At our 2009 reunion, we were fortunate enough to have a special quest speaker, Brother Brett Macdonald. He talked to us about the pivital role Saimasina Tu'ipelehake-Su'apaia played in the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Samoa. It was deeply moving to hear Brother Macdonald's words giving further testimony to the spirit and strength of our patriarch. There was such an overwelming spirit of love in the room, it brought tears to our eyes. We will never forget that day.
We thank Brother Macdonald for his generousity in allowing us to reprint his speech for you to read. If you have any stories you would like to share as well, please click "Contact Us" and we will help to make it happen.
Fa'afetai/Alofa -- 2019 Reunion Planning Committee
"BURY ME HERE"
Remarks given at the Saimasina Tuipelehake family Reunion
7 August 2009
One of the great pioneers of Sauniatu was a half Samoan and half Tongan man of stature and intelligence named Su'apaia Saimasina Tuipelehake. He was born about 1845 in Salelavalu, Savaii to Tuipelehake and Taiana. He married Tui of Saumaga, Savaii and had seven boys and three girls.
One day at noon in 1892 while staying in Salelavalu, two Mormon missionaries passed in front of the family home. The house was crowded with relatives Who had come to mourn Salu, Saimasina and Tui's dying son. Physicians had failed, the native healers could do nothing and the minister had given up in despair.
When Saimasina saw the palagi missionaries he ran into the road and pleaded with them to save his young son's life. The missionaries had just arrived from Upolu to proselyte but willingly followed Saimasina into his home.
The missionaries went to the mat where Salu lay and observed the boy. "This case is too far gone," one of them said, "but if he is to be saved it will only be by the power of God through His holy priesthood." The boy's father, sobbing, pleaded for them to use whatever power they had to preserve his son.
One of the missionaries, a tall, thin young man named Edward Wood, anointed Salu with consecrated oil and blessed him that he might live.
Life returned to the boy and thirteen years later, his marriage to Alice, performed by Sauniatu's first teacher, Elder Felix Baird, was, as far as we can tell, the first wedding in the newly-settled village of Sauniatu.
How did the Tuipelehakes come to move from Savaii to be in Sauniatu? The miracle of Salu's restoration to health overwhelmed the family with a conviction that the gospel message preached by the Mormon missionaries was true. Saimasina took the matter seriously and joined the Church with many members of his large family. He was baptized on the 30th of December 1894 by Elder I. B. Burnham, who was known as "Panama."
The Tuipelehake family formed the core of the Salelavalu Branch but soon Saimasina received his first call to missionary service. He was sent eight miles north to the village of Tuasivi to help build the Church's largest chapel on the island and to establish a school.
In 1899, he was called on another mission to the island of Tutuila where he labored in the branches of Aua and Pago Pago. It was while he was there that his beloved wife, Tui, died in 1904.
Then, in 1905, Saimasina received a third and final mission call. He was asked, as a widower at the age of 60, to join a handful of Saints in the difficult task of carving out of the forest a gathering place and refuge in the mountains of east-central Upolu. Like a modem-day Lehi, he was to take all of his children, including the five who had already married and had started families of their own. In early February, within days of the dedication of the land and the selection of the name "Sauniatu," Saimasina walked into the valley. Sauniatu would be his home for the rest of his life.
Saimasina presided, with able Samoans and eager palagi missionaries, as the village grew. By April of 1905, there were 70 men, women and children clearing land, planting crops and building homes. By the end of that year a branch was established andl quickly began to grow. On December 10th, the branch's Relief Society was established with Saimasina speaking at the special organizing service.
A little over 10 years after Sauniatu was founded, an older, distinguished palagi man with a beautiful white beard came to the village. His name was Joseph Dean. Almost 30 years earlier, Joseph and his wife Florence and their baby son Jasper had arrived on the island of Aunu'u near Tutuila to officially open the Samoan Mission. Now he had returned again to Samoa as a missionary. His assignment was to begin translating the hymnbook from English into Samoan. He found lodging with Saimasina and his third wife, Sailiai. In their home he translated such hymns as "God Be With You Till We Meet Again." Saimasina's son, Kipeni (named after a missionary from Bountiful named Duncan Kippen who was close to the family), would then translate many more hymns into Samoan. Then another assignment came. Joseph Dean was to travel with his missionary son Harry and teach the members of the Church how to sing the hymns of Zion. Saimasina and his son Kipeni would be their companions. Throughout the villages of Upolu, these four men would travel and teach. Harry would play his violin and Kipeni a small pump organ that he had ordered from America. Saimasina would conduct the music lessons. It is recorded that sometimes the congregations of Saints would stop singing in the middle of a hymn in order to listen to Saimasina's beautiful voice.
The home of Saimasina and Sailiai was the social center of the village. Mission presidents, missionaries and other visitors always found a good meal and warm hospitality in the Tuipelehake home.
But of all the visits, the one that meant the most to Saimasina, was the visit of Apostle David O. McKay in 1921. It is written that at the welcoming fiaifia, Saimasina distinguished himself as a particularly skilled and graceful dancer. Elder McKay was hosted in Saimasina's home and ate meals with his family. Eight weeks later, Saimasina lay dying.
The Sauniatu Branch Record reports:
"Saimasina is very sick ... [Unless] a change comes within a few hours, he will be gone."
"Saimasina is very low. Once today we thought he was dying. But tonight he seems a little revived and there is yet a chance if the Lord wills it so."
Saimasina's family members pleaded with their father to allow them to take him back to his village of Salelavalu. It was his birthplace, he was a high chief there, and he had lived and worked in Sauniatu for over 16 years. He would be received with great respect and honor and no one could deny that he deserved it.
Through streaming tears Saimasina told his missionary companion son, "No, Kipeni, bury me here. My mission is not over because I have not yet been released. Bury me here and let my grave be a monument for all my children and their children and coming generations in our family that I died happily serving the Lord."
Then he asked that the family gather in his home, around his bedside, and sing his favorite hymn, "Come, Come Ye Saints." His granddaughter, Mei, whom he raised and for whom he had a special affection, arranged the portable pump organ that Kipeni had purchased years before at his feet. Saimasina quietly left this life for the next listening to the songs of Zion he loved so dearly, had sung so often and had taught to so many.
Brother Brett Macdonald
Garden Grove Stake Center
Westminster, California, August 7, 2009
To preface the importance of Saimasina, Brother Macdonald also read from an article that appeared in Utah about the influence of Saimasina. Our ancestor was not only important in Samoa, but in the Church as a whole, by brother and apostle alike.
Saimasina, Beloved Church Member of Samoa, Passes Away
Deseret News, September 24, 1921
A great Polynesian has gone to his long last rest. "And who may it be?" you of the northlands may question: "How may he be called great, when we have never seen his name in print, nor been aware of his having lived?" True enough, measured by man's false standards of [fame] and wealth -- he was not a popularly accepted man of greatness. And yet, in the hereafter [in Heaven], when men will be men because of what they are, and not because of what they have, and God's omnipotence shall decide their greatness, ... then will the glory of Saimasina continue to shine throughout eternity.
Here are some of the characteristics which he adopted as life's principles and wove into the ... fabric of [his] soul: humility; kindness; steadfastness; fearlessness of ridicule, of ostracism, of persecution from ... fellow islanders because he always maintained that truth is truth, and that it is revealed in this dispensation; a love and reverence for the [missionaries] that never once permitted an unkind or disrespectful word to come from his lips towards them; observance of the commandments of God in their entirety; a willingness to go more than halfway to win over an unjust enemy; a priceless legacy bestowed to forthcoming generations; ... a veritable patriarch in the kingdom of his Lord and Master ...
He has always impressed me for now these fourteen years since I first met him and learned to know and love him, and cherish his deep friendship and true brotherhood ... [He stands] at the head of numerous [descendants] as father, leader, advisor and protector. How could he be [considered] anything other than patriarch as that term was signified in the ancient meaning? More especially, too, when we consider the fact that in his veins ran the pure blood of Israel...
Saimasina came into the world at the boundary of darkness and light in Samoa -- about the time that Christianity was being introduced ... His was from an influential family of the Fa'asaleleaga district, and his chief's name is a high-ranking one which commanded respect. To cast this chieftainship away for a new and unpopular faith; to accept derision and contempt and persecution; ... to discard the habit of lifetime tobacco use -- these things have kept many great white men in nations to the north from accepting Mormonism. How can we decide otherwise, then, that Saimasina displayed greatness of soul when he, in the eyes of egotistical whites, was a mere savage from the bush of Savaii but [accomplished all these things]?
In [no] step did he ever waver, but, surmounting all obstacles, he [became] in the years since [his conversion] one of the best and greatest men the Church in Samoa has developed ...
Now this simply means that nowhere may his faithfulness and greatness be excelled ... David O. McKay, here with us for a month on their historic journey, [said] that in all the world there are no more devoted, faithful, genuine Saints than are to be found in Polynesia...
...He was no ordinary man [and] had a temperate, clean life ... His one overmastering wish and hope -- to meet an Apostle of the Lord who in latter days possessed the identical power that marked those of old whose story he so well loved to read in the scriptures -- came to a joyous fulfillment when the first Apostle to set foot in all the South Seas came in the person of Brother McKay.
Long will his exemplary life exert its influence for good upon the lives of those fortunate enough to have partaken of his influence. We who knew him are materially bettered for having had his association and never will [forget] the inspiration ... [of] this nobleman of the South Seas ... In passing to the other side he went fearlessly and hopefully and certainly, exactly as he used to pass from Upolu to Savaii. .. in his tiny frail dug-out canoe -- one of the few who had the courage to pass from the clutch of old time life to the new.
John Q. Adams
Samoa Mission President
Pago Pago, Samoa, August 31, 1921