FEATURE: Wellington, Samoa, was wiped out

Girl on “the train.”

Girl on “the train.”
photo from bebo.com

by Alan Ah Mu

APIA: WEDNESDAY 26 JUNE 2013: Little does New Zealand know but Wellington was wiped out late last year.

Flood waters bearing logs, powered through and a life, homes, motor vehicles, crops, livestock and personal effects of every description were lost – including a handful of medals won at international weightlifting competitions.

The Wellington referred to is found at Magiagi an upland village in Upolu Island, Samoa, where it is called by residents as Ueligitone, its Samoan translation.

Few locals outside Magiagi knew a Ueligitone existed in Samoa until the media mentioned it as one of the areas worst hit by floods during Cyclone Evan December last year.

Of course as a location name Wellington is found in South Africa and Australia amongst other countries but it was from New Zealand that it was adopted, translated and used for the purpose of referring to a valley in Magiagi.

As Cyclone Evan-related stories kept referring to “Ueligitone” some assumed it was a part of Magiagi given the name of Wellington by the New Zealand colonial administration, which ruled Samoa from 1918 to 1962.

Residents say not so.

The late Rev. Elder Atapana Alama, their lifelong pastor of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (CCCS) did it they say.

Rev. Elder Alama became their pastor in 1975, said Fa’avae Fa’auliuli, 30, who’s heard their valley called Ueligitone all his life.

Other areas in the village were named after other New Zealand places by the pastor who divided his congregation according to the geographic nature of where they lived.

Being low lying, residents and visitors go down to the valley so the reverend called their area Ueligitone because in New Zealand travellers say, “We’re going down to Wellington.”

A part of the village located on higher ground was called Aukelani – as in Auckland – because in New Zealand people say, “We went up to Auckland.”

Another part of the village, Tafito, was given an optional name: Aukelani Matu or Auckland North.

His congregation thus divided the reverend would announce something like, “It’s Ueligitone’s turn to provide the choir for our service next Sunday.”

As a college student and trainee journalist, Tofilau Merita Huch lived in both Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand, but as a Magiagi resident, the newspaper editor stays in a part of the village named by the pastor Pekele’ema, Samoan for Bethlehem.

Flood waters surge through Ueligitone. Photo courtesy of The Savali.

Flood waters surge through Ueligitone.

“I don’t know how he came up with that name,” said Tofilau.

“They’ve become a normal part of the village,” she said of the pastor’s names.

“They use them in conversation” as in “’Where you’re going?’

“’I’m going down to Ueligitone.’”

Fa’avae Fa’auliuli said at times their valley is referred to as the “Omo” or “ Dent” so that their volleyball team called themselves “The Omo Boys” and another time, “The Lower City Boys.”

Perhaps Ueligitone’s most famous resident is Fa’auluuli, a weightlifter who in 2010 won Samoa’s first ever Commonwealth Games gold medal.

He and other weightlifters had to visit the French Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand, for visas after which they travelled up to Auckland to catch a flight to a competition in France.

While in Wellington “the origins of the name,” he thought of Ueligitone and missed home.

They evacuated up to Aukelani with his ill father and family children when it became obvious a flood was going to hit them in Ueligitone last year.

His Commonwealth gold medal was one of the few possessions saved because it hung at his father’s place while his other medals were at his sister’s and were swept away along with her house.

Though damaged his father’s house, built mostly from the $50 000 Government gave Fa’auliuli for winning gold at the Commonwealth, survived the flood.

“We just went there, cleaned it and reoccupied it,” he said.

A fat water pipe which runs up the middle of the valley burst and discharged more water into an area already saturated by rain as the cyclone gathered strength.

The pipe is part of a system which supplies water to the coastal capital of Apia just downhill and northwest of Magiagi and a road runs parallel to it as it rises upland to plantations.

Some villagers do take the road if they walk to their crops, said Tofilau.

“But everyone else takes the train,” she said.

In Magiagi the water pipe is called “the train – the Ueligitone train” yet Samoa has no such transport.

Often the preference is to walk on the pipe to their crops and when people do that they say, “I’m going on the train” or “I’m going on the Ueligitone train.”