other small Pacific island countries, faces threat of loss. Because of increasing demands for English language television, radio, movies and literature, the English language threatens to usurp our Samoan language, in a similar way to which the sea today threatens to usurp Tuvalu. This threat is a threat to our tofi or inheritance. In Tuvalu, it is a threat to their lands; in Samoa, it is a threat to our language.
Today we celebrate independence because we have regained our inheritance or tofi. And the uniqueness of that inheritance is made knowable to the mind and soul of every Samoan through the words chosen to express its essence.
UNESCO projects that by the end of this century up to three thousand (3000) languages will be lost. If we lose the uniqueness of our Samoan language we will lose the driving force behind why our Independence leaders fought so hard for our Independence. That is, we should be strangers, culturally and spiritually, in our own land. If we lose our language, we lose the meaning of why we are here today.
It is my parting wish that you return home to your families, churches and villages with a simple yet special message from this Independence celebration. It is this: the Samoan language is God’s gift to us and the best way of saying “Thank You,” is to make the Samoan language our gift to our children.