Champions on and off the field
As Samoan Language Week events are celebrated by Samoan communities living around the planet, this year’s Samoan Language Champions demonstrate that Samoans are a global family or aiga, says Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres.
Samoan Language Champions 2011 are:
Manu Samoa – National Samoan Rugby union team
Nigel Vagana – retired rugby league legend and current Education and Welfare Officer for Australian Rugby League (ARL)
David Tua – professional heavyweight boxer
Troy Polamalu – Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety, United States National Football League (NFL)
This year’s theme is Samoa Active: Samoa Ola with a focus on sport, healthy living and language. Samoan Language week partners for 2011 are FAGASA, the Human Rights Commission, the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO and the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs.
The announcement was made at a special event hosted by Rotorua’s Samoan community on Saturday 4 June. Organisers wanted to hold the event in Rotorua to recognise Samoan communities living outside the main centres, but also recognise that Manu Samoa are based in the Bay of Plenty city during the Rugby World Cup later this year.
The organisers of Samoan Language Week have witnessed that fa’asamoa, (the Samoan way) is a strong cultural force that is celebrated wherever Samoan communities reside whether that be in Pittsburgh, Sydney, Rotorua or of course, Samoa.
“Each of our language champions are outstanding role models on the sports field and off,” says Mr de Bres.
“They are a crucial way to encourage young people to be proud of their heritage and to keep speaking their language.”
Manu Samoa were named for their extraordinary sporting prowess as well as their promotion of the language and culture of their homeland.
“Manu Samoa are ranked the 12th best rugby team in the world, an incredible achievement considering Samoa is ranked 179th in the world in terms of population,” says Mr de Bres.
“The team’s use of the language and culture on and off the field are why we have chosen to honour them today.”
Speaking from Apia, Samoan Rugby Union chief executive Su’a Peter Schuster says he, the team and union were humbled by the announcement.
“Keeping close links to your roots, your heritage is important and for Samoans this is founded on family, culture/language and God. We are honoured to be recognised as role models.”
Retired professional rugby league player, Nigel Vagana has consistently promoted Samoan language throughout his career and now through his role with the AFL.
Mr Vagana said he was honoured to be associated with Samoan Language Week.
“Through our NRL Education and Welfare Programs, understanding and preserving our cultural identity is something we have worked hard on,” says Mr Vagana.
“The Samoan National Anthem says "..Oi Samoa e, u'u mau lau pule ia fa'avavau. " which means " Oh Samoa, hold fast your freedom forever ". I encourage Samoans worldwide to embrace your Heritage and Culture and support this great initiative.”
Throughout his career, professional boxer David Tua has proudly promoted Samoan language and culture. Choosing to pay tribute to his family and God and supporters in Samoan –and often Maori – before and after every bout.
“Known for his humble demeanour, and Samoan language outside the ring and devastating talents inside the ring, Mr Tua is an inspirational role model,” says Mr de Bres.
Meanwhile NFL legend, US-born Troy Polamalu may have grown up in Oregon but his ties to home remain strong. Each year he holds football training camps in American Samoa for local youngsters and provides equipment and educational scholarships.
Drafted into the NFL before graduating like many players, Mr Polamalu recently returned to college and graduated from the University of Southern California a few weeks ago. On his website he explained why he returned to tertiary study:
“I truly love football and it’s such an immense blessing and privilege as an athlete to be given the rare opportunity to use those talents at the highest professional level, but it’s certainly not a replacement for an education.”
“So I decided to finish what I started and walked that stage today not only because it was very important to me personally, but because I want to emphasize the importance of education, and that nothing should supersede it.”
Samoan Language Week has brought together thousands of Samoans living around the world with many connecting via the ever popular, Samoan Language Week Facebook Page.
“From flash mobs of students performing siva Samoa in Auckland University’s quad to NFL football stars recording shout outs of support from the Chicago Bears changing rooms, picnics in Australia and today’s cultural celebration here in Rotorua: the celebrations of Samoan language and culture are taking place all over the world,” says Mr de Bres.
“We are proud to honour and recognise some outstanding Samoan sporting champions who are also people who promote their Samoan language and heritage wherever they live around the world.”
Media please contact: Christine Robertson (UNESCO Public Relations) on 64 027 506 3370