Friday, January 5, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, January 5, 2001

Samoa's prime minister visits Isles

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

Samoa’s prime minister said here yesterday that a merger of his country with neighboring American Samoa is not likely in his lifetime.

Prime Minister Tuilapa Sailele Malielegaoi, 56, said that while the two Samoas have good relations and some in each country hope for unification some day, political and economic differences make that very unlikely "as yet."

Samoa, an independent country with a parliamentary system of government, and American Samoa, a U.S. territory, lie about 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii.

The Samoan archipelago was divided up by Germany and the United States around the turn of the last century. New Zealand occupied Western Samoa during World War I and ruled it until the country, now simply called Samoa, gained independence in 1962.

American (Eastern) Sa-moa, with a population of about 60,000 (about one-third that of Samoa) may be reluctant to give up U.S. financial support and other benefits of direct ties with America, the prime minister indicated.

Malielegaoi arrived here yesterday for three days of visits with leaders of Hawaii’s Samoan community and to promote Polynesian Airlines’ resumption of twice-weekly service between Honolulu and Samoa’s capital, Apia.

Malielegaoi said he wanted to salute Hawaii residents of Samoan background not only for their continuing support of their home country, but also for their accomplishments as business and political leaders in Hawaii.

Estimates of the Samoan population in Hawaii range from 18,000 to 30,000, but division of that number between those from Samoa and American Samoa is difficult, leaders here say, because of widespread intermarriage.

And some U.S. residents may be reluctant to acknowledge Samoan citizenship because they are subject to strict immigration and visa requirements, while those from American Samoa can travel freely in the United States.

Malielegaoi acknowledged that the Honolulu-Apia air service is a "difficult route, one which has been the graveyard" of many previous efforts by private airlines and by the government-subsidized Polynesian Airlines.

But it is important to maintain the service for the many members of Samoan families in Hawaii and on the U.S. Mainland, for business contacts and for tourists discovering the attractions of the Samoan island chain.

"Samoa is very like old Hawaii, but even more laid back," said Daphne Fuimaono, wife of Polynesian’s Hawaii Islands manager, Peter Fuimaono.

About 100 Samoan community members and chiefs turned out to greet Malielegaoi with an awa ceremony in which he and the local leaders drank from a coconut shell containing the stimulating drink made on the spot by grinding roots of the awa plant.

Malielegaoi, wearing a coat and tie over his lava lava, took the customary position of honor, seating himself against one of the columns of the new Kapiolani Park Bandstand to receive toasts and colorful gifts including kapa bark cloth and Hawaiian quilts.

Asked if new American restrictions on shark finning and on fishing in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Preserve could give Samoan fisheries a competitive advantage, Malielegaoi said his government will continue to work closely with American Samoa on fishing practices in the region.

Fish represent about 60 percent of Samoa’s exports, and are an extremely significant part of the economy, which also includes light industry and agriculture, the prime minister said.

Hawaii fishermen and brokers have said the new reserve in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands will reduce the take and increase costs here to the point that buyers will turn increasingly to South Pacific nations such as Samoa and Fiji for fish.

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