Lesson in humility for the tinpot chiefs of Samoa

Tapu Misa

It was the 1960s, around the time Samoa finally gained independence from New Zealand and its at-times-disastrous administration, when Malietoa Tanumafili II saw a young boy outside the RSA club in Apia.

He was breathless from running, and looked anxious. Come here, Malietoa beckoned. What is it? What's wrong?

The boy had been sent by his mother, who was at the wharf down the road. They had just arrived on the boat from Savai'i to find that no one was waiting to pick them up. He'd been sent to fetch a taxi; there'd be one outside the RSA, his mother had told him.

The boy didn't recognise the distinguished man, so when Malietoa said he would drive the family home, the boy thought it was because he was a taxi driver. As did his mother, who didn't recognise him either.

When Malietoa asked her where her luggage was, she pointed him to two heavy boxes of ta'amu (a large, taro-like tuber). He carried them, obligingly, to the car.

Arriving at her house, she asked him to wait while she went inside to get some money from her husband. By the time he came out, Malietoa had unloaded the ta'amu and was already getting into his car to drive away.

The husband, a church minister, recognised Samoa's esteemed Head of State just as he was leaving. What was Malietoa doing here, he asked his wife - and where was the taxi driver?

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