BYU welcomes first female prime minister of Samoa

President Reese greets Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa of Samoa. Once the greeting concluded, President Reese joined the welcome ceremony. (Angela Hernandez)

BYU hosted the prime minister of Samoa, Afioga Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa, on Thursday, Sept. 28.

Her excellency became the first female prime minister of Samoa in 2021. Mata’afa entered Parliament in 1985 and has previously served as Minister of Education, Sports and Culture; Minister of Justice and Courts Administration and Minister for Natural Resources and Government.

Upon her arrival Thursday morning, students and faculty participated in the traditional Samoan ‘Ava ceremony to welcome Prime Minister Mata’afa to campus. The ‘Ava ceremony involves the drinking of kava and is a sacred ritual to celebrate and greet the person of honor.

BYU students participated in the ‘Ava Ceromony. Students prepared and learned more about the cultural ceromony. (Angela Herna

Mata’afa was part of BYU’s first-ever ‘Ava ceremony.

“The ‘Ava Ceremony was a very beautiful experience — it was honestly a once in a lifetime experience for many Samoans here, especially at BYU,” BYU student  Tyler Pasa said. “It’s the first time that BYU has had an ‘Ava ceremony and being able to welcome the first female prime minister, was an honor.”

Following the ceremony, Mata’afa addressed BYU students and expressed her gratitude for the traditional welcome she received.

“I would like to thank them for the honor of receiving me through the traditional Samoan ‘Ava Ceremony, which also included the BYU family, leadership, and faculty,” Mata’afa said. “It’s an honor to be received this way, not only by the Samoan community but through this special place of Brigham Young University.”

Prime Minister Mata’afa sits during the closing of the ‘Ava ceremony. Mata’afa received a tour of BYU campus shortly after. (Angela Hernandez)

Throughout the lecture, Her Excellency shared how Samoa has been guided by faith since the country gained its independence in 1962. Faith, she said, is something that unites the Samoan and BYU communities.

“We have all experienced trials and tribulations. We can all bear witness to God’s grace, and mercy and goodness for us all. So can I just say, brothers and sisters in Christ, I’m so happy to be here,” Mata’afa said.

The prime minister then shared her experiences while attending school in New Zealand. Experiencing different communities helped shape her perspective and view of the world, she said.

“We all come from different parts of the world. We live in different countries. Our sense of belonging is yet still important,” Mata’afa said. “We find ways depending on the construction of the societies and communities where we live, where we find ways to connect with each other, and hopefully, walk the path to the future that brings benefits and success for all.”

Following her address, students in attendance were able to ask questions about her experience as prime minister.

BYU student Alofaifo Faleono said Prime Minister Mata’afa’s visit was especially meaningful for him as he was able to witness the strength and success of a fellow Samoan.

“Her visit allowed me to partake more of my culture but also brought me inspiration,” Faleono said. “Especially because of the goals I have of a higher education and my career goals that I want to pursue, it inspires me to see Samoans succeeding.”

In her final remarks, Mata’afa shared about her experience from the recent United Nations assembly, where she addressed the general debate of the 78th annual assembly

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