By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
His Royal Highness, Malietoa Tanumafili II, the head of state
of Western Samoa for more than 50 years, is in Hawaii to preside
over a fire-dancing competition next week.

Samoa’s Tanumafili
revered, respected

He is the second-longest-reigning
monarch in the world

By Susan Kreifels

He sat at the side of the empress of Japan during the emperor's coronation and next to the queen of England when Prince Charles married.

Malietoa Tanumafili II, head of state of Western Samoa, is the second longest-reigning monarch in the world next to the queen of Norway.

But it's his humbleness that draws the love and respect of Samoans around the world.

"I see myself as the servant of the people," said the 85-year-old head of state.

He speaks in soft Samoan, his hands tracing his words in the air.

Tanumafili is here as the guest of the Polynesian Cultural Center and will preside over next week's fire-dancing competition. The Samoan community in Hawaii has honored him at a dinner as well as Gov. Ben Cayetano.

He has reigned for more than 50 years and served as head of state since 1962, when Western Samoa became an independent nation and joined the British Commonwealth.

With the royal ranks shrinking in number and island cultures being swallowed up in Western modernization, the monarch, speaking through an interpreter, said language is the cement that holds a culture together. "Language is the binding force," said the leader, dressed in the traditional lava lava called iafaikaga.

He is steeped in tradition. A lei of pandanus seeds, reserved only for royalty, circles his neck. At dinners he is always seated on tapa and finely woven mats. His official royal residence is the former home of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Next week, he will speak at Kamehameha Schools. He's also spent a lot of time on the golf greens.

Rep. Eni Faleomavaega, congressman in American Samoa, said Samoans in the U.S. territory and Western Samoa share the same language and culture and are blood relatives. Western Samoa has a population of about 170,000 and American Samoa 60,000. Faleomavaega estimated there were 40,000 Samoans in Hawaii.

"He is very much revered in American Samoa," the congressman said. "We all have a real sense of appreciation for his tremendous example and contributions he has made to the Samoan community. He never fails to recognize the kinship between the two Samoas."

Faleomavaega said Tanumafili's great-grandfather communicated with Hawaii's King Kalakaua in an attempt by the two leaders to form a Polynesian confederation.

"His Royal Highness symbolizes so much of the tradition of Polynesian people," the congressman said. "This kinship is what has brought His Royal Highness to Hawaii. We have great appreciation for our Hawaiian cousins who have rekindled pride among Polynesian people."

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