By Deborah Hobbs
In May 2007, the King of Samoa,His Highness Susuga Malietoa Tanumafili II, passed away peacefully at the age of 94. He was the first reigning monarch to embrace the Bahá’í Faith. He was known to his people as a humble and sincerely caring ruler who put his people before himself. Most of them did not know he was a Bahá’í. His passing generated many memorial gatherings in his honor all over the world in Bahá’í communities and among Samoans.
On September 22, one such gathering was held in Salem by Baha’is and Samoans together. It was attended by Samoans, Baha’is, and Christians from Portland to Eugene. The Baha’is were honored and given the first opportunity to speak. We opened with a prayer and some writings in which Bahá’u’lláh extols the sovereign who attains to the recognition of Bahá’u’lláh, and gave some basic information about the Bahá’í Faith. The Christian contribution was presented by Mt. Angel seminarians. The entire program was interspersed with Samoan traditional chants, songs, and dances in honor of the King as well as stories recounted by those who knew him.
Following the program was a delicious Samoan dinner, during which all participants mingled, learned about each other and made new friends. As the evening approached, Samoan dancers provided wonderful entertainment. At the end, they invited everyone to join them in dancing. The Samoan and Bahá’í families of the King were joined together in the sweetest ways.
Corvallis Bahá’ís have been in contact with a local Samoan family whose grandfather is a Bahá’í in Samoa. The children are now attending Bahá’í children’s classes. The passing of this beloved king has served to bring people together who otherwise would have no contact with each other. It was an unforgettable experience for all who attended.