2 Jun 2012

Samoa celebrating 50th anniversary of independence

6:41 am on 2 June 2012

The daughter of Samoa's first prime minister after independence says her father believed in bringing in change gradually to ensure all the people understood what was involved.

Celebrations began in the capital Apia on Friday to officially mark 50 years since the Pacific island nation gained independence from New Zealand in 1962.

Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, who is also the Justice Minister, said her father would have been pleased that Samoa has developed steadily.

"Probably thankful that we've survived the 50 years and being able to retain stability. We see around our region spots on instability, so I think that's something he would have appreciated."

Events began early on Friday with prayers, speeches and a flag raising ceremony, before thousands of people paraded past the head of state and leaders from throughout Polynesia.

In his opening address, Head of State Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, described the independence golden jubilee as a momentous day and announced an amnesty for 35 prisoners.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi emphasised the need for unity to ensure Samoa has a prosperous future and spoke of the importance of New Zealand, its former colonial ruler.

"We have a very, very special bond with New Zealand, and New Zealand should not treat us like other smaller island countries where New Zealand didn't have any special relationship in the past."

New Zealand's delegation to Samoa is being led by the Governor-General, Lieutenant-General Sir Jerry Mateparae.

Prime Minister John Key will visit Samoa in August for the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship in 1962. Mr Key says the 50-year relationship is something to celebrate and the treaty is working well.

Samoa will continue its celebrations until Tuesday.

Events in NZ

More than 130,000 Samoans now live in New Zealand and most were born in the country.

The Pacific Co-operation Foundation says events are being organised for families, schools and churches.

Official celebrations in Auckland include Samoan choirs singing at the Auckland Museum on Friday and guided tours of its Samoan exhibits.