Royal welcome at jubilee gathering in Samoa
APIA, Samoa — A royal welcome greeted participants at the "Waves of One Ocean" conference that marked the 50th anniversary of the Baha'i Faith in Samoa and the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Baha'i House of Worship here.
The Head of State of Samoa, His Highness Susuga Malietoa Tanumafili II, said he extended his greetings with "profound wonder and thanksgiving to our Heavenly Father."
"Many friends have joined together to help bring this precious Faith to its present stage of growth and it is always a source of great joy for me to meet Baha'is from around the world," said His Highness, who is a member of the Baha'i Faith.
His Highness made a special mention of the Baha'i Temple in Samoa in his message, which was read to participants at a jubilee banquet by his daughter, Susuga To'oa Tosi Malietoa, who is also a Baha'i.
"One victory stands out among the many accomplishments we are celebrating this week and that is the building of a magnificent House of Worship dedicated twenty years ago," he said.
Present at the banquet, held on 22 September 2004, were acting Prime Minister Fiame Mataafa Naomi, other cabinet ministers, the chief justice, members of the diplomatic corps, and representatives of Christian churches.
Among the 150 Baha'is present were Lilian Wyss-Ala'i, who introduced the Faith to Samoa in 1954, and Hossein Amanat, the architect of the House of Worship.
The evening began with the reading of a message from the Universal House of Justice by the secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Samoa, Steven Percival.
"Your nation has won the everlasting distinction of being blessed by the presence of His Highness Susuga Malietoa Tanumafili II, the first reigning monarch to accept the Message of Baha'u'llah," the Universal House of Justice said.
"Members of the Samoan Baha'i community have made an important contribution to the advancement of the Faith in other parts of the region and have become distinguished for their energy, devotion, and vitality," the Universal House of Justice said.
Welcoming the participants on behalf of the government of Samoa, acting Prime Minister Fiame Mataafa Naomi said she acknowledged with gratitude "the continuous and unwavering service rendered by the Baha'i Faith to Samoa and its people for the last 50 years."
"You have demonstrated in words and deeds that religion is the real basis of civilized life, which includes peace building, promotion of human rights, equality of men and women, education, healthcare, and sustainable development," the acting Prime Minister said.
"May God continue to bless the house where mention of God hath been made, as well as the Universal House of Justice -- may His blessing be upon his Highness, the Head of State," she said.
Keynote speakers at the banquet also included Han Ju Kim-Farley and her husband Robert, who both spoke on moral leadership and values-based governance.
Groups and individual musicians from Samoa, Australia, the Cook Islands, Tonga, and New Zealand provided musical entertainment and the evening concluded with the graceful performance of a traditional dance by Saifale'upolu Tamasese, a Baha'i from Samoa.
A concurrent event held that evening was addressed by one of the early Baha'is of Samoa, Sione Malifa, and entertained by a variety of musical groups.
On the following day, more than 400 Baha'is attended a reception at the private residence of His Highness, the Malietoa.
Among those present were members of the Continental Board of Counsellors Beatrice Benson and Heather Simpson, as well as representative of the National Spiritual Assemblies of Samoa, Australia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand, and Tonga.
A traditional gift-giving ceremony was held, and groups from Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, and Tonga performed.
Mrs. Wyss-Ala'i also performed a Samoan dance. His Highness called on the performers to come forward to thank them personally.
Later, members of the National Spiritual Assembly, accompanied by other members of the Baha'i community, presented traditional gifts to the government of Samoa represented by acting Prime Minister Fiame Naomi and other cabinet ministers, including Health Minister Siafausa Mulitalo Vui, who thanked the Baha'is for their contributions to the country.
During a visit to the House of Worship at Tiapapata that same day, Baha'is from the Samoan islands of Savai'i and Upolu performed songs and dances that depicted the arrival of the Faith, the dedication of the Temple, and aspects of the Baha'i teachings.
Among gifts presented on that occasion was a traditional tapa cloth given by the Tongan Baha'is to Mrs. Wyss-Ala'i in memory of her late husband, Suhayl Ala'i, who served with great distinction in the region as a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors.
The Baha'is then visited the gravesites, located on the Temple property, of Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Ugo Giachery and Mr. Ala'i. They also visited the Baha'i cemetery and the Baha'i Montessori school.
At the official opening ceremony of the conference, held 22-26 September 2004, the chairman of the National Spiritual, Assembly Titi Nofoagatoto'a, introduced Mrs. Wyss-Alai to some 600 Baha'i participants from 21 countries.
Mrs. Wyss-Ala'i was one of six of the nine members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Australia and New Zealand to answer the call in 1953 from the head of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi, to take the Faith to countries where there were no Baha'is.
Then single and aged 24, she arrived in Apia, Samoa in 1954. Her brother, Frank, introduced the Faith that year to the Cocos Island. For their service, Shoghi Effendi awarded both of them the accolade of Knight of Baha'u'llah. It was a rare event that two members of one family received such a high honor.
Mrs. Wyss-Ala'i, who continues to reside in American Samoa, delivered an emotionally moving address to the conference during which she read the names of the 24 Knights of Baha'u'llah, 15 of them women, who took the faith to the Pacific Islands.
She spoke of her admiration for the Samoan people, told historical anecdotes, and described visits by Hands of the Cause of God Ugo Giachery, Abu'l Qasim Faizi, and Enoch Olinga.
During the past 50 years the Samoan Baha'i community has welcomed other distinguished Baha'i guests, among them Hands of the Cause of God Madame Ruhiyyih Rabbani, Collis Featherstone, Rahmatu'llah Muhajir, John Robarts, and William Sears.
Once the only Baha'i in Samoa, Mrs. Wyss-Ala'i is a member of a Baha'i community that now includes 29 Local Spiritual Assemblies.
The following day, the prime minister of Samoa, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who was on official business at the United Nations in New York, sent a congratulatory message to the conference in which he said: "May God bless you all and may you have a most successful celebration...."
Participants in a session about Baha'i history heard addresses by members of the Continental Board of Counsellors, Beatrice Benson, Heather Simpson, and Fereidoun Yazdani, all of whom later participated in discussions about the continuing expansion of the faith.
A devotional service dedicated to those Baha'i who brought the Faith to the Pacific was held at the Temple and featured choirs from Samoa, American Samoa, Australia, Fiji, and New Zealand. The architect of the House of Worship in Samoa, Mr. Amanat, delivered an address in the basement hall of the Temple.
The participants accepted an invitation by a member of one of the royal families of Samoa to Afeafe o Vaetoefaga, a place of historical and mythological significance.
"It is against this background of history that I formally associate my family with the 50th celebration of Baha'i in Samoa," said Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese, a former prime minister, and the cousin of Saialala Tamasese, one of the first local Baha'is.
That evening Samoan Baha'i youth dedicated a dramatic performance to the Baha'is of Iran, who have been suffering severe persecution for some 25 years. Other local and visiting groups also gave performances.
On 27 September many conference participants attended a joyous picnic at a local beach.
The festivities and conference received extensive coverage by national television, radio, and Samoan newspapers, published locally and abroad.
Baha'is in Samoa have made significant contributions to the well-being of the Samoan people. There are five Baha'i pre-schools in Samoa -- two in Savai'i and three on Upolu.
Members of the Baha'i community have been active in human rights education and have also produced a television cooking show promoting nutritional recipes.
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(Jubilee photos by Sitarih Ala'i, Pouya Ehsani, Hylton Grigor, Steven Percival, John Walker.)