By S. Si'ilata (c) 2021
Like all neighbouring countries, Samoa and Tonga have a complicated relationship that has spanned back to legendary times - however the relationship between these two countries as well as others including Fiji and Uvea & Futuna could not be told without mentioning the actions of each nation in each-others' histories.
Clearly things weren't always peachy between neighbours as language relates; the Samoan word from ancient times for a scheme or trickery is the word 'togafiti' - literally meaning, 'Tonga and Fiji'. And Tongan expansion throughout western Polynesia really didn't help them win many local popularity contests during the heyday of Tu'itonga rule - a few of whom were born to Samoan mothers by the way, after the reign of Kauulufonua-fekai remembered in Samoan history as Tuitoga Fa'aulufanua.
But for better or worse, there is no denying that Samoans and Tongans not only came from the same origins but were constantly in each-others business right throughout history. As examples remember that the first Tafa'ifa ruler of Samoa, Queen Salamasina was part Tongan - her mother Vaetoeifaga being the daughter of the Tuitonga (King of Tonga) at the time. Likewise the first Tu'ikanokupolu ruler of Tonga named Ngata was half Samoan - his Samoan mother securing aid from her father 'Ama of Lotofaga, Safata for her son - which is itself remembered in the Tu'ikanokupolu title itself mentioning 'Upolu' where 'Ama came from. So in the end how should we view Samoan and Tongan relations?
History in Tonga is very clear that the body of the Tu'itonga was so sacred (tapu) that no ordinary Tongan was able to touch him - this created a problem for Tongan kings wishing to be tattooed. The answer was clear - non-Tongans were able to circumvent the tapu of the Tu'itonga because they were foreigners and there was none better at tattooing than the Samoan tufuga ta tatau anyways so when Tongan kings wished to be tattooed they would sail to Samoa with a large entourage and be tattooed by Samoan tufuga there generally creating a huge celebration.
One Tu'itonga in particular is remembered for sailing to Samoa numerous times including twice to the Manu'a islands to complete his malofie tattooing. From these trips he gained the nickname Fatafehi Fakauakimanuka or Fatafehi 'who travelled twice to Manu'a' for his Samoan tattooing, and as befitted such a high ranking guest, he was gifted two 'kie hingoa' as Tongans call them or 'ie o le malo - state fine mats. The first was named 'Fala taua o le Tuimanu'a' meaning 'Treasured war girdle of the King of Manu'a' - a name that clearly shows the prestige of the occasion and a worthy gift from one king to another.
The second state mat (sorry I use the word fine mat so you know what I'm talking about but that base word 'mat' really doesn't do our famed 'ie justice! It would be like calling the British Crown a 'metal hat' lol) - anyways, the name of the second 'ie o le malo was named, 'Vā o Ofu ma Olosega' literally meaning 'The Space between the islands of Ofu and Olosega'. Now Ofu and Olosega were two of the three Manu'a Islands and at first the name seems a bit lackluster or uninspiring compared to the title of the first 'ie given and yet there is a secret meaning to this title.
To understand its meaning you have to understand the 'space' or gap between the islands of Ofu and Olosega. Anyone who has visited these islands knows that the space between these two islands known as the 'Asaga Strait' isn't far but very close - so close in fact that in ancient times when it was low tide, people could walk or wade across the sandbars that became visible.
Today, people don't even need to wait for low tide as there's a permanent bridge built connecting the islands of Ofu and Olosega. If you understand this you can understand the meaning of the fine mat - it was a metaphor for relations between Samoa and Tonga - as Tu'itonga Fatafehi would've realized, having seen the Asaga Strait for himself during his two trips to Manu'a.
The metaphor is simple: the space between Ofu and Olosega represents the divide between Samoa and Tonga.
When the tides of war and history run high, at first the two appear completely distinct and separate from each other much like the peoples of Samoa and Tonga, and yet, when the tides of history finally recede, we realize the truth, that across those sandbars the two islands are actually connected - the two peoples are actually one. And despite all the history, good and bad, if we trace our gafa (genealogy) back far enough we are not only linked - we are from the same ancestors.
Maybe thats why I have a love for Tongan history just as much as Samoan history, and thats why when Tu'itonga Fatafehi Fakauakimanuka completed his Samoan malofie he was given a Samoan fine mat specifically titled 'Va o Ofu ma Olosega' to remind him of a truth we should all know - that we are one!
And that doesn't take away from our differences which we know there are and the distinctions in our Samoan and Tongan cultures but we do have the same roots - God and Our People - especially in this global age where the world is so much bigger and there are a great many other cultures too.
Va o Ofu ma Olosega
S. Si'ilata (c) 2021