I was well out of high school before I fully understood that the history we learned there is not really mine. I mean, I loved the stories of Socrates, Da Vinci, Magellan and Napoleon, Martin Luther and Abraham Lincoln, and I still think it’s important to know these historical figures, especially as we navigate the Western world they helped to shape. But years later when I discovered the story of Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III, I couldn’t believe that I, a now grown ass Samoan woman, had never heard of him before. And then when I was telling all my Samoan friends about this Head of State who lost his life defending the freedom of our ancestors, no one in my generation or younger had heard of him either.
Well that just made me sad.
I understand that Samoan history is not too relevant in many parts of the world, but I went to school in Hawaii, Saipan and New Zealand. You’d think that education in New Zealand, especially, might want to include a few stories from the history of a people they once colonized, who still make up such a huge part of their migrant population. Why aren’t all of us in the Pacific learning more about our own history? (Aannndd breathe.)
Anyway, thank goodness for books – and for the growing number of passionate writers documenting the history of Pacific people. I hope these stories become required reading for more of our schools.
A few months ago I helped a friend organize a workshop for the school holidays program at a local library. We decided to make it a leadership workshop focusing on 3 heroes from Pacific history – yayy! – and off I went to look for these heroes in books.
Ru the Explorer
Ru was one of Polynesia’s ancient, seafaring heroes. A lot of stories about Ru are fantastical legend now, but all legends are based on truth, right?
Ru was a master navigator who loved to explore the oceans. He invited his friends and family along on yet another high seas adventure, but most of them were afraid to leave home.
So in a rousing speech, Ru told them to be fearless, to embrace the excitement of discovery. He taught them that they should always be moving forward, that the mysteries of the ocean were waiting out there for them.
Ru got his people so inspired that his whole family – all his wives, all his brothers and their wives, etc. – joined him on his expedition. Aaannndd you can read the rest of this story in Cook Island Heroes. (Go find out why Ru included 20 princesses as part of the crew on his voyage.)
Spoiler Alert: Ru lead the expedition that eventually discovered, populated and governed – quite cleverly – the island now known as Aitutaki.
I found my next Pacific Island hero in another David Riley book.
Tongan American football star Haloti Ngata is a modern day Pacific hero.
Haloti’s success was inspired by heroes in his own life. He was named after his uncle, who played college football, and decided to follow in his footsteps. It was his father, though, who taught him the value and power of hard work. Haloti remembers one day when he was a teenager tempted to nap on the floor instead of doing his chores. He heard his father come in and quickly jumped into a plank position, as if he had been doing push ups instead of sleeping. His father expressed his approval, encouraging him to keep up the good work. In honour of his father and uncle, Haloti worked hard enough to eventually play football for Oregon University.
He was devastated when his father was killed in a tragic accident. And then a year later, Haloti suffered a knee injury which ended his football season. Imagine how discouraging that was for him. He just about gave up.. but thanks to the support of great friends and teammates, he fought through the challenging times – kept the faith – made it to the NFL in 2006 and went to the Superbowl in 2013.
You can read more about Haloti Ngata in David Riley’s Tongan Heroes.
I have been gushing about Lauli’i the Daughter of Samoa – and our last chosen hero – for several years now. Hers is another story I can’t believe I didn’t know growing up.
So Lauli’i was born in Samoa in the mid 1800s – back when the only people documenting our stories were foreign explorers. Her American husband took her to an editor in California who recorded her life story, as dictated to him, in her own words… and her incredible description of Samoa back then? I can hardly imagine that world today.
I’m still in awe of Lauli’i because hers is the only indigenous Samoan ‘voice’ I’ve ever read from before the 20th century. She’s a Pacific hero not only for leaving behind a written record of her life, but also because as a very young child, she survived an extraordinarily dangerous time in Samoan history.
I’d be here all week if I started telling you Lauli’i’s thrilling true story. You really should read it yourself it’s FREE online, even, at Google Books.
More Pacific Heroes
Who are your heroes from Pacific history? Whose stories do you think our schools – especially in the Pacific – should be teaching? Tell us in the comments below.
In 2019, Manaui: The People of Oceania will begin highlighting our contemporary heroes – the men and women in our own communities who have inspired success amongst our people through their own achievements. We’re calling these heroes our Manaui Wayfinders.
We’re accepting nominations now.
In the comments, please also tell us who you think we should interview as our next Manaui Wayfinder.