The Head of State
Christmas Messages

CHRISTMAS MESSAGE 2010

TAEAO AFUA

Head of State of Samoa
 Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi Efi
 24 Tesema 2010

There are quite a number of national and international conferences being held at this time in the Apia area. Their banners and placards flaunt the words, taeao afua , literally meaning, 'the new morning'.

I have chosen my Christmas message from the saying: o le taeao afua.Taeao is an abbreviation of the phrase: o le tau o le ao, po o le tau o le malamalama , which infers in taeao the idea of a time of light. The Samoan day is divided into the time of light (ao) and the time of darkness (po). Afua literally refers to the beginning stages of new fruit, growth or life. Taeao afua is thus metaphor for new beginnings, new growth, new possibilities, indeed for renewed hope each implicit in the message of the birth of Christ.

I find the messages of taeao afua equally present in my reading of Psalms 46:10 (NIV) where God shouts above the Babylonian clanging and clamour to say to his people: 'Be still, and know that I am God'. In Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV) God continues to say that even if we forget, ignore or rebuke Him, his love is steadfast, it will never cease and His mercies are new every morning!

Sometimes I sit on the verandah outside the dining room at the Head of State's residence in Vailele to watch the sunrise and just before daybreak if I listen carefully I can hear the iao (wattled honeyeater) bird welcome in the new day. His name iao literally means 'to cry in the morning'. His voice is like a prayerful chant. It fills the air as if to say, take heed of this moment because it is special and sacred. As day breaks and the sun rises I may be fortunate enough to then see the iao and his cousin, the segasegamauu (the cardinal honeyeater), happily bouncing between the branches of the trees and enjoying the nectar of the flowers that surround the verandah, putting into motion the cycle of renewal that is God's gift to us every day.

These two small birds seem so full of life, so springy and nimble, animated and buoyant, as they move from flower to flower engaging and delighting in their rituals, enjoying their role in nature's cycle of life. When I watch these birds each morning, I am reminded of my forebears, whose wisdom would draw on the mundane happenings of their environment, and would reflect on how they would often use phrases such as: o le sanisani o manu o le taeao (the early morning birds are vibrant, animated, buoyant and joyful) or o le naunau o le mutia i le sau (the grass pines for the touch of the dew) or e ta le palolo i le vaveao (in order to net the coral worm one must rise before the sun) or to'aga o le taeao (the imperative for pigeon catchers is to rise early if they wish to catch the morning birds, who are aptly named to'aga-ole-taeao). Each of these sayings/phrases underline the point that in each new morning there is new hope for a new catch, for new life and that, among other things, we will remember and respect the source of it all.

Each of these sayings draws hope that we will remember God, not just at Christmas but every day, in every act we commit and in every thought we hold. In watching these birds I am reminded also of St Francis of Assisi.

St Francis loved God's creatures. He saw in birds and beasts God's love and grace and the divinity of his creation plan. St Francis spoke and prayed with the birds and animals and treated them as family. His life became an example to many who wanted to share through their acts and teachings the love, kindness and mercifulness of God.

St Francis, like my Samoan elders, urges us to take heed of the examples of humility and prosperity found in nature. They urge us to remember that we live in an interconnected world where the birds, fish and animals are as much a part of us as we are of them.

If we listen carefully to when the iao cries we will note that God gifted the iao with three distinctive sounds: 1. a sombre welcoming chant at daybreak; 2. a warning cry for when predators, especially owls, approach; and 3. an exuberant melodic call full of playfulness as if sung by someone content with life, without care or fear of danger or unhappiness. To hear and know the distinctive sounds of the iao and to know their contribution to the cycle of life is to know that God exists.

Our Christmas festivities and rituals should remind, enhance, celebrate, emphasise and shout this message with full appreciation and pride. Sometimes, however, we are easily distracted or preoccupied with ourselves; with our search for power, material wealth and status, that we cannot hear or appreciate this message.

Christmas has become one of the busiest times of the year, sometimes requiring a lot of fanfare and fuss. But the message of Christmas is not busy. Nor is it dramatic or requiring of fanfare or fuss. The message of Christmas is that when Christ was born - when God became man - he was born in simple conditions and born to give us hope and faith in God's love and grace.

I find new solace, focus and direction in remembering this. I am grateful to my friends the iao and segasegamauu for showing me every day what joy nature can give man and vice versa. I am grateful to my forebears for teaching me the value of nature's lessons for our learning and redemption. And I am grateful to St Francis of Assisi for his life example and persistence in showing us how God's kindness and love can live in even the smallest and least fearsome of creatures.

For St Francis, the iao and the segasegamauu, Christmas is not an annual reminder, Christmas happens every day - Christmas is le taeao afua, the new morning. To know this we must, as God says in Psalms, 'Be still and know that I am God'. And, we must have faith to know, as Jeremiah records in Lamentations, that God's love is steadfast and new every morning.

I wish you all a joy filled Christmas, not only today but tomorrow and the next day and the next.

God bless.

CLICK HERE for the Samoan Version of this Christmas Message


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