|| It has been said among Samoan traditional fishermen that if you get stung by the spines of the Alamea (crown-of-thorns starfish), you should turn the starfish over and have its spongy-like feet touch the area where you have been stung. Although this is no laughing matter as the toxic chemicals in the spines could prove fatal, Samoans believe the Alamea will heal its own doing, hence, the Samoan proverb, “E fofo ele Alamea le Alamea.” When matters arise between two parties and conflicts develop, resolution is found by finding the soft side within.
Perhaps this Samoan proverbial expression best reflects the familial feud developing between our brothers in Fiji and Tonga. Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s statement and humor concerning the current crisis between Fiji and Tonga is accurate. This is truly a “storm-in-the-teacup” and an internal matter that should be handled in-house. The “brotherly squabble” seen here constitutes what many in the past have coined as the “Pacific Way” and I, too, have every reason to believe that the long, shared history and close relations between Fiji and Tonga would play an important role in finding resolution. This is something New Zealand, Australia and the United States never seem to understand nor appreciate when dealing with our fellow nations of the Pacific.
It was the late Prime Minister Ratu Mara, a Fijian paramount chief whose ancestry is also tied to Tonga and Samoa, who conceptualized and enhanced the true meaning of the phrase the Pacific Way. His efforts and leadership led to the establishment of regional institutions such as the South Pacific Forum and the Pacific Islands Development Program in the East-West Center. To a large extent, the Pacific Way represents the uniqueness of the island nations and their shared interest in doing things that are totally outside of western and elitist thinking. As the late Professor Ron Crocombe said, “[Pacific Way] clearly connotes some perception of an element of uniqueness and unity relative to external influence.”
Today, the Pacific Way faces challenges from global forces and outside interests. Economic as well as political interests have caused tremendous strain on the unity of the island nations. Yet one is reminded again of the words of Prime Minister Mara in a speech he delivered at the East-West Center in 1975.
We are oceanic people with all the advantages and disadvantages that
this brings. We can harvest the sea and the reefs and lagoons for our protein
needs – at least as long as we can avoid the pollution of the kinds that threaten
us nowadays…. It is surely one of the ironies of history that perhaps our
communications were better in those far off days than they are today.
The latest development between Fiji and Tonga is an example of how the Pacific Way might be the best way forward. In finding a solution to the problem, perhaps we can all learn a valuable lesson from the traditional Samoan fisherman and his experience with the sting of the Alamea. The solution is found by turning over the soft side and letting the spongy-like feet of the Alamea heal its sting – a concept that rarely occurs to the elitist and condescending in Wellington, Canberra, and Washington who never seem to take into account the Pacific Way when trying to resolve the problems confronting our island nations.
ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA is the Ranking Member and former Chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific