For Vaiaso o le Gagana Samoa - Samoan Language Week we take a closer look at O le Sulu Samoa, one of the oldest and longest-running news periodicals in the Pacific.

ʻSulu’ means ʻtorch’ or ‘light’ in Samoan. Published primarily in the Samoan language by the London Missionary Society from 1839, early issues of the Sulu are rare and difficult to access today with holdings largely held in archives outside Samoa.

In this blog, our guest contributors Litara Ieremia-Allan, Wanda Ieremia-Allan and Rev Dr Featunaʻi Liuaʻana reveal myriad ways the Sulu continues to shine its light, and the intellectual inheritance this measina (treasure) continues to bestow upon present and future generations.

Guest contributors Wanda Ieremia-Allan, Reverend Dr Fetunaʻi Liuaʻana, and Litara Ieremia-Allan. Photographer: Richard Ng.

Learn more about our authors' visit to the Research Library. Keep scrolling to read the in-depth blog.

Tala Faʻafāgogo 

Storytelling in the Samoan culture is a communal affair. In the dim light of the 
hurricane lamp, under the watchful surveillance of elders, amidst the company of 
fidgeting and shrill laughing cousins, we would anticipate the ebbs and flows of 
the fāgogo. The teller wielded stories which excited, angered, comforted, tickled 
and heightened all sensibilities before the climactic turn of events tempered to a 
concluding lull and a bemused aunty broke out in song to expel any residual 

The stories shift in both form and function, as they are skilfully harnessed by the 
storyteller to either celebrate or restore balance into family order. Fāgogo would 
heal relationships with humor, awaken historical consciences through the 
remembrance of contested pasts, and invoke memories of loved ones through 
moving and melodic metaphors. Since time immemorial, Samoan storytellers have 
formed, shared, and stored such stories in Indigenous archives such as pese 
(songs), solo (poems), lauga (oratory), tala faʻasolopito (histories), siva (dance), 
tatau (tattoo), vavane (carvings), and fale afolau (architecture). Together, with 
their respective audiences, these archives are both spaces and places where people and ideas come together (Te Punga Somerville, 2017). 

Background image: O le Sulu Samoa, Iuni, 1909 front cover. AWMM BV3680.S3 SUL 
Body Image: Guest contributors Wanda Ieremia-Allan, Reverend Dr Fetunaʻi Liuaʻana, and Litara Ieremia-Allan. Photographer: Richard Ng.

Historical Samoan language newspapers are important cultural artefacts.

Not only do they capture a kaleidoscope of historical events within their pages, they also point to the transnational circuits and networks forged by its Indigenous writers. The Samoan language newspaper O le Sulu Samoa (Sulu) is a particularly significant newspaper because of these many factors. Founded in 1839 and in circulation today, this monthly London Missionary Society (LMS) periodical is one of the oldest and longest-running newspapers in the Pacific.1

1. At present O le Sulu Samoa is published under the auspices of the Indigenised LMS church - Ekalesia Faʻapotopotoga Kerisiano Samoa (EFKS) in Tamaligi, Apia.

Congregation inside Jubilee Hall, malua, Samoa, ca. 1910-1920. CWM/LMS/02/10/011/11 Courtesy of Special Collections, SOAS National Research Library, University of London.

Historically, the Sulu is the inaugural home of the earliest grassroots Samoan and Pacific writers and printers from the multiple LMS South Seas missionary stations and village pastorates positioned throughout the Pacific. Since 1844, these Pacific men and women had been instructed in English, German, and Samoan languages in the missionary schools in Samoa, including the South Seas Seminary at Malua.

Printing Office Malua (Apia) upstairs, circa 1910, Malua, maker unknown. Te Papa (O.001084)

Collectively, these writers produced an exhaustive Sulu archive which included: travel writing; local and international news; ethnographic accounts; translated western literature from the English canon; obituaries; passenger manifestos; missionary ship routes, transnational movements, fāgogo, lauga, pese, solo and the like. Examples in the Sulu of first-hand witness accounts include: the 1906-1911 Mt Matāvanu volcano eruptions in Savaiʻi; the 1909 political exile of Mau a Pule movement leader Lauaki Namulauʻulu Māmoe and fellow orators to Saipan; the 1943 removal of Banabans/Ocean Islanders by the British Phosphate Commission to Nauru; Japanese World War 2 genocide attempts on the Banaba population; and the 1946 bombing of Bikini Atoll. 

Not only are these historical records heart wrenching, but they also shed a light on the different ways histories are written and privileged. 


Figure 2 (below): O Tala Eseese (O le Sulu Samoa, Iuni, 1909 opened to page 83). AWMM BV3680.S3 SUL

Exile to Saipan

In the June 1909 news section titled O le faafolauina o alii Samoa, the Sulu’s LMS missionary editor Reverend Newell captures the perfunctory and the precise nature of reporting by the European missionaries (see image at left). Its title, which translates as The Sailing of the Samoan Chiefs, specifically refers to the April 1909 political exile of the antagonizing anti-colonial German, pro-independence Mau a Pule chiefs from Savaiʻi, Samoa (image below). 

The English missionary Rev. Newell’s article lists the date of departure, the names of the political prisoners, their villages, the warship and the German colony of Saipan where these Mau leaders were to be retained. The second part of the report attests to the LMS church’s colonial entanglements of the time. In this section, Rev. Newell reports the executive decision by the directors of the LMS church, at the behest of the German colonial administrators, to appoint the Faifeʻau Samoa (pastor) Uria and the tiakono (deacon) Arieta as ministering escorts to the political party, who were also members of the LMS church at Fusi Safotulafai. Lauaki Namulauʻulu Māmoe was also a leading deacon in the church during this time. 

In contrast, Faifeʻau Uria’s account of a following voyage titled 'O Sina tala mai Saipan', published six months later, focuses on Indigenous protocols relating to malaga (journey). Instead of the provision of a passenger manifesto, Uria primarily writes enthusiastically in Samoan-specific ways, about relationality and proximity. 

Likened to the Samoan orator's ability to reciprocate and honor connections, Uria’s writing graciously cites the names of the hosts, their faʻalupega (heritage), the details of their maʻau (donations) and the mamalu (dignity) of their hospitality. Moreover, his writing draws on the familial, geographic, cultural and political expansiveness of the Pacific between: Samoans awaiting in support on the homeland; the mediating traveling party on route; the Indigenous island hosts they encounter during their stopovers; and the landed Samoan party of orators in Saipan, who left ahead of them in the first voyage. 

Thus, the reading of Uria’s article is compelling, as it foregrounds the familial expansiveness provided by our ‘sea of islands’ (Hauʻofa, 1994) rather than the isolating and punitive seascape that the German colonial administrators believed the Pacific to be.

Namulau'ulu Lauaki Mamoe and other chiefs, aboard a German warship. Tattersall, Alfred James, 1866-1951 :Photographs of Samoa. Ref: 1/2-020688-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Educational Resource

Educational Resource

The range of written genres within the Sulu reflected the LMS Samoa Church commitment to the holistic education of all Samoan people under its umbrella. This is further highlighted by the curriculum being printed on the inside of the back cover of every Sulu issue prior to the inauguration of government and state schools. The broad curriculum and the introduction of literature from the English canon introduced new words to the Samoan vocabulary. It also resulted in the innovative merging of literary and oral traditions. 

Ultimately, engaging with Samoan language texts affirm our Faʻasinomaga  (Identity) and Faʻalupega (Heritage). Historical documents written in our Gagana (language) awaken and reclaim our histories.Engaging with Samoan heritage documents such as the Sulu provides avenues to reconcile and contest the historical representations of Samoa and Pacific people written by others. They are an intellectual inheritance gifted to us by our ancestors. 


Leone Samu Tui (Associate Curator, Documentary Heritage Pacific) looks on as our three guest contributors Wanda Ieremia-Allan, Reverend Dr Fetunaʻi Liuaʻana, and Litara Ieremia-Allan are captured on film discussing the significance and legacy of the Sulu. Photographer: Richard Ng.

The Auckland War Memorial Museum Research Library has several issues of O le Sulu Samoa, dated from the early twentieth century, available to access in our Reading room on level 2. Please see Collections Online for more details, including a digitised version of Iuni/June 1909 issue of the Sulu.


About the authors


Wanda's story


Wanda's childhood curiosity of the Samoan newspaper O le Sulu Samoa (Sulu) was forged from watching elderly relatives in the rural villages in Samoa poring over its contents in the dim light of the hurricane lamps, besieged by moths and requests from the neighbouring household. As Pastor’s children, she and her siblings would deliver the paper, alongside the ta’ita’i -  meaai (food) for the elderly who were unable to traverse the mountain climb in Fasitootai, A’ana for the Sunday evening service.


Her curiosity led to her own determined search for rare extant copies in museum archives, library collections, and personal family records many years later as part of Marsden project ‘Writing the New World: Indigenous Texts 1900-1975’5 conducted by Professor Alice Te Punga Somerville.


Due to the exhaustive nature of locating rare surviving copies, O le Sulu Samoa research project became its own research project. An engagement with this newspaper suggests that archival work with the Sulu perhaps will never be complete as new meanings, new insights and new challenges emerge upon every reading. It is in many ways, consistent with the translation and the function to which it was envisioned: the Sulu indeed shines a light, to not just produce ‘sons of the gospel’, although this may occur, but also and more significantly, to connect and repatriate this intellectual inheritance to the Samoan and the Pacific people for whom it was initially intended.


For more information, please contact [email protected]  




Hau'ofa, Epeli. 2017. Our sea of islands. In Peoples of the Pacific (pp. 429-442). Routledge


Te Punga Somerville, Alice. 2017. ‘I do still have a letter’: Our sea of archives. In C. Anderson, & J. M. O’Brien (Eds.), Sources and Methods in Indigenous Studies (pp. 121-127). Routledge


Research Library visit video co-produced by Wanda Ieremia-Allan and Auckland War Memorial Museum. Special thanks to Richard Ng, for videography and photography.