Farewell to a Village Elder
On a cloudy and humid summer afternoon at Liolau in the village of Avatele, Muliumu Alofaifo Lino was laid to rest in the grounds of the home he helped create for himself and his family. His burial brings to an end a remarkable life, a life that had taken him from the village where he was born in what was then Western Samoa, to the village of Avatele Oneonepata, Niue.
The history of the Christian church on Niue is inextricably bound to the London Missionary Society and to the Malua Theological College in Samoa. The majority of the island’s clergy, up until the late 1950s were graduates of Malua. It was this link, plus the fact that the village of Avatele had, since the early days, Samoans living there, that brought Alofaifo to the island. The LMS Church Avatele – now Ekalesia Kerisiano – had a history of recruiting musicians from Samoa to assist with the church choir. The Avatele village brass band, formed in the 1940s and possibly the first such band on Niue, was taught by Semu from Samoa. And so it was that Alofaifo arrived on Niue in 1960 having been recruited by one of the village leaders Takelesi at that time.
In line with other musicians recruited previously – one of whom was Liaga, Alofa’s brother – the appointment was usually for a year or at the most two years. As it transpired, it was neither a one year nor a two assignment; he did not know it when he arrived but Alofaifo was destined to spend the rest of his life on Niue. Although he had visited his land of birth many times he was never tempted to return. He eventually married Meipo, one of Takelesi’s sisters, raised a family and assumed a leadership role both in the church and in village affairs.
He became so much a part of the village and the community that he was encouraged to offer himself as a candidate in one of the parliamentary elections. Although unsuccessful, by being prepared to step forward and offer himself as a candidate, he had stamped his mark not only in the village but the island as well.
A year after his arrival he found employment in government as a driver but still continued with his responsibilities and commitment to the Avatele church as the choir master. As a talented composer of hymns he added a significant collection to Avatele’s repertoire. Beyond this, he also used his talent to compose some of the most memorable cultural items for village performances and for the performances of the National Arts Festival Group. He was the co-leader of the latter to Papua New Guinea in 1980 for the Regional Arts Festival. By this time, his emersion in the culture of his adopted island had become complete, so much so in fact the he was appointed a Commissioner of the Court to hear cases and to decide on land matters.
On his retirement as a driver from the Health Department, he had acquired sufficient knowledge to be able to render first aid in an emergency. Anecdotal evidence from his former colleagues indicated that he was often called upon to assist in a post-mortem.
Following his retirement, he turned his attention to horticulture in general and the growing of vanilla in particular. In time, his local knowledge in the general field of agriculture made him a resource person in the compilation of a dictionary in Vagahau Niue.
In his final moments, in his beloved village of Avatele Oneonepata and in the church where he had devoted a good part of his life, his family and friends gathered to sing some of the hymns he had composed and to bid him farewell. Lyron Lino, his eldest grandson, delivered a heartfelt eulogy that reflected a close relationship between the two. Atapana Siakimotu gave a summary of his work-life in the Niue Government. Ulumotua Billy Talagi was moved to tears when he recited one of Alofa’s last compositions – a reference to the story in the Bible about David and Jonathan. His nephew Hima Takelesi paid the ultimate tribute to his uncle when he told the congregation: “When this man came, we knew him not; today we lay him to rest as a man on this village, a man of this island, a man of this land”.