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Samoa farewells their hero


The sudden passing of legendary Manu Samoa Captain, Papali’itele Pita Fatialofa on Wednesday morning left Samoa in a state of mourning.

But tears of sadness were far and few as the country remembered a hero with a wicked “sense of humour” and a “happy” heart.

Close relatives, friends from here and abroad, former rugby mates, the President of the Samoa Rugby Union, Samoa’s High Commissioner to New Zealand and the Speaker of Parliament told stories about real man behind the “hero” and the “rugby legend”.

Jackie Frizelle, New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Samoa said Papali’itele will be remembered for his huge passion for his beloved Samoa.

She said that he stood out as the great giant at the 1991 Rugby World Cup.

“He loved people and people loved him,” she said.

President of the Samoa Ruby Union, Tuiloma Pule Lameko said everyone knew Fats and his many contributions to Samoa.

“He was a determined player,” said Tuiloma.

Friend and former Manu Samoa Manager, Lemalu Tate Simi spoke about how Papali’itele was not very fluent in the Samoan language but made up for it on the field as a strong player.

“When we first met, our relationship was purely because of rugby,” said Lemalu. “But as it continued, we became good friends, a brother that had a very clean heart and true to his country.”

Lemalu said if Papali’itele was someone else, he would have given up long time ago.

But he was persistent and continued on.

He also worked with young talents.

His belief was that there were many young talented Samoan rugby players in New Zealand and he tried to introduce them to the Samoa Rugby Union.

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“I remember when my son was away in school in New Zealand he would call to say he needed money. I would call him if he could go by Fats and give him some money.

“He would always say yes and this was the kind of person he was.”

Lawyer Te’o Richard Faaiuaso spoke about Papali’itele and the friend known to him as “Fats”.

“Thank you for the fellowship, sharing and friendship,” he said.

Matafeo George Latu, a former Manu Samoa prop hailed a man with a loving heart.

“I confirm what many have said about Fats today he was a person with a very good heart.”

Matafeo remembered a tour to Africa in 1995. At the time, the props were competing about who would start.

The captain chosen was Pat Lam and “I was picked as No. 3 and Papali’itele a reserve.”

“I knew that he wasn’t happy but he didn’t show it and I know if it was someone else there would have been many complaints,” said Matafeo.

Instead, Papali’itele encouraged him. “You have been selected, use the opportunity and after the game he said well done...good game.”

Matafeo believes that what Papali’itele did was put the team first.

It is these memories of Papali’itele that will make it hard for him to forget.

“He had a big heart, he was determined.” Potu Leavasa remembers that he waved at Papali’itele the morning he died. He said thinking back over their last encounter, perhaps Papali’itele was waving back at him for help but he didn’t realise it.

Fats was a big Vailima fan and appeared in their ads promoting the lager. Grateful sponsors ensured that he had a steady home supply.

Leavasa remembers calling up Papapli’itele’s son and telling him that his father had already given the go ahead to put six crates of beer into his vehicle.

The next day Papali’itele rang up Potu expressing his disappointment.  This however changed when Potu reminded him of his favourite saying “too much”.

Loau Keneti Sio, a former Manu Samoa player, told of how one morning he was awakened by a knock at the door to his room.

Papali’itele told him to come with him to get something done.

He got into a car without knowing where they were going. They went to Eden Park and that’s when he found out he would be appearing in an ad for Sudso detergent.

Afterwards when they went back to the hotel, Papali’itele put money in his hand.

“When I arrived at the room I looked in my hand and found $500 and thought he had pulled a fast one on us.”

So he returned to Papali’itele’s room and asked how much money was given.

He was told that an older player with them was handed over $200 ‘but here is another $1000’.

Loau continued to question and finally was told that they were given $5000 for filming the ad.

Speaker Leuatea Laauli Polataivao told a story of a different Papali’itele. He was afraid of no one.

They had lived together at Taufusi in their younger years for ten years. Papali’itele was a bouncer at his father’s club.

“People received far worse bashings outside then they did inside,” said Leuatea about Papali’itele being the bouncer.

Those that were beaten also risked having their property taken off them.

He recalled how anytime there was a fight in the village ‘we would go to him and say Pita to ‘fight’ and all he would ask is ‘where’.

“After the fight he would return and ask what caused the fight and who was fighting,” said Leuatea.

This is why Papali’itele was sent to New Zealand, he said, to laughter from those at the church.

Other stories focused on was how well he was known in the community in Samoa and New Zealand.

His body was flown over to New Zealand for his final burial at an unconfirmed date at 7:30pm last night. His wife Anne and their eight children are in New Zealand awaiting his arrival.

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