In sport, the arts, fashion, academia, business and the corporate world, politics, music, and performing arts, Samoans have brought a unique Pacific influence. The community forged by the migrant settlers of the 1950s has evolved into a Pacific Island middle class.
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). Many of the Pacific MPs who have served in the New Zealand Parliament have been Samoan – including Anae Arthur Anae, Taito Phillip Field, Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban, Mark Gosche, Peseta Sam Lotu-liga, Carmel Sepuloni, Aupito Su‘a William Sio, Terisa Ngobi, Dr Anae Neru Leavasa and Lemauga Lydia Sosene.
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?’, and ‘How are we represented by others?’ feature prominently in 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. Joseph Churchward became internationally renowned as a font designer.
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 Freddie Keil to the opera singers Daphne Collins and Iosefa Enari, and to a younger generation who are communicating their urban experience and redefining what it means to be Samoan in New Zealand. Among the latter are Igelese Ete, Lole, Jamoa Jam, Ma-V-Elle, King Kapisi, Scribe and Ladi6. Jonathan Lemalu is a noted international opera singer.
Samoan playwrights, producers, comedians and actors include Lani Tupu Jr, Maiava Eteuati Ete, Nathaniel Lees, Jay Laga‘aia, David Fane, Erolia Ifopo, Makerita Urale, Oscar Kightley, The Brownies, Naked Samoans, Toa Fraser, Victor Rodger, Pacific Underground and Rose Matafeo. Some of the works that these artists have produced are ground-breaking 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. Jerry Collins, Keven Mealamu, Mils Muliaina, Ardie Savea, Rodney So‘oailo and Tana Umaga all captained the All Blacks, and winger Bryan Williams was a legendary player. Silver Ferns netballers have included Rita Fatialofa, Cathrine Latu, Bernice Mene, Leilani Read, Maria Tutaia and Linda Vagana. Boxers Jimmy Peau, David Tua and Joseph Parker have fought on the world stage (Tua contested the heavyweight championship, and Parker held the WBO heavyweight title from 2016 to 2018). Prominent basketball players have included Tall Blacks captain Byron Vaetoe. Among many rugby league stars are Monty Betham, Olsen Filipaina, cousins Joe and Nigel Vagana, Ruben Wiki, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Sonny Bill Williams (the last two were also All Blacks). Bill Tuiloma has played regularly for football’s All Whites.
Discus thrower Beatrice Faumuina was twice a Commonwealth Games gold medallist, and world champion in 1997. Other prominent Samoan sportspeople are tennis player Claudine Toleafoa, BlackCaps cricketers Murphy Su‘a and Luteru Ross Poutoa Lote Taylor (Ross Taylor), and kickboxers/mixed martial arts exponents Mark Hunt and Ray Sefo.