By Lagi Keresoma — Originally published 18 Nov 2011, Talamua
Representatives of eight Polynesian countries that formed the Union in Apia
APIA: A dream set out 35 years ago to unite all the Polynesian ethnic groups was realised yesterday after the leaders of eight Polynesian island countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to officiate the union.
Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, the first Chairman of the Union said that the dream for a united Polynesia was initiated by the late Prime Minister of Fiji, Sir Ratu Kamisese Mara, late King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV of Tonga and the late Head of State for Samoa, Malietoa Tanumafili 11.
“They met only twice and I think that was the end of that, so what we are doing is continuing the dream set out by the late leaders,” said Tuilaepa.
The foundation for a Union was already laid but what it lacked was the commitment to set it off. Talks of the Union was raised again in last years Pacific Island Forum meeting in Australia after the unity of the Melanesian and Micronesian groups were noted by the Polynesian leaders and it was the turning point for the leaders to finally decide to set up a Polynesia ethnic group organisation.
Tuilaepa gave the idea public discussion when he suggested the idea during his lecture to commemorate the 40 years of the Pacific Islands Forum in middle of this year. The invitations to other Polynesian leaders came after further discussions during last months Forum in New Zealand.
Tuilaepa said the aim of the Union is not only to monitor the development of the Polynesian island affairs but also to help and work closely with each other. He said the Union will also strengthen the stand of Polynesian peoples in Pacific affairs.
“We will work together for the future of the Polynesian people in developing the economy, preserving our culture and values.” said Tuilaepa.
The Union will also play a major role in sharing knowledge and mutual understanding in educating the Polynesian people in issues crucial to their survival such as environment and health.
“Climate change is one major issue that unites the group as all of us are vulnerable to these changes,” said Foua Toloa, Head of Tokelau.
With the exception of Samoa, all other islands are still under political ties to big countries like the United States of America, New Zealand and France.
Tuilaepa credited the leaders of these islands for showing interest in the Union. He also acknowledged American Samoa’s Lt Governor Togiola Tulafono for taking a bold stand in joining the Union despite being a territory of the United States of America.
Governor Togiola said he signed a memorandum of understanding not an agreement but the territory is still subject to its political leaders in mainland.
He also pointed to common areas where both Samoas can benefit under the Union such as economic development and telecommunicatioins citing the new marine fibre optic cable currently in progress that he said will benefit both Samoas.
The eight founding members of the Polynesia Union are Tonga, Niue, French Polynesia, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Cook Islands American Samoa and Samoa.
“There is an opportunity for other Polynesian ethnic groups like the Maoris, Easter Island, Hawai’i and other interested indigenious people to join,” said Tuilaepa.
Fiji’s claim that they are part Polynesia part Micronesia was noted by the founding members. Tuilaepa said that the Lau group in Fiji are part Polynesians hence the similar dialogue and family relations shared with other Polynesia ethnic groups.
The other group that share Polynesian dialogues are the people from the western side of Taiwan in China. Tuilaepa said that there are similar words that Taiwan share with Samoa such as “fale” and “tamaititi” and if there is interest, they would be welcome. This similarity has strengthened the belief that Polynesian people originated from somewhere in Asia, most likely Taiwan given recent scientific evidence as opposed to the popular Lapita pottery theory suggesting Polynesian origins as from Papua New Guinea.
The group’s chairmanship is to be rotated with the host leader to be the chairman and the Polynesian Union will meet in Rarotonga next year.