Feb 26, 2017 Last Updated 12:56 AM, Feb 15, 2017

SEVEN months after becoming the first Tongan to be inducted into New Zealand Music’s Hall of Fame, Wilfred Jeffs, who went by the stage name Bill Sevesi, passed away, aged 92,,on April 23. When the news trickled out via social media, New Zealanders and Pacific islanders both mourned and celebrated a lifetime of achievement. Known as the ‘Godfather of the Pacific’, Sevesi was a master player of the steel guitar and , who helped to popularise Hawaiian-style music in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

The Tongan-born songwriter also composed more than 200 songs over a career spanning six decades. “He was such a prolific icon,” said New Zealand member of parliament and Labour spokesperson for Pacific affairs, Su’a William Sio. “Though Tongan, we all wanted to own him. May his memory live long in the history of Pacific music.” When the annual Pacific Music Awards are held in Manukau, South Auckland on 9 June, there is no doubt Sevesi will be on the minds of everyone as a founding father for Pacific music who won a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.

“I was so very lucky to have known him. A true legend amongst us and one of the kindest, most positive, special people of the world,” said Pacific Music Awards event manager, Petrina TogiSa’ena. Sevesi was a stalwart of Auckland’s music scene through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s as leader of his band.

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SEVEN months after becoming the first Tongan to be inducted into New Zealand Music’s Hall of Fame, Wilfred Jeffs, who went by the stage name Bill Sevesi, passed away, aged 92,,on April 23. When the news trickled out via social media, New Zealanders and Pacific islanders both mourned and celebrated a lifetime of achievement. Known as the ‘Godfather of the Pacific’, Sevesi was a master player of the steel guitar and , who helped to popularise Hawaiian-style music in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

The Tongan-born songwriter also composed more than 200 songs over a career spanning six decades. “He was such a prolific icon,” said New Zealand member of parliament and Labour spokesperson for Pacific affairs, Su’a William Sio. “Though Tongan, we all wanted to own him. May his memory live long in the history of Pacific music.” When the annual Pacific Music Awards are held in Manukau, South Auckland on 9 June, there is no doubt Sevesi will be on the minds of everyone as a founding father for Pacific music who won a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.

“I was so very lucky to have known him. A true legend amongst us and one of the kindest, most positive, special people of the world,” said Pacific Music Awards event manager, Petrina TogiSa’ena. Sevesi was a stalwart of Auckland’s music scene through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s as leader of his band.

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A TREASURED document amongst war and modern history aficionados is an old sepia programme entitled “Official Programme of the VICTORY CELEBRATIONS 8th June 1946,” commemorating victory in Europe Day in London. The parade headed by His Majesty and the Queen and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret carried in the horse-drawn Sate Landau swept out of the Buckingham Palace gates down Marble Arch and through to The Mall where the saluting base was located. In the programme is a detailed listing of all military and civilian service arms participating in the World War II victory that would see Nazi Germany and the evil axis vanquished.

After the allied forces section is the listing of the British Empire forces and therein lies the pride of the Pacific. Under the section Fiji and the Western Pacific, the listing reads as follows:

• Fiji Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve

• Fiji Infantry Regiment

• Fiji Medical Corps

• Tonga Defence Force

• British Solomon Islands Protectorate Defence Force

• Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony Defence Force

The tiny islands of the Pacific, putting their best foot forward and contributing to world peace, punching well above their fighting weight. Led by the distinguished and decorated Fijian Knight, soldier and statesman, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, who also garnered respect and high regard during WW I, earning the Croix de Guerre from the French Republic as a member of the French Foreign Legion, the tiny Pacific contingent was able to hold its head high amongst the world’s super powers. Looking at old BBC Pathe footage of the Parade, our representatives acquitted themselves with honour and dignity and social capital we have long ago, fully expended. 

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Archbishop legacy of hope

Thousands of mourners lined the streets of Fiji’s capital, Suva, last month to farewell the late head of the Roman Catholic Church, Archbishop Emeritus Petero Mataca. In a ceremony full of the pomp and ritual of the world’s largest Christian church, the first local Catholic bishop was laid to rest after succumbing to cancer, The liturgy of the Resurrection Mass showcased the ethnic and cultural diversity of Fijian Catholicism with prayers or readings in six languages. Mataca, 81, during close to four decades as Archbishop of Suva, successfully integrated aspects of local culture and language into worship. He also encouraged unity across the ethnic divide which has for so long torn at the fabric of the nation’s existence.

In 2006 Mataca joined the National Council for Building a Better Fiji, an organisation formed by military strongman (then) Commodore Frank Bainimarama to create a framework for a unified country. The move caused friction within the Catholic community but Mataca defended his actions as a genuine attempt to bring about reconciliation in a fragmented society. His sacrifice was recognised by an award from the State and the attendance at his funeral by the President, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, and Fiji’s interim Prime Minister Rear-Admiral (retired) Bainimarama. When former President the late Ratu Josefa Iloilo abrogated the constitution in 2009 after Bainimarama’s regime was declared illegal by the High Court, Mataca was shattered.

By then, however, censorship prevented the nation from hearing of the concerns of its most senior cleric. Mataca continued to preach tolerance, inclusivity and love for neighbour until his retirement in 2014. Shortly before he stepped down as head of Fiji’s Catholic faithful, Mataca expressed his deep desire to return to his village of Vuaki in Fiji’s west. “I want to go back to my village and spend time reading and fishing,” he said, showing off a brand new rod and reel. That dream was never to be fulfilled. Most of his last 12 months - after installing Archbishop Peter Loy Chong - were spent in hospitals in New Zealand and Fiji. Despite his grave illness, Mataca remained devoted to his faith and the church. In a poignant reflection, Archbishop Chong reflected on his predecessor’s continued support and guidance.

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Papali’itele Peter ‘Fats’ Momoe Fatialofa (1959-2013)

The news of Papali’itele Peter Fatialofa’s death hit me with the same force as a “coconut tackle”, as some of my esteemed media colleagues would say. Fatialofa was the man who captained Samoa’s national rugby team onto the world stage in their historic World Cup debut in 1991. There, the big man rose to the occasion and led the team on its fairytale run all the way to the quarterfinals. But it was not so much these footnotes in history that I dwelled on as the news broke that Fatialofa, 54, had succumbed to a suspected heart attack on his way to a radio interview in Apia.

It was the significance his passing would have on the communities he had so much influence in. He was one of the few personalities who transcended his sport. But we tended to take that fact for granted because of his down to earth personality. I had the pleasure of working with Fats on the New Zealand Samoan Sports Awards and interviewed him countless times down the years. Fats was a media favourite and always great for a quote. On race relations—“Anyone can feel free to call me a coconut, but he’d better be a good friend.” Or how’s this response to a special media request from a TVNZ reporter who asked: “How would climbing up that palm tree so we can film it sound to you?”Fats replied, “How would ‘get stuffed’ sound to you?” His frankness and honesty always made you laugh even when the matters were serious.

He was a physically imposing, but ordinary guy with a big heart and that is how I remember him. It was not below him to support small community events—Fats was in his element at this level. He was a man of the people who had the ability to relate to people of all backgrounds. He spoke his mind, led from the front, and was passionate. He could relate to anyone with his clever wit.

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