Tautai: NZ Launch of first ever biography on Samoan Freedom Fighter

Tautai: Sāmoa, World History, and the Life of Ta’isi O. F. Nelson, is the first ever biography on the leader of the Mau, Ta’isi Olaf Frederick Nelson. It was launched at Malaeola on August 24, following the Samoan launch on August 20, to an enthusiastic NZ Samoan community. Laumata Lauano reports



The book is an account of the life, political struggles and exile of the late Ta’isi Olaf Frederick Nelson, Samoa’s freedom fighter, and one of the founding members of the Mau Movement.


Sparsely talked about in the history books, the afakasi (half Samoan, half Swedish) was one of Samoa’s most successful businessmen and a prominent figure in both the Samoan and European communities.


He was often described as the ‘arch enemy’ of New Zealand and the British Empire.


His biography, written and thoroughly researched by historian Dr Patricia O’Brien of the Australian National University, is the first comprehensive telling of Ta’isi’s life during Germany, followed by British and New Zealand’s colonial rule over Samoa, his rise in business and defiance of colonial rule over Samoa which saw him exiled not once but twice.



When asked why she undertook the task of chronicling the late Ta’isi’s life, struggles and achievements, Dr O’Brien says it was a labour of fascination, upon coming across the figure in archives.


“I wanted to know who he was, and why anyone hadn’t written about this person before,” the author explains.


“It was just a quick series of meetings with colleagues at Vic in Wellington before I was connected to the family,” who she says had been waiting for someone to emerge to write the story.


Dr O’Brien has been working with the family since 2012, working closely with the extended Ta’isi family headed by the former PM and Head of State of Samoa, Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi – Ta’isi’s eldest grandson- who was also in attendance.



Visibly overwhelmed by the Samoan community’s support of the book Dr O’Brien thanked everyone involved in the research and information gathering stage all through to now, thanking the Samoan community for accepting the book.


”The reception of this book by the Samoan community is beyond my wildest dreams, you always hope when you write a book that someone’s going to read it,” she says before acknowledging the precariousness of her position as the writer due to her own background.


“And when you’re a palagi writing about history, from the other side of the colonial divide, it’s a real challenge for historians to reach an indigienous audience,” both in terms of acceptance and apt representation.


The launch was attended by various prominent members of the Samoan community in New Zealand, from prominent figures in the political and education sectors, to the former prime minister of New Zealand Helen Clark who mentioned the need for this book to be brought to life on screen- a sentiment met with cheers from the audience.



While Dr O’Brien says it’s been something she’s wanted since the books inception, a film, and has had a chat with The Orator and One Thousand Ropes director Tusi Tamasese about the possibility, she really just hopes the success of Ta’isi’s story will be a starting point for Samoan historians to take up a pen and paper and chronicle their histories.


“I want this to be a beginning of more studies, and I want Samoans to take it up and take the stories further.”