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T. Tupua Address to World Summit

Address to World Summit 2019, Seoul, Korea, February 7–11, 2019


There is a Samoan saying, “E le sili le toa e a’ea le olo, i le toa e pulea lona loto,” meaning, “He who overcomes the fort is no less courageous than he who overcomes his impulses.” This is linked to the biblical saying in Proverbs 16, verse 32.

Samoa’s national motto is that it is a country founded on God. Samoans understand peace, security and human development as something that can be realised or achieved only when there is harmony in the heavens: that is, only if there is a state of lagimalie.

When our people wanted to know if it was safe to travel or to fish or to build or even whether to move forward on an initiative, they would look to the heavens or the skies. The word for heaven is lagi. Malie means harmony. Lagimalie is therefore heavenly harmony.

Over the last five years global conversations on peace, security and human development have rightly focused on finding balance between ethical practice and technological advancements and between equity and efficiency in terms of economic development.

Finding balance in these things will obviously mean something quite different in practice for governments of small island nations whose borders are encircled by the sea, compared to what is understood by governments of larger, more populous states whose borders are land based. So, what ought to be considered the defining factors for countries determining together not in isolation the balance between ethics, progress, equity and economic efficiency? What ought to be put on the table as common denominators? The answer is complicated and will depend on our ability to see beyond the geopolitics of each nation and region. And I support the contention that we really have no choice but to find common ground on core matters. But in doing so, however, we must at the same time respect each other’s rights as different nations to hold different worldviews.

That means acknowledging that human civilizations are indeed that; they are plural, not singular. It means that if we want people with centuries-old histories to come to the same table and want them to find common ground, peoples whose cultures and values are shaped by their unique histories, whose identities and genealogies depend on those histories, and whose collective and individual behaviors and moral compasses are motivated and guided by those histories, we cannot continue to talk about a world history as a singular phenomenon as if those rich diverse histories did not exist. In other words, we need to find ways as respective nations to openly engage in and celebrate the pluralities of our humanity and its multiple worldviews in our public governing cultures and education systems.

This also means prioritising multilingualism. It is said that ethnic languages are the windows into the souls of a people. Literacy in those languages ensures that that soul is kept alive across successive generations. Our ethnic languages ensure continuity and belonging; they ensure a sense of rootedness key to a grounded humanity and to determining ethical and equitable human growth. Continued resistance to nationalizing and incorporating indigenous languages into the governing fabric of society is an indictment against humanity.

Fluency in multiple ethnic languages can engender an appreciation and respect for the nuances of a people’s cultural values and history—their idiosyncrasies. This respect and appreciation include being able to appreciate different worldviews and how these impact economic agendas. We need to be able to bring this appreciation to the decision-making tables of our local, national and global leaderships, and to make it a central part of our methods for international political dialogue.

Pierre Calame reminds us about this in emphasizing the need to avoid homogenizing tendencies and for democratic nations to pay due respect to the rules for democratic political dialogue. This includes taking proper time to hear what people are saying at the provincial and local community levels, which is critical to building harmonious relationships between them and national government. These are the cornerstones of a democracy. The same rules apply at the international community level.

The reclamation of Indigenous languages and knowledge is about nothing else but the restoration of the mana and dignity of Indigenous peoples worldwide. Contemporary attempts to develop an Indigenous jurisprudence are real attempts to heal the imbalances caused by this loss of mana. This is where courage steps in. To overcome the damaging effects of both the fort and our impulses, we need courage. We need courage to speak truth to power, to admit to our weaknesses, and to give love even when we least want to. Only then will we be ready to truly learn and accept different cultural nuances and to build communication bridges that help us move forward in working together towards world peace, security and ethical and equitable human development. 

I wish to end with two comments: one a challenge and the other a proverb.

To find balance is to find lagimalie, or heavenly harmony. For Indigenous peoples, this means understanding our Indigenous references and then taking them to the world stage and sharing them in a manner that encourages true dialogue. This goes against current convention and requires significant access to resources—material, political and emotional. The challenge is expressed by my dear friend the late Father Paul Ojibway, who posed the question: Can we ultimately construct a balance between our differing worldviews? Father Paul went ahead to suggest that the base for integration is a matter of reference and that unless we begin with our own references, our own local lived references, and be unapologetic (not dogmatic) about it before moving forward, then we will be always living an imbalance.

I believe this also. Let’s explore and use our Indigenous references as moral and ethical lodestars to heal and shape our imaginations.

For Oceanic or Pacific peoples, neither the Greeks, nor Aquinas, nor Blackstone (useful though they are in terms of broadening our Pacific intellectual horizons) can help us in our dialogue with our own Pacific Indigenous references. Whereas they may have helped to locate our reference, they cannot help us make it speak to our hearts. That we have to do for ourselves.

The proverb that there is no life without death speaks to the Samoan concept of lagimalie, or heavenly harmony. In Korea, I am told, when seeds grow to blossom and then bear fruit and then return as seeds, there is a circulation that finds dependency and meaning between life and death, human nature and the environment. In the summer, the blossoms bear fruits for people to harvest in the fall; then in winter the seeds hide and wait for the coming spring to begin the cycle again. Here the earth balances and sustains life through this cycle of dependence, connection and meaning.

Peace is not about the absence of violence. It is about the presence of heavenly harmony. Security is similarly about living in a state of peace rather than having access to protection from harm. Human development is finding balance despite an environment of imbalance. When human development finds its balance, the imbalance in the environment will be restored.

I thank the Universal Peace Foundation for the honor and opportunity to share with you all today.



To go to the 2019 World Summit Schedule page, click here.