Canoes bring people together
16th July 2012
As Gaualofa sailed through the Solomon Islands towards Honiara we passed Malaita, the island my Papa Sale came from. All the stories my mom told me about Papa went rushing through my mind and I could picture him sitting there on his rocking chair in our family home in Samoa as he did his best to pile all his grandchildren on his lap. My mom Helen was one of the youngest. As a child I always wanted my mom to describe Papa Sale. She said he had copper skin and reddish brown hair with a big friendly smile. About 10 years ago we found a photo of Papa in an old family album. My mom and her sisters made copies to frame and place in their respective homes. We could only dream of the day that this very photo would help us trace our family in the Solomon Islands.
With myself on board the Gaualofa heading towards Honiara and my parents and sister flying in from Samoa for the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts, destiny was lining us up for a family reunion of the century.
It was an easygoing morning in the floral arranging booth at the festival village when my mom started chatting with some of the volunteers about her grandfather from Malaita. This is something we often spoke to people about upon arriving in Honiara, but this time the volunteers insisted on making an announcement on the main stage in hopes of connecting our family. Shortly after hearing the announcement, a young lady from Malaita named Selena who was working for the Tahitian delegation called her parents to inform them that the granddaughter of Sale Gwaliasi was here from Samoa looking for her family. Amazed and stunned by the news, Selena’s parents and other members of their family-our family, came to meet my mom. With Papa’s photo in hand, my mom met several cousins who resembled many of my aunties and uncles in Samoa and New Zealand. I was working on Gaualofa at the Point Cruz Yacht Club when I heard the news and I was overcome with joy. My mom’s cousin Samson was organizing a big family dinner and soon I would have a chance to meet my Solomon family too.
Uncle Samson picked us up and drove us to our family home in Lau Valley where many of the Malaita population in Honiara live. Lau is the name of the region on the Northeast coast of Malaita where my tribe comes from. When we arrived at our family home, cousins, aunts, and uncles were there to greet us and I was so thankful to see them. It was a moment in time that felt like a dream. Being with our family from Malaita felt surreal and at the same time it all seemed to make sense, like a piece of a large puzzle that fit perfectly. My great grandfather Sale Gwaliasi came to Samoa in the early 1900’s and about a century later we have come full circle, reconnecting with our family from Malaita. My heart is filled with gratitude and I will never forget this reunion.