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T.A. Tupua: Address to World Summit 2014

Address to World Summit 2014, Seoul, Korea, August 9-13, 2014

Achieving peace and positive human development are both aspirational and necessary goals for humanity. They are lodestars in our search for what is real and for what matters in life.

In the developing Pacific there is a strong and persistent belief in the spiritual elements of peace and human development. The indigenous peoples and cultures of the Pacific continue to find meaning, identity and solace in our spiritual heritages. These heritages continue to inform our sense of well being as individuals, communities and nations, and our sense of belonging to the region and the world.

In the indigenous reference of Samoa, the essence of peace for humans lies not in finding the absence of war or violence. It lies in finding harmony, harmony within oneself, with one’s fellow men, with the cosmos and with the environment.[1] Where these harmonies exist, it can be said that one is in harmony with God, that you are with God and God is with you.

In the indigenous Pacific, the ocean is considered family. In fact, the ocean is for some of us an important founding ancestor and thus an important part of our genealogies, our creation mythologies, our mana and tapu, our spirituality, connectivity and existence on this earth.

The recently passed Palau Declaration on “The Ocean” points out that the Pacific Ocean “is the lifeblood of our economies and societies and is crucial to global climatic and environmental stability. It is the fabric of unity upon which we have woven individual and collective relationships and agreements on sustainable development, now and into the future. The Ocean is our Life and our Future.”[2]

The negative impact of climate changes to the Pacific region cannot be understated. In 2009 and 2012 Samoa experienced two natural disasters – first a tsunami which took over 100 lives, followed by cyclone Evan, which destroyed homes and livelihoods. According to the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, small island countries “are the most vulnerable countries of the world to the adverse impacts of climate change” and the Pacific is “one of the world’s most vulnerable regions when it comes to a risk of disaster due to climate change, particularly several of the low-lying coral islands.”[3] Efforts to protect and develop the human, economic and environmental resources of Pacific island countries must seriously take this reality into account.

In ancient Samoa, protocols were developed to ensure that the environment was preserved long enough for it to replenish itself. During times of re-growth, certain trees and plants were prohibited from being cut or picked. These protocols and the tapu or sanctions associated with them provided sustainable conservation strategies that dictated what man could take from the environment, when and how much. Such strategies prioritized need over profit. In this context, the taking of natural resources was never to go beyond what nature herself could sustain in terms of natural re-growth. Tasks associated with fishing, planting, harvesting and building were therefore coordinated in accordance with predetermined cosmic and environmental timings. Here the harmony between man and the environment is most pronounced. Current strategies for addressing climate change impacts in the Pacific are returning to the wisdom of our ancient system of sustainable environmental resource management.

All human development projects involve a search for harmony: harmony achieved not through begrudging compromise or temporary underhanded political tactics or maneuverings but through genuine selfless and collective willingness to be truly inclusive and balanced.

In Samoan indigenous leadership, it is the job of the leader, the matai or chief, to always search for balance between the wisdom of the long view (tofa mamao) and the wisdom of the deep view (fa’autaga loloto). The search for balance between these wisdoms is eternal and akin to our search for peace. In Samoan we call this search the tofa sa’ili. There is much need in modern Pacific societies, indeed in the world, for tofa sa’ili.

Pacific island countries have enjoyed varying degrees of political stability. In 1962 Samoa was the first Pacific island nation to achieve independence from colonial rule. We have since enjoyed considerable political stability. The non-violent legacy of our Mau independence movements serve as poignant reminders that peace can be achieved and sustained through peaceful means.

Christianity has had a profound impact on Pacific island countries since its introduction to the region during the 18th and 19th centuries. Ninety-nine percent of Samoan people declared in the last census an affiliation to one or more Christian denominations. The Christian church was instrumental in creating written Samoan. Today the Christian church works closely with Pacific states and traditional authority structures to achieve and maintain peace and positive human development within and across Pacific communities. To be effective, the project of peace and human development in the Pacific must recognize that there exists today an intimate, even if at times tense or contradictory, relationship between indigenous and introduced religious belief systems. The ways in which these belief systems come together affect social, political and economic stability. In short, they affect not only the peaceful running of a country, but its soul.

A key challenge to achieving peace and positive development in any country or region lies in how to allow the many different voices that come together – to live, worship and sing together – to do so not in unison but in harmony.

In Pacific societies today, power and status are more often than not given to men, and men with money and modern educational qualification. Hearing and respecting the voices of the disadvantaged or vulnerable groups within society (for example, our children, women, disabled, mentally unwell and/or poor) is not easy, especially if it undermines the voice of those in power.

In the 1980s Samoa is reported to have had some of the highest youth suicide rates in the world. Thankfully, this is no longer the case. Today we have growing trends of disproportionately high numbers of violent crimes committed against females, especially poor and uneducated females, and committed by young men. These statistical trends have given rise to the establishment of state, faith-based and/or NGO supported services such as Victim Support and Youthline. It has also generated a need for better information on both the problems and possible solutions.

Achieving peace and human development in this context, therefore, means not only addressing the needs of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged within our societies, but also first admitting that they do exist. It also means that everyone – young and old, male and female, rich and poor – has a responsibility to ensure that when they or another person comes into strife that they know they can seek help and actually do. This requires a society willing to give help and give without expecting anything in return.

Rev. Moon has said that “True love is a heart that gives and gives and wants to continue giving. True love is a love that forgets it already gave love and gives love again.”[4] This idea of enduring love and selfless giving reminds me of the oft-quoted Samoan proverb: “E leai se gaumata’u na o le gaualofa”: what you do out of hate will not survive; what you do out of love will live forever.

In this proverb true love and selfless giving play out in an intense drama between a powerful ancient Samoan warlord and the family of his daughter’s husband and their unborn child. In this story the father seeks revenge against his daughter’s in-laws. The only thing that is able to placate his anger is the self-realization that despite all the hate he had for his enemies, his love for his daughter and unborn grandchild was stronger.

Peace and positive human development come from that place deep within us where true love and selfless giving flows. Rev. Moon’s vision of a river of love that flows and connects humanity, breaking down barriers and bringing peace and positive development to the world is a vision that resonates across cultures and so is worthy of our full support.

God bless.

1. For further elaboration on this, see my chapter titled “In Search of Harmony: Peace in the Samoan Indigenous Religion,” in Su’esu’e Manogi: In Search of Fragrance: Tui Atui Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi and the Samoan Indigenous Reference (Suaalii-Sauni, T. et al., eds.). Apia: Centre for Samoan Studies, National University of Samoa. Chapter 8, pp. 104-114.

2. Pacific Island Forum Secretariat (August 2014). Palau Declaration on “The Ocean: Life and Future – Charting a Course to Sustainability.” Annex B, PIFS (14) 10 (Koror).

3. Cited in “The Global Mechanism (UN Convention to Combat Desertification) Group and the IFAD (Enabling the rural poor to overcome poverty). Group report on “Climate Change Impacts – Pacific Islands.” No date. Online at (Accessed 6 August 2014). The actual 4th IPCC Assessment report drawn on can be found online at (IPPC. 2007. Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Valencia. Spain IPCC.)

4. Rev. Sun Myung Moon. As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen, NSW, Australia: Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. (In Foreword, page xi.)

For more information about the World Summit, click here.