Pacific community marches for change
Mon, 18 Jun 2012 9:42a.m.
Opinion by Falaniko Tominiko
It was an incredibly cold morning, but there was nothing but warmth in the air, Pacific warmth, as hundreds of Pacific people gathered early on Saturday morning at Albert Park to embark on the Advance Pasifika march to the Aotea Square. Colourful banners and flags waved while masses of people talked, laughed, sang and danced in excitement, awaiting the start of the march. It was a fantastic sight, seeing the many Pacific groups represented by the young and the old, united in one cause. Even though the majority of people were strangers who had never met before, on that particular morning, none of that mattered, for at that very moment, everyone was family. Everyone had each other’s back, from the tiny tots who were pushed along in their prams, right up to the older mamas and papas. It was a true Pasifika affair.
Amongst the many empowering messages being bannered around, one that caught my interest was “Manatua le Mau”, referring to people to remember the protest movement, Le Mau a Pule, lead by Lauaki Namulau’ulu Mamoe in 1909 against the unfair treatment of the Samoan people by the German administration of the time. Although the mau movement didn’t bring out the desired result, it nonetheless showed the German administration that Samoans were not going to just sit around and be treated unfairly and unjustly. It was the precursor to the Mau of Samoa in the 1920s lead by Taisi Olaf Nelson, Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III, and later Mata’afa Mulinu’u I. It is the result of these protest movements that decades later, Samoa was once again able to regain its independence. As I became empowered by the memory of my Samoan freedom fighters that had gone before, I was also reminded of the many other Pacific peoples that were involved in their own struggles and their own fights against injustices to their own Pacific nations. A Mana Party banner turns my attention to the many Maori chiefs and warriors who for so long rebelled against the British through both peaceful and non-peaceful means, yet in the end, their fight was a losing one. I am reminded that the fight by our Maori whanau continues today, a fight that has been inherited by the descendants of those who fought from the beginning. I compare what we did today as an inheritance from our own ancestors who had to fight for what they believed in. The cause may be different, but the fighting spirit is the same.
My thoughts then turn to the great Kanak rebellion of 1878 by the indigenous Papuan inhabitants of New Caledonia in retaliation to the encroachment of their lands by both English and French settlers as well as poor living conditions. Lead by the great chief Atai, they were defeated by a far superior French force but again their stand illustrated the will of Pacific people not to sit still and do nothing. Then there was the Masina Rule of 1945 in the Solomon Islands, a movement by the Malaitans against the British colonial rule at the time. Although the movement was ended in 1947 by the British government, what it did was it showed them that Solomon Islander can organize themselves and run their own affairs, contrary to the British paternalistic views of the day. A Tongan flag took me back to the Tongan riots of 2007, and the Tongan Democracy Movement. Shortly after the riots, the newly crowned king, King Siaosi Tupou IV relinquishes some of his powers and in the process, Tonga prepares for its first ever democratic election. What the protests are successful in, regardless of outcome, is that the people’s voice is heard. On the morning of Saturday the 16th June, 2012, the Pacific voice was heard.
Finally my memories and recollections return to my homeland of Samoa. As the march passes through Queen Street and about a hundred meters from our Aotea Square destination, I am reminded of the tragic tsunami that hit my beloved island home in 2009. It dawns on me that our march was like a roaring tsunami about to hit the Aotea Square. Behind the tsunami is a power fuelled by the hopes and dreams of a Pacific population wanting change, wanting equality, wanting respect. The hope is that the tsunami march has cracked the walls and the boundaries that have prevented such changes. Just as tsunamis destroy places they’ve been, the hope is that the march has brought down these walls, and that the rebuilding may begin. The rebuilding of a society that is good, and fair not only to Pacific people, but to all New Zealanders.
Mayor Len Brown in my opinion gave a good response to the people. He said that he owed his becoming mayor to the Pacific people and in saying that, he reaffirmed his support for the Pacific community. He reminded the crowd of the first Pacific protest march of 1974 against the Muldoon government, the dawn raids and the unfair treatment of migrants. Their efforts of the time have made New Zealand a somewhat better place to live in for our generation, but much more can be done to make it an even greater place not only for Pacific, but for New Zealanders in general. Mayor Brown promised to walk with Pacific, to listen and to represent their needs. The Pacific community has spoken the Mayor has spoken now it is time to let actions do the talking.
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Falaniko Tominiko is studying a PhD in Pacific Studies, focusing on Chiefly systems. He discusses the development and changes of the Matai (Chief) system in Samoa.
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