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South Pacific's Nauvoo

Sauniatu, in serene mountain valley of Samoa, celebrates 100th year

SAUNIATU, Samoa — Nearly 1,000 people came from overseas and all parts of Samoa to participate in the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the village called Sauniatu on Nov. 8, 1904.

Samoan Prime Minister Malielegaoi visits refurbished cemetery during celebration of centennial of Mormon colony in Samoa.
Samoan Prime Minister Malielegaoi visits refurbished cemetery during celebration of centennial of Mormon colony in Samoa. Photo: Photo by Brett Macdonald

The large celebration was to honor the memory of the early Samoan saints who came here seeking refuge from religious persecution. Sauniatu has been referred to as the "Nauvoo of the South Pacific."

The location and heritage of Sauniatu in this serene village set in the crater of an extinct volcano has distinct and deep spiritual meaning for the many people who have lived, worked, taught, learned and died here. Just as the early saints in the United States were persecuted for their beliefs, so too were the early Samoan members. They gallantly bore persecution, ridicule, hardships and bitter hostility, yet their faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ remained unshakable and firm.

Truly the early saints of Samoa were pioneers without wagons, preparing the way for the nearly 60,000 members of the Church living in Samoa today. In the Samoa language, Sauniatu literally means, "a place to prepare."

Samoa's Prime Minister Tuilapea Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi, three members of his cabinet, several members of parliament, and a contingent of high-ranking chiefs attended the special day. Representative Eni F.H. Faleovavaega, U.S. congressman representing American Samoa, attended at the prime minister's invitation. Entrepreneur Rex Maughan, who served a mission to Samoa, rescheduled an annual reception for dignitaries at the Robert Louis Stevenson museum to coincide with the Sauniatu celebration. Also in attendance were a number of former missionaries and Church leaders from past years. The proceedings were organized under the direction of local priesthood leaders.

Members enter Sauniatu on 100th anniversary.
Members enter Sauniatu on 100th anniversary. Photo: Photo by Brett Macdonald

In his remarks, the prime minister commented on his deep appreciation for the Church's efforts to preserve and honor its past — especially the interest shown by local members of the Church as evidenced in the recently completed cemetery renovation and historical information that was placed on display. Representative Faleomavaega, a member of the Church, said that he has heard of Sauniatu all his life and that he decided that he would finally visit "one of the most special and sacred places in the Pacific."

The day was filled with beautiful voices singing hymns and performing traditional Samoan music. Women in puletasis (Samoan dresses) joined by children and youth performing traditional dances added to the festivities.

Like it's sister city, Nauvoo, Sauniatu had a brass band. It was the first village in Samoa to have one. As part of the celebration a small brass band was organized and dressed in band uniforms. They played throughout the day at the celebration festivities.

Women are dressed in traditional puletasi dresses.
Women are dressed in traditional puletasi dresses. Photo: Photo by Elder Jerry King

The prime minister commented on how he enjoyed the band and encouraged the village to maintain it as part of their new heritage.

Brett Macdonald, Country Director of Religious Education in Samoa, said, "On wonderful and emotional days like this, the veil seems particularly thin — as it often does when you visit Sauniatu."

Elder Robert K. Dellenbach of the Seventy and president of the Pacific Islands Area, on an earlier visit to Sauniatu this year, re-dedicated the refurbished Pioneer Cemetery at the original village site.

Members join  in celebrating the centennial of the village. About 1,000 people attended.
Members join in celebrating the centennial of the village. About 1,000 people attended. Photo: Photo by Brett Macdonald
Children take part in traditional Samoan dances.
Children take part in traditional Samoan dances. Photo: Photo by Brett Macdonald
A white monument, slightly to the left of center in photo, commemorates the visit of Elder David O. McKay to village in 1921.
A white monument, slightly to the left of center in photo, commemorates the visit of Elder David O. McKay to village in 1921.
A long-time member and Sauniatu resident Olevia Seumalu enjoys celebration held to honor early Samoan saints.
A long-time member and Sauniatu resident Olevia Seumalu enjoys celebration held to honor early Samoan saints. Photo: Photo by Brett Macdonald

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