Preparations made for huge celebration

4,000 to participate in what could be largest cultural event in Samoa's history

APIA, Samoa — Organizing a Church cultural event with between 4,000 and 5,000 participants would be a challenge anywhere, but in Samoa where Church members live in remote areas and many do not own cars it is especially daunting.

No one knows that better than Merita Fitisemanu, chairwoman of the Apia Samoa Temple celebration committee. She has been asked to coordinate the cultural celebration associated with the dedication of the temple. The first Samoa temple was destroyed by fire July 9, 2003. A newly built temple will be dedicated Sept. 4, 2005.

As has become tradition with recent temple dedications around the Church, a cultural celebration will be held Sept. 3, the night before the dedication. Elder Robert K. Dellenbach of the Seventy and President of the Church's Neew Zealands/Pacific Islands Area, said the celebration is hoped to be one of the "biggest cultural events in the history of Samoa."

Sister Fitisemanu reports there will be 4,000-5,000 participants ages 12 and older, from 16 stakes, in this multicultural event.

Practices for the event began in February. Since then, Sister Fitisemanu has been traveling to various stakes, rather than having performers come the miles into Apia. It is challenging for many of the island people, most of whom do not own cars and live where there is no bus service, she explained.

She reports that many walk several miles to make it to practices while some come by boat or truck.

Also, many of the teaching teams go out to remote areas; those going to Savai'i get up at 3 a.m. in order to catch the boat.

Sister Fitisemanu said it is a humbling experience to see many bishops and stake presidents and their wives involved in the dancing, as they want to set the example and motivate their ward members to follow. The dance directors and teams of musicians, many of whom are professionally trained and have worked at the Polynesian Cultural Center, are very committed and dedicated, she said. Sister Fitisemanu believes their years of practice and dedication, and their special talents, were given to them in preparation for this important day and this grand activity.

All the 8-11 year olds in the stakes are also being asked to participate. They have song practices during sharing time in Primary. Older choirs practice each week. The numerous costumes for the celebration will be made from natural products indigenous to Samoa — tropical leaves, Fiji sticks made from the stem of the coconut fronds, and fresh flowers. The grand finale will feature an outline of the temple made by the youth on the large field.

Sister Fitisemanu is a professional music teacher and has had to cut down on her piano teaching in order to devote the time and energy required to undertake this enormous task.

"The Lord has blessed me with extra energy," she said, noting when she first received the call she believed she couldn't do it. But, she added, "the inspiration comes to you — many times in the middle of the night, when I get out of bed and write things down."

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