The community forged by the migrant settlers of the 1950s has evolved into a Pacific Island middle class. The so-called ‘browning’ of Auckland is unparalleled in any other city in the world. In sport, the arts, fashion, academia, business and the corporate world, politics, music, and performing arts, Samoans have brought a unique Pacific influence.
Academic and political achievement
Samoans have provided New Zealand’s first Pacific university professor (Albert Wendt), first Pacific Rhodes scholar (Damon Salesa), and first Pacific court judges (Aeau Semikueiva Epati and Ida Malosi). In politics all Pacific MPs except for one have been Samoan – Anae Arthur Anae, Taito Phillip Field, Luamanuvao Winnie Laban, Mark Gosche, Peseta Sam Lotu-liga, Carmel Sepuloni and Su'a William Sio.
Perhaps the most pervasive theme in the arts of New Zealand’s Pacific peoples is that of identity. Questions such as ‘Who are we?’, ‘How do we represent ourselves?’, ‘How are we represented by others?’ feature prominently and involve a range of media. Samoans have made major contributions to these debates.
Talented Samoan artists such as Fatu Feu‘u, Michel Tuffery, Andy Leleisi‘uao, John Ioane and Lily Laita have played a role in shaping New Zealand art.
In literature, the writers Albert Wendt and Sia Figiel have made their mark. Samoans have made a major contribution to music – from early pop and jazz exponents such as Mavis Rivers, the Yandall Sisters and Freddy Keil, to the opera singers Daphne Collins and Iosefa Enari, to a younger generation who are communicating their urban experience and redefining what it means to be Samoan in New Zealand. Among these are Igelese Ete, Lole, Jamoa Jam, Ma-V-Elle, King Kapisi and Scribe.
Samoan playwrights, producers and actors include Lani Tupu senior, Maiava Eteuati Ete, Nathaniel Lees, Jay Laga‘aia, David Fane, Erolia Ifopo, Makerita Urale, Oscar Kightley, John Kneubuhl, The Brownies, Naked Samoans, Toa Fraser, Victor Rodger and Pacific Underground. The works that these artists have produced are groundbreaking portrayals of the Samoan migrant experience.
The journalist Gilbert Wong sums up Pacific Islanders’ achievements in New Zealand:
‘All that first-generational migrant drive for children to make the most of education has resulted in the police officers, nurses, teachers, bank managers, lawyers and doctors …Some have attained the higher reaches of society … professional associations have sprung up … a critical mass of Pacific people forming a new identity a few hours by 747 from their home islands. New Zealand is close enough to the springs of Pacific culture for those living here to be refreshed and constantly renewed, whatever they choose to call themselves. And wherever, in terms of class, they end up.’ 1
The sporting achievements of Samoan people are impressive. There have been many members of the All Blacks rugby team: Bryan Williams, Joe Stanley, Va‘aiga Tuigamala, Michael Jones, Olo Brown, Frank Bunce and Tana Umaga. Netballers in the national women’s Silver Ferns team include Rita Fatialofa, Bernice Mene and Leilani Read. Boxers such as Jimmy Peau and David Tua have appeared on the international scene (Tua contested the heavyweight championship of the world). Among the Tall Blacks basketball players were Byron Vaetoe and Pero Cameron, and rugby league players include Dwayne Mann, and cousins Joe and Nigel Vagana.
In athletics, the discus thrower Beatrice Faumuina was twice a Commonwealth Games gold medallist, and became world champion in 1997. In individual sports, New Zealand has been represented by Claudine Toleafoa in tennis, Murphy Sua in cricket, and Ray Sefo in kickboxing.