The written word and climate change

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

This year’s Short Story Competition run by the Samoa Observer and sponsored by Samoa Stationery and Books and Eveni Caruthers ended with its prize giving ceremony at S.S.A.B’s conference room. The writer was asked to say a few words about why the Samoa Observer values the competition and why the theme of this year, which is climate change, is especially important. This is what he said: 


Reverend Fa’afetai Fata,

Judges,

Sponsors,

Principals and Teachers,

Parents, Students

Ladies and gentlemen

 

On behalf of the Samoa Observer and our sponsors, I want to extend a very warm welcome to you all. Talofa and greetings. I know you must be anxious and itching to get your prizes, but I would like to say a few words first, before we do.

This competition started in 2011 from a programme called ‘Newspapers in Education’ - or N.I.E - that is published regularly in the Samoa Observer.

The idea behind N.I.E is to promote literacy in schools, encourage young people like yourself to read, read some more, and then write. By taking part in this competition, the Samoa Observer hopes that you, our young writers, become mentally stimulated by the written word, which we believe is the gateway to knowledge and further opportunities.

Former winners of this competition have continued their writing by becoming columnists in the paper, and have appeared as panelists, in regional literacy forums. Some of them have travelled to far away places such as China, as a result.

The competition also provides a purpose and a forum for stories to be read and acknowledged. I’m excited to say that some of your stories will be read by thousands of our readers in Samoa, and all over the world, when they are printed and posted online.

And because of the relevancy of this year’s stories to what is happening to all of us today, in terms of climate change, we are also looking at networking with some regional and international organisations, to share these stories because we believe that nobody understands climate change, better than us. 

But there is more. Ladies and gentlemen, we’d like to think that by participating in this competition, you are encouraged to write poems, short stories, plays and even novels, while becoming enthralled with the gift of knowledge and sharing your ideas through words, instead of wasting time on unproductive things.

The competition this year was open to students from Years 6 to Year 13, with entries in English and Samoan. Our N.I.E Coordinator, Marj Moore, visited more than 60 schools in Upolu and Savai’i, to encourage participation.

As a direct result of that visit come some of our winning stories today. 

Each year there has been a theme. Previous themes have included ‘Change’, ‘Heroes and Heroines’ and so forth. This year’s theme is “Climate Change.” 

This is a topic that is close to our hearts. It has been a major topic at international forums and most recently the 48th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting, successfully hosted by Samoa. 

Why does it matter and why did we want you to write about it? 

It’s simple. As the future of this country, you are the ones who will have to bear the brunt of the negative impact of climate change. Indeed, it has everything to do food security, depletion of natural resources, human security, health, education and so forth. Climate change is not a myth, we live it and we see it. While other countries believe it is a matter of dollars and cents, for us in Samoa – and many small Pacific countries – it is literally a matter of life and death. 

Now you’ve all had the chance to tell your stories about climate change.  So let me tell you my little story. I was recently asked to write a prologue for a global Climate Change publication that is being printed in the U.K. I want to share with you some bits and pieces from what I told them. It reads:

 “In remote the remote village of Salamumu, about 45 minutes from the Apia Township, I always thought it was heaven. I grew up there and many years ago I did not know much else. It was beautiful and filled with lava rocks. So beautiful that tourists and locals alike would visit, marvel and not want to leave again. On the coastline, it had one of the most scenic white sandy beaches on the island of Upolu. 

The aai was one of my favourite places. An endless stretch of white sandy beach, it was a place my father and I spent a lot of time during my childhood. 

You see, we didn’t have much in terms of money. Our survival depended on subsistence farming and fishing. One of my favourite times was when there was a tai lupo. My father, Ramese, would always know when it was the right time. 

He had been taught by observing his older folks, and it was a skill he was only too happy to pass on. He would look at the mosooi tree and when the mosooi tree produces flowers during a certain time of the year, he would know when to take my brother and I fishing. We would take our rods made from the bamboo tree behind our fale (hut) and ola (basket). Our lures were made using the feathers of the tava’e bird. 

During those times, there was not a whiff of doubt when we went fishing. We would collect enough lupo to feed our family, village and the entire community. It was a season to behold, one everyone looked forward to, because food was guaranteed. 

Those were fun times. I would always remember the joy it brought and the fascination I had with how simple it was. Sadly, fast forward to today, that is not the case anymore. At Salamumu – and in most villages in Samoa – the tai lupo has disappeared. We are left with the skill of reading the mosooi tree but unfortunately, we don’t know where the school of lupo has gone.

The most disappointing aspect for me is that I will not be able to pass the skill on to my children because there is nothing there for them. And they will never know the joy, and will never develop the interest and fascination I had growing up.

The second example I want to share is the palolo rising. 

It’s an occasion to behold. When the palolo rises, villagers grab homemade equipment knitted from mosquito nets, and make their way to the beach during the early hours of the morning. At the crack of dawn, some village men will check and indicate whether the worm has arrived.  Then everyone wades into the sea. All around them palolo worms are thrashing about in vast numbers, as thick as vermicelli soup. A good catch can earn families lots of money.

For Salamumu, there is an added bonus for the palolo to rise every year. Because the palolo in not found in all villages, people from all over Samoa would converge on Salamumu to try their hand at catching the worm. And with that comes money-generating opportunities since the village would charge a toll for every vehicle to access the beach.

During the good old days, families would collect baskets of palolo. They would share it and sell some. 

Today, things are no longer the same. In Salamumu especially, I cannot remember the last time there was a decent palolo rising. People still go in October and November but they have been coming back extremely disappointed. 

Everyone has different theories as to why it has slowly disappeared. I have a few ideas but for time, I’ll keep them to myself for now.

What I do know is that the palolo which was once available in abundance in Salamumu is no longer there. And that stretch of white sandy beach which I always thought was heaven, well it has also slowly disappeared.

Where have the palolo and our tai lupo gone? And who took them?” 

Ladies and gentlemen, these are the questions of our time.

Coming back to the occasion this morning, competitions such as this cannot be possible without sponsors. 

So on behalf of our Editor in Chief, Gatoaitele Savea Sano, Publisher Muliaga Jean Malifa and N.I.E Coordinator, Marj Moore, I want to acknowledge with gratitude the team of Fiti Leung Wai and Samoa Stationery and Books, who have been a major sponsor from the beginning. They are also heavily involved with youth through their literacy programmes and educational resources, which she will later speak about.

I’d also like to acknowledge Eveni through their brands Eveni Sports and Eveni Kids, who have been with us for two years.

I want to thank our Judges, Professor Silafau Sina Vaai, Papali’i Momoe Malietoa von Reiche, Julie Perelini, Fiona Collins-Toalepai and Asolelei Toalepai.

I would also like to acknowledge with our gratitude, Reverend Fa’afetai Fata’s role in opening our ceremony with a word of prayer, and in seeking our heavenly Father’s divine guidance and blessing.

Lastly, it is my privilege and honour to say congratulations to all of you who are, this morning, being rewarded for your effort in this year’s Short Story Competition. God bless!

 

© Samoa Observer 2016

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