Ads by Google Ads by Google

Pago Pago family bids farewell to Aeto Captain Va’amua

Va’amua Henry Sesepasara in inset and also captaining the Aeto.
Reporting from Apia, Samoa

Apia, SAMOA — The family of the late Va’amua Henry Sesepasara, former Captain of Pago Pago’s pride and joy – the Aeto fautasi  – are making final arrangements for his services in May that will include a House Resolution to honor the former lawmaker.

Va’amua, a grandfather of 16 and father of five, died on April 11, 2022 at the Lyndon B. Johnson hospital in Faga’alu — after he tested positive for COVID-19.

He was 75 years old.

Va’amua’s wife, Utulei native Margaret Sesepasara, told Samoa News she lost her husband 10 days before their 49th wedding anniversary.

“He made it to his 75th birthday on March 13. I was hoping he was going to hang on for our last anniversary celebration together. But he left,” Mrs. Sesepasara told the Samoa News.

Her husband, she said, loved his Samoan culture and was a “generous” man, or as Samoans say: “e lima foa’i.” No matter the endeavor, Va’amua often reached into his own pockets to fund the task.

“He was very what is the word? O le lima foa’i ia (very generous). He was that kind of person. He would give his last quarter to whoever needs it. We had our ups and downs …but he was my longtime friend and my advisor. We are both professional people and educators so we would get into some heated arguments and heated debates about the Samoan culture,” Mrs. Sesepasara said.

“He was very strong in the Samoan culture. I think his family will miss him because he served his families well. He loved his family and carried out his duties well. Even if he used his own money to do everything, he would reach into his pockets. When he was Captain of the Aeto, when he was training the auva’a, whatever they needed, he reached into his pockets.”

The Va’amua matai title is from the Fuga family but their family resides on Pulu land in Pago Pago.

“He served both families,” said Mrs. Sesepasara.

Va’amua’s commitment to the Samoan culture often put him at odds with his wife.

“There are some things in the faaSamoa that I don’t agree with so he would tell me not to answer him back about the Samoan culture. I’m very outspoken so many a times we got into heated debates… back in the day, men were allowed to speak but not the woman, the woman was not allowed to speak,” Mrs. Sesepasara said.

Taking Samoa News on a stroll through memory lane, she recalled that as children, they both attended the same private elementary school, Feleti Memorial.

But the future Mrs. Sesepasara found him far from charming when they were children.

Theirs was an unlikely union because the only thing they had in common then was a love for sports and competing – against each other.

 They were fierce enemies, opponents who reveled in competition in sports and academics.

“We were never friends. We were enemies, not friends. We were enemies out on the field. I was real good at playing sports, soccer. But for him, he played a lot of different sports but I played soccer, tetherball and marbles. But he played all the sports, any sport. We competed in softball and soccer and racing like the 100-yard dash. In that private school there were 15 students per class… for sports, they had to two teams: the Tigers and the Bears,” Mrs. Sesepasara said.

“I was on the Tigers and he was on the Bears so we were on opposite teams so we were very competitive. I was pretty good. I was a fast runner and he was the best soccer player in the school. I wasn’t so bad myself but after the games we’d fist fight and when I had enough fist fighting I would tear his clothes and run into the classroom to be saved by the teacher.”

That spirit of competitiveness also went with them to American Samoa High School.

“We competed in the classroom and outside on the sports field. We both skipped a class and moved up to high school and graduated in 1966. It was not called Samoana at the time …back in those days it was the American Samoa High School,” said Mrs. Sesepasara.

They both graduated in 1966 and parted ways.

“We both had scholarships so he went to Truman University in Missouri. I went to Colorado, to a junior college,” she said.

But fate brought together again in Missouri.

“He always talked about writing a book about our relationship but he never did,” Mrs. Sesepasara said with a laugh.

She was awarded a scholarship to study nursing at Truman where Va’amua was already studying biology and education.

“He went to college, he was first to get there. I went to Colorado for two years for a pre-nursing program. For some reason we met up in Missouri. Most of the scholarship students were there and I had to go to a nursing program so the Government sent me to Truman to take up a nursing program. I was transferred to Truman and that is where we met up again but we didn’t date right away,” Mrs. Sesepasara said.

“We were not friends. We were never friends. I didn’t like him. He didn’t like me. But in college he started calling and calling to ask me out on a date so suddenly we started dating. We began dating and then we became friends. But we were never friends before that… he asked me out on a date, we started dating and that is when our relationship began. Then we got married in 1973.”

Mrs. Sesepasara earned a Registered Nursing degree from Truman. Va’amua earned two Bachelor of Science degrees from Truman, the first in Biology and his second in Education.

They were wed by the late Rev. Elder Amituana’i Anoa’i, leader of the First Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa in San Francisco, on April 21, 1973. Their wedding reception was held at the Hilton at the San Francisco Airport.

Va’amua and his wife, Utulei native Margaret Sesepasara. Her husband, she said, loved his Samoan culture and was a “generous” man, or as Samoans say: “e lima foa’i.”  She lost her husband 10 days before their 49th wedding anniversary this month. [courtesy photo]

Va’amua was born on March 13, 1947 in Pago Pago, American Samoa. He lived a full life and held a great many roles: on the home-front as husband, father and grandfather; in his beloved village of Pago Pago as a matai and skipper of the Aeto, in the public service sector and in his Church, the Assembly of God of Pago Pago.

He was a member of the Pago Pago A.O.G. Mafutaga Tama (Men’s Ministry). Va’amua had a great love for the youth and spearheaded inter-denominational rallies for youth from all the Churches in Pago Pago.

“He loved the youth. He was always doing things for the youth. He was a family man. He did everything for his mother. He loved his family. When it came to faalavelave, if he had to do it alone he did. If there was a faalavelave in America, he went. No matter where there was a funeral in his family, he went. That was the kind of person he was,” Mrs. Sesepasara said.

Va’amua was big on education.

He served the American Samoa Government as a Biology teacher at Samoana High School in Utulei from 1971 to 1973. He earned a Certificate of Completion in Marine Resources Management from Oregon State University in 1975. Thirteen years later Va’amua went back to school and earned a Master of Arts degree from San Diego State University.

He worked as a Marine and Wildlife Assistant Biologist and a Marine and Wildlife Fishery Biologist.

In 1976, Va’amua was appointed to serve as Director of the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR): first under Governor Frank Barnett, twice under Governor Peter Tali Coleman and during Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga’s second term. He gave 16 years to the directorship post, said Mrs. Sesepasara.

He served in numerous capacities: as Coastal Zone Manager, Executive Director of the Developmental Disability Council, Vice Chair of Fagatele National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council and Fisheries Consultant.

Va’amua also found success in the arena of politics. From 2008 to 2014, he served Pago Pago as a member of the House of Representatives, District 9, Maoputasi No. 3.

His community service work extended to the Pago Pago Aumaga, the Pago Pago Youth and the Maoputasi Coalition. Va’amua served as President of the Samoana Parent-Teacher Association and held membership in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Council and the local fisherman’s association.

He was a well known sportsman who led the brand new Aeto fautasi and its crew to a highly coveted “mua” — first place glory in the 2010 Flag Day Fautasi Race. It was the first race for the new Aeto fautasi.

Fautasi racing was just one of his sports and his stint as captain began with being a rower on the Aeto crew.

In softball, he was a skilled pitcher and held the office of President of the American Samoa Softball Association. He served the American Samoa Little League Baseball Association too and was an avid golfer and member of the American Samoa Golf Club.

Va’amua with his golf club friends. “He had so many friends … he was a golfer himself. He had a golf club and they traveled around to America and New Zealand and Samoa,” Mrs. Sesepasara told Samoa News in a moving interview about her late husband. [courtesy photo]

“He had so many friends … he was a golfer himself. He had a golf club and they traveled around to America and New Zealand and Samoa. He traveled often, practically every month, when he was director of Marine and Wildlife. He served as faipule and then he was captain for Aeto. Whenever there was a problem with the va’a (longboat), he would always tend to it. He never waited for anyone to fix things, he would do it himself. That is just the kind of person he was,” Mrs. Sesepasara said.

“We returned to American Samoa in 1973 and he joined the aumaga and rowed with the auva’a crew, I think it was in 2008 when he was called to become Captain…when he became a faipule (House Rep.) that is when the village called on him to lead the Aeto crew. I think it will be very hard for someone to fill his shoes.”

The Sesepasaras have five children: four boys and one girl.

Two of their sons, Va’amua’s namesake Henry “Hank” Sesepasara II, their third child, and Dmitri Sesepasara, their fourth child, reside in American Samoa.

Their eldest son Terry Dale Sesepasara lives in San Diego, California; their second child, daughter Tara Lee Sesepasara Williams and youngest son Pavillian N. Sesepasara Toleafoa live in Hawai’i.

The three are scheduled to arrive in the territory, on May 5th, for their father’s funeral.

Va’amua’s memorial services have been set for Saturday, May 7, 2022 at the family residence in Pago Pago.

Rev. Dave Mageo of the Pago Pago AOG will preside over funeral services and additional members of the clergy are expected to attend.

A House Resolution has been approved to honor Va’amua for his service to the people and the American Samoa Government. Current Pago Pago House Rep. Vesiai Poyer Samuelu confirmed for the Samoa News that the House Resolution has been completed and approved.

A family service is scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m. on May 7.

Following the main service at 10 a.m., Va’amua will be interred beside his home in Pago Pago.

In a loving tribute to his role as a committed and winning Captain of the Aeto, a replica of Pago Pago’s longboat is being constructed for his interment.

Va’amua was undergoing treatment for a liver disease when he tested positive for the COVID-19 virus in early April, Mrs. Sesepasara said.

The virus complicated his pre-existing liver ailment, so it was “co-morbidity” that caused his death and not necessarily COVID-19, the registered nurse further explained.

“We (previously) spent 19 months in Hawai’i for his medical treatments so we knew he was not going to recover… but he changed his diet and he was taking medication,” Mrs. Sesepasara said.

Va’amua’s courage, outstanding achievements and talents were greatly admired by his son Hank.

The younger Henry looked up to his father as a luminary, a champion and a paragon. He remembers his father as humble, respectful, hard-working, selfless and loving. Va’amua was his “hero” and “a legend.”