Samoa's 50th kicks off
Thu, 31 May 2012 6:11p.m.
By Michael Morrah
New Zealand’s Governor General has taken a tour of Samoa's tsunami-stricken south coast to inspect the damage and progress towards rebuilding.
Sir Jerry Mateparae is in Samoa to represent New Zealand as part the country's 50th anniversary of independence.
The Governor General, along with hundreds of dignitaries from around the Pacific, is being officially welcomed at a special ceremony in Samoa. It's the beginning of what will be a busy five days, which this morning included a trip to the district of Alepata, where the tsunami hit in 2009.
Sir Jerry Mateparae arrived by Air Force Iroquois at Satitoa Primary School on the south coast of Samoa's main Island.
The pupils were impressed, as were village locals who came forward with gifts of 'ava (kava) and fine mats.
"We flew over very briefly before I came in and I was surprised at the level of progress in terms of the recovery on the southern coast," says Sir Mateparae.
New Zealand aid money helped rebuild schools, after many were flattened by the tsunami more than two years ago.
But away from the well orchestrated media event, it was clear there are still many in need of assistance.
"There is still a lot to do, especially in the area of water for the districts," says Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi.
The tsunami hit Samoa's economy hard. It owes millions and remains highly dependent on foreign aid, tourism and remittances.
But the Prime Minister says the country can cope with the unprecedented five-day, $4-million celebration of its independence.
"We would not have five days if we couldn't afford it.”
New Zealand has a close relationship with Samoa, but it hasn't always been that way. An influenza epidemic killed thousands in 1919 during New Zealand's administration of the country and Kiwi police shot and killed 11 unarmed democracy protectors in 1929.
One of them was a relative of the current Head of State.
"There is no bitterness,” says Head of State Tupua Tamasese Tupuola Tufuga Efi. “We are happy that the people who suffered behaved the way they behaved because they held true to their beliefs. And that vision and struggle has come to fruition."
It's that struggle that will be remembered and celebrated tomorrow.
The official independence programme will begin tomorrow morning at 7am.
Tonga's new king Tupou VI will be there along with leaders of all Pacific nations.
The day will begin with a church service, which will be followed by a flag-raising ceremony and a parade through Apia township.
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