Drums resounded in villages as parades and marching bands proceeded along island roads where missionaries of long ago walked with weary and blistered feet to introduce the gospel to this part of the Pacific.
The parades, along with Polynesian singing and dancing, were part of the festivities commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Church in Samoa.The celebrations - complete with feasts of food and spiritual teachings - were held on three of the 15 islands that comprise Samoa, and Savai'i and Upolu in Western Samoa. Some 50,000 members reside in Samoa's 11 stakes and two regions.
The marching band of the Church College of Western Samoa performed in a parade on its home island of Upulo, as well as traveling to Tutuila and Savai'i to perform in parades on those islands.
Each stake entered four floats in parades on their respective islands. While the festivities featured the pioneering efforts of early missionaries and members, there was not a handcart or covered wagon in sight. The Samoans were paying tribute to the sea-faring pioneers of the Pacific, not the plains-crossing variety so prdominant in Church history. There were replicas of sailing ships, steam ships and canoes.
The parade on Tutuila featured such creative entries as a float that really floated. A flatbed truck, loaded with a canoe in a tank of water, gave a vivid re-enactment of the landing of the first authorized missionaries, Joseph and Florence Dean, who arrived in Samoa on June 21, 1888, with their infant son. A man and woman and baby riding the float bobbed up and down in their canoe, as water splashed over the sides of the float as it proceeded along the parade route.
Other floats on Tutuila depicted key events in Church history in Samoa. Among them were entries portraying the construction of the first LDS meetinghouse; establishment of Church schools; a visit by President david O. McKay to Sauniatu. On one float, labor missionaries were depicted by a crew who sawed and hammered on a building under construction.
The parade on Savai'i was small by comparison, with only four floats, but its spirit was great. Some said it was the largest parade ever held on Savi'i. "There has never been anything like this here," said Elder Tuiti Amuia W. Hunt, who is serving his second mission on Savai'i. Born on Upulo, he has lived on the island since 1954.
The parade began at the village of McKay and proceeded to the stake center at Fusi, a distance of about a mile and a half. For a few stretches along the way, there were no spectators to watch the parade, but the bands played on and their members marched in step. It was evident that this parade was conducted in a spirit of rejoicing and not just for show.
Each time the parade passed a home or Samoan fale, people came running to see it. Children from a school along the route were released from their classes so they could watch at the parade made its way up a dirt road. Men cutting coconut trees put down their tools and emerged from dense forests to stand by the roadside; fishermen rowed their boats to shore for a closer look.
The four floats were simple, but they seemed to have all the members of Savai'i had to offer. Parades in other parts of the world might feature store-purchased materials, but in Savai'i the main components were straw mats woven by islanders and banana leaves that served as background coverings.
The parade in Apia stopped traffic and gathered several thousand spectators in Western Samoa's capital. By far, it was the largest of the three parades, featuring several marching bands and more than 20 floats.
The floats were colorful and some were elaborate. Creativity and imagination were not lacking as the story of the Church in Samoa was paraded down city streets.
Other festivities included a pageant produced by the Pago Pago Samoa West Stake in American Samoa. The pageant depicted the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, restoration of the gospel, and the establishment of the Church in the Samoan islands.
Cultural events featured island singing and dancing, with performers dressed in traditional costumes. During some performances, special guest were encouraged to join with the dancers. Elder John Sonnenberg of the First Quorum of the Seventy and president of the Pacific Area, and his wife, Joyce, were applauded and cheered when they agreed to join in on one dance, called the siva.
On each island where LDS centennial festivities were held, honored guests were presented traditional gifts, which included tapa cloths, wood carvings, brightly colored fabrics for fashioning skirt-like lava-lavas, shell necklaces and flowers.
The gifts were only a symbol of the Samoans' gratitude for those missionaries who brought the gospel to their islands. Elder Hunt, the missionary mentioned earlier, said, "We are thankful for the elders and sisters from America who have come here. We haven't enough money to pay our debts for all the things they've given us since 1888.
"We are 100 years old now. We have grown so that we no longer need milk; we are ready for taro, a harder food to make us strong.
"All of Samoa is filled with stakes, and Samoans fill the missionary ranks. This is something we have dreamed of for a long, long time."
Tagaloa Malini Ti'i, who served as president of the Samoa Apia Mission from 1984 to 1987, said he has seen how people "radiate with the light of the gospel throughout Samoa."
"I've seen them march in a parade, enthused to be in the Lord's kingdom," he said. "This is a historic event in the life of our people and country. I wish all Samoans who are living abroad could witness for themselves just what our parents, grand-parents and great-grandparents have done for us by accepting the gospel that was brought to our islands by the missionaries. During these centennial celebrations, the past has been in our hearts and minds."
Ti'a, who made his comments while waiting at an airplane landing strip for a flight to Apia, said, "The dedication and commitment of the members here are very strong.
"While we are waiting for a plane, many of the members who participated in the parade this morning are still walking back to their villages. They will walk miles and miles. They feel the Lord has given them feet to use, and they must take whatever steps they can to do their part in building up His kingdom here on earth."