Writing Tautai

Tautai began in 2012 when Patricia O’Brien stumbled upon letters between New Zealand officials who were very upset about a Sāmoan man named O. F. Nelson. She was not looking for him but rather was researching New Zealand’s rule over Sāmoa as a League of Nations Mandate after World War One. A librarian at the National Library of New Zealand suggested she consult a microfilm of letters by this man but before she could, she needed to get permission from the head of his family who happened to be the Sāmoan Head of State, Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi Efi.

In order to make this connection O’Brien sought the assistance of her colleague at Victoria University Wellington, where she was the J. D. Stout Fellow of New Zealand Studies in 2012. A conversation with that colleague, Tamasailau Suaalii Sauni, quickly altered the course of the research.

With the permission of the Ta’isi family O’Brien set out to write a biography of this fascinating man who has not yet been the subject of a dedicated historical study. Olaf Fredrick Nelson, who went by O. F. Nelson in all his formal correspondence, quickly became ‘Ta’isi’, his matai or chiefly title, which was the name he was known by to his family and Sāmoans during his lifetime.  This was how O’Brien named him too. Restoring his Sāmoan-ness, his indigenity, was a central object of this book as well as reconstructing his life.

The core of the book is about Ta’isi and so the lives of those close to him, especially his six daughters–Viopapa, Noue, Malienafau, Piliopo, Sina and Taufau–are bought into the light.  It is the descendants of five daughters who contributed personal papers, photographs and stories that brought many more dimensions of the story of Sāmoa’s struggle for freedom to light.

From 2012–2017 O’Brien took a journey around the world tracing the life and work of Ta’isi O. F. Nelson and his daughters. It involved many meetings with family, public lectures where O’Brien presented her findings to a wide range of audiences from Ta’isi family, scholars, and students spanning the globe from Cambridge University to the National University in Sāmoa.  When O’Brien told the story of Ta’isi it was clear that this was a story that resonated with many people and captured their attention. Many extraordinary things happened during this global journey.

Here are some of the highlights of that journey beginning in Sāmoa, May 2012.

Tuaefu, Apia 13 May 2012

Patricia O’Brien, assisted by Tenisia Tovio, reconstructed Ta’isi’s library going through boxes that had stored the library and many papers during renovations at Tuaefu.  The OFN files as well as Ta’isi’s desk in his Tuaefu office with his library on it also pictured. (photos by P. O’Brien)

Tuaefu, Apia 18 May 2012

Dignitaries, the diplomatic corps and the extended Ta’isi family were invited to Tuaefu to hear Patricia O’Brien present a lecture entitled “Mr Nelson is the cause of all the Trouble”. It was a beautiful (if very hot) night where many new connections were made, Patricia met many grandchildren and Tuaefu, the setting for so many events that would become to central to the story told in Tautai, would be the setting for this first of many lectures Patricia presented about Ta’isi.

Patricia O’Brien presents
Professor Asafou, Vice Chancellor of the National University of Samoa, with Patricia O’Brien
Patricia O’Brien presents
Tenisia Tovio, Tiffany Nelson, Patricia O’Brien and Peleseuma Toufi
Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi Efi, then Samoa’s Head of State, with Patricia O’Brien
Piliopo and Ata Maiai with Patricia O’Brien
Viopapa Atherton Annandale, Joe Annandale and Patricia O’Brien

Wellington 1 June 2012

Patricia presented a lecture marking 60 years of Sāmoan Independence at the University of Victoria Wellington. She was very honoured that grandchildren Tugaga Misa Telefoni, Paulele Ulberg and Sina Schmaulkuchen traveled from Auckland to join their cousin Fialauia Tamasese at the event.

photograph by Patricia O’Brien

June 2013

Patricia met many members of the Meyers side of the family, descendants of Taufau, Ta’isi’s youngest daughter, in Auckland as well as grand-daughter Leilani Keil and cousin Loloma Johnston.

29 June, 2013 Pōmare Day, Waitara Marae, Taranaki, New Zealand

Patricia was very honoured to be asked by Miria Pōmare to present a lecture “Sāmoans and Maori Reunited” about the forgotten friendship between Sir Maui Pōmare and Ta’isi O. F. Nelson. Many Ta’isi aiga traveled to represent their grandfather and great grandfather and the local Sāmoan community came to pay their respects to Sir Maui on what was a very historically significant day. Many thanks again to the Pōmare whanau and the Te Ata Awa community for an unforgettable day.

Great-grandson, Mea’ole Keil with members of the New Plymouth Samoan community
Members of the New Plymouth Samoan community at Owae Marae. The statue of Sir Maui in the background.
With Sir Maui looking on, Patricia O’Brien delivers her lecture.
Mea’ole Keil, Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi Efi, Patricia O’Brien and her son Freddy, Tugaga Misa Telefoni, High Commissioner Leasi Papali'i Tommy Scanlon

14 July 2014

Lunch hosted by Masiofo Filifilia and Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi Efi with descendants of Australian Methodist Missionaries on the 50th anniversary of the independence of the Sāmoan Methodist Church.

Photograph Patricia O’Brien

10 March 2015

Meeting with Ta’isi aiga in Auckland.

16 March 2015

Toa’nai hosted by great great granddaughter Faai’ulelei and Uale Mai Vala at Wainuiomata with Ta’isi aiga.

22 March 2015

Tofilau Nina, Tugaga Misa Telefoni and Patricia O’Brien at the University of Otago, Dunedin

July 20, 2015

With Ta’isi aiga at the Fale Pasifika, Auckland University on July 20, 2015

4 August, 2015

With Ta’isi aiga at the National University of Sāmoa, Apia, 4 August 2015