Samoa vs. Tonga at Super Bowl XLVII

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Willie Salavea of Style Pasifika sees Super Bowl XLVII as a chance to bring together Samoans and Tongans and heal old wounds.

Polynesian Power in the NFL

Polynesian Power in the NFL

“If we as Polynesians are going to raise our stakes in this world we need to realize we are all cousins,” says Salave’a. “We have to support each other."

For over a thousand years the South Pacific islands of Samoa and Tonga have had a unique enmity toward each other that stems from centuries of past conflict. Although the islands themselves have been at peace for hundreds of years, this rivalry continues on the islands and in America with street brawls and fisticuffs whenever these culturally connected people see each other. At this year’s Super Bowl XLVII, these old rivalries play out on a world stage as two Samoans on the San Francisco 49ers face off with two Tongans on the Baltimore Ravens.

The National Football League is a sort of modern cultural phenomenon among those with South Pacific heritage, particularly on the islands of Samoa and Tonga. There, American football has been embraced by the cultures to such an extent that Polynesians overachieve in the NFL with an unbelievably high percentage of players compared with their population base. This has created a NFL fan base that practically includes every man, woman and child of Polynesian descent.

So it is no surprise that a Super Bowl featuring two Tongans on the Baltimore Ravens (Ma’ake Kemoeatu and Haloti Ngata) and two Samoans on the San Francisco 49ers (Mike lupati and Isaac Sopoaga) has caused a lot attention and excitement among the two cultures. For some, this attention is also an opportunity to try and mend some of the wounds of the conflict, as well.

“This is how the rivalry between Samoans and Tongans should play out, with healthy competition in sports, not with fists,” says Willie Salave’a, an American NFL merchandiser who is ¾ Samoan and ¼ Tongan. Salave’a has seen tempers flare too often when Samoans meet Tongans and thinks the examples of sportsmanship and honor displayed by Polynesian NFL players is something to be promoted.

“I just want people to see how it can be between Samoans and Tongans,” says Salave’a. “There will always be rivalry, but we don’t have to continue with the violence. Ngata and Lupati aren’t going to fight each other with their fists or with clubs; they are going to play football. These men are icons of our cultures and they are setting a new example we should all embrace and follow.”

Indeed, attitudes are slowly changing as people like Polynesian NFL players and Salave’a try and have a positive impact on two cultures in desperate need of unity and a region starving for economic growth. “If we as Polynesians are going to raise our stakes in this world we need to realize we are all cousins,” says Salave’a. “We have to support each other. Nobody else cares if Tongans fights Samoans, so it up to us to change ourselves. The NFL is showing us how.”

Salave’a’s company, Style Pasifika sells authentic sports licensed kukui nut jewelry under the brand Go Nuts, but the company also promotes island culture and issues through press releases, Polynesian events and their blog (

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Gregory Lipsey

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