17 Apr 2024

Season 2 | Episode 2: I’Iga Pisa, Samoa’s Unsung Hero

From Untold Pacific History, 6:00 am on 17 April 2024

Series Classification: PG (Parental Guidance) | Watch the series here

This story was updated on 9/5/2024 to clarify details regarding I’iga Pisa's life.

In 1909, Samoan independence activist I’iga Pisa was condemned to exile in Saipan by the German colonisers of Western Samoa.

In an extraordinary feat, he escaped from exile by borrowing a small outrigger canoe from a friend and paddling from Saipan to Guam. This was a distance of more than 150 km over a period of several days in which he navigated using the stars.

He had learned German during his exile, but just before his escape from Saipan, he learned that New Zealand had taken over as the new colonial rulers of Samoa.

I'iga lived in Guam for several years, during which time he learned to speak English. He then travelled by boat from Guam to Hawai’i, another US territory, in 1918. In Hawai'i, he worked in a printing firm and improved his English with the aim of returning to his homeland of Samoa. He finally arrived home in 1919.

I’iga worked for the Department of Samoan Affairs, under the New Zealand Administration, until 1942. Some Samoans labeled him a "judas" or traitor for working alongside the New Zealand regime, but historians and family members argue he was trying to change the system from within.

I'iga was the only one of the exiled Samoan revolutionaries who survived to see Samoa win back its freedom from New Zealand in 1962.

A young I'iga hugs his wife (dramatic recreation).

A young I'iga hugs his wife (dramatic recreation). Photo: Tikilounge Productions / Tuki Laumea

NZ On Air

NZ On Air  Photo: NZOA