By Kalafi Moala
Ha’apai – There is no one that has family lineage to Ha’apai who is not only proud but also very passionate. Tongans who are descendants of Ha’apai bloodline are spread out in the Kingdom of Tonga, and many have migrated overseas, all sharing that indomitable spirit.
They are a force, so distinct in almost everything they do. After all, the idea of an united Tongan Kingdom with one ruler under a Sovereign God came from Ha’apai – from the mind and heart of the Tu’i Ha’apai (King of Ha’apai), Taufa’ahau Tupou I.
But this story is not about him, but about a “son of Ha’apai” that has demonstrated creativity, resilience, and visionary endurance typical of the people of Ha’apai.
He is a winner against the odds of life. He conquered in spirit, soul, and body; and he is one of the most grateful man you could hope to meet. He has a story worth telling.
He is one of us. He is among us. And he has proven beyond all doubts that if you could work smart and hard, and put your faith in the Living God, you can reap blessings for you, your family, and for your community.
Saimone K. Vuki is a typical Ha’apai man. He talks about his parents as “both Ha’apai natives.” And proudly says: “I consider myself a pure Ha’apai native!”
“I am a grandson of Suli Kaafi of ‘Uiha and Fakatouio of Felemea,” Saimone says. “My parents are Malakai and Mele Keahi Vuki (nee Fakatou).”
At 48, Saimone is still a young man with a vision and fully engaged in entrepreneurial business projects, consulting services, and even a full-fledge charity that serves the poor and needy, not only in Tonga but also overseas in Asia.
He is a devoted Christian husband and father, who has not only survived the threat of a killer disease that could have taken his life but has also used his harrowing experience to strengthen his faith.
He is the father of a son who was a drug addict but who has been able to rehabilitate and just graduated last week. After 8 years of “pure hell” for the family, ‘Etueni Tupou-Vuki has finally experienced the redemptive miracle of God in his life. Saimone says: “It was only God’s grace and mercy that in His own time and way has brought sunshine out of this dark chapter of my family’s life. To God be the glory. Amen!”
He is also a businessman who has experienced incredible struggles, ending up with huge debt, that he worked hard to pay off, and still was able to continue to be an entrepreneur par excellent.
He is Chairman of the Allegiance Consulting Services Co. Limited. He operates several development businesses that involves shipment of toxic waste materials out of Tonga, as well as metal waste. He is also venturing into aquaculture, hydroponic farming, and other projects for business and community development.
How it started for Saimone
Born and raised in Felemea, Ha’apai, Saimone had three brothers and four sisters, and he is at number 7, second to the youngest. His late father was a town officer at Felemea for over a decade, and so was his grandfather, Suli Kaafi at ‘Uiha.
His other grandfather (Mother’s father), Penisoni Kaufusi Fakatou was a Minister of the Gospel for the Free Church of Tonga. He was also a practitioner of traditional medicine, and a composer.
“A lot of his Christmas and New Year songs are still being sung at the Free Church of Tonga, and the Church of Tonga,” Saimone recounts.
Saimone is married to another Ha’apai descendant. She is Sisilia Fatafehi Vuki (nee Tupou), daughter of ‘Etueni Tu’iemoana Tupou of Pangai, Ha’apai and ‘Ilaisaane Una Tupou (nee Vete) of Kolomotu’a.
“We’ve been married for 26 years now and have two children, ‘Etueni Tupou-Vuki, age 25; and Hadassah Simone Tupou-Vuki, age 15. I met my wife at USP, Fiji while we were students,” Saimone says.
“My early education was the GPS Mataa’aho, the only primary school for ‘Uiha and Felemea (1979-1983), and in 1984 at Class 6, my father took me to Tongatapu. I lived with my father’s relative, the late ‘Emosi ‘Alatini, a well-known schoolteacher.”
“My father’s wish was for me to enter Tonga High School, but ‘Emosi insisted that Tonga College was better for me. His reasoning was that I would learn at Tonga College life lessons so that if I don’t do well in the classroom, I would learn to use my hands in farming and other things.” “I completed my secondary studies in Tonga College in 1991,” Saimone says.
Saimone was selected to be one of the students to enter the first Form 7 in Tonga. He was able to complete the New Zealand Bursary Examination here in Tonga. And was granted a Scholarship by the Australian Government to study at USP, Fiji.
He graduated in December 1994 with a BA majoring in Economics/History/Politics. And in 1995, he entered Tonga’s Civil Service as an Economist at the Central Planning Department.
After two years at Central Planning, Saimone was transferred to Tonga Trade at the Ministry of Labour, Commerce & Industries. He was the Market Development and Trade Information Officer. And while working there was assigned to the position of Secretary of the Competent Authority. At age 27, he was appointed Deputy Director and Head of Tonga Trade, a position that allowed him to act in the position of Secretary/CEO of the Ministry on many occasions.
All these experiences were part of the leadership training of this son of Ha’apai, who would go on to make a difference in other areas of service.
In 2003, Saimone resigned from the Civil service to join the multi-national oil company Shell Oil, as a special Project and Business Development Manager.
“I left Shell Oil in early 2005 since the project (MRX Oil Taker and Facility) was no longer required. Shell Oil indicated that they were withdrawing their entire operation from the South Pacific on commercial reasons,” Saimone recounts.
Entering the tests of life, and learning how to overcome
Saimone recounted: “I registered my own company International Development Co Ltd and partnered with another local company Healthy Living Co Ltd to harvest and export seaweed (limutanga’u) to the USA. Unfortunately, the global financial crisis of 2005-06 triggered by the US house bubble greatly affected this business. It was a huge loss financially and to add to the injury over 300 tons of frozen limutanga’u stored in reefer containers were destroyed since there were no more buyers to the take the products out of Tonga.”
Following this incredibly stressful situation, Saimone got sick, which was a life-changing experience for him.
He also recounts of his encounter with the ministry of the late Rev. ‘Isileli Taukolo, who led him to surrender his life to the Lord and experience the life-changing miracle of God. For even though, he grew up in a Christian family and environment, but he did not give his life to God until he met Rev. Taukolo.
“Both my financial and health problems drew me closer to the Lord. I knew that my immoral and unhealthy lifestyle up to that point has caught up with me. I was literally an alcoholic, full of myself, prideful and selfish.”
He says that as an entrepreneur by nature, “I would jump at any business opportunity that comes my way. To assist my wife with our weekly budget and when my consultancy work dried up of projects, I would work in factory as a food processing equipment assembler or a security guard whenever needed.”
“However, studying full-time for over 4 years pursuing two post graduate studies and two different universities in different States in Australia was quite a challenging life. In addition, trying to establish myself as a professional management consultant in an extremely competitive market was another challenge to overcome.”
Eventually, Saimone earned an MBA from University in Australia, as well as a Master’s in Business Law (MBL). These were studies that helped him in his business endeavors as well as a business consultant.
There were significant things that had taken place in Saimone’s life, one of them was when he migrated to Australia. He said: “The Lord works in mysterious ways. In 2004 whilst working for Shell Oil, I applied for my family to migrate to Australia under its Skilled Migration visa scheme.”
“After going through an intensive visa application process, my family’s Australia Permanent Resident visa was granted in September 2005. This was a miracle. If it weren’t for this life saving intervention of God, I would have been six feet underground by 2006. I was a dead man walking, I knew it and could feel that my body was shutting down.”
“In February of 2006, despite still struggling with the financial problems from our export business, my wife and I decided to move to Australia to seek medical help for my worsening condition.”
“My health was deteriorating. I started to spit blood and the fever and chills became more intense. I was afraid that I had cancer. A specialist in St. Vincent Hospital in Sydney suspected it might be cancer, I had to undergo tests.”
“I had developed a huge tumor on the lower right side of my face. By Mid-March, the specialists concluded I needed an operation to remove the tumor and taken for biopsy. The good news was that the specialist said there was no cancer found but they need to conduct further tests.”
“After all the tests, I was informed that I had Extra-pulmonary tuberculosis. I was assured by the specialists that this was a better result as it can be treated with medication.”
“Due to the stressful lifestyle, I lived for over a decade and climaxed in 2005-2006, the latent ETB virus that was dormant in my body was activated as my immune system got weak.”
“From 2006 – 2007, after following closely all the instructions from my Specialist and taking full medication for a period of 18 months, tests were carried out. It was confirmed at the beginning of 2008 that all ETB viruses had been eradicated from my body. My health and common sense restored, and so was the fear of the Lord!”
In 2019, Saimone and his family returned to Tonga. “You can take the boy out of the islands, but not the islands out of the boy,” he said.
He is engaged quite effectively in major ventures of shipments of waste materials out of Tonga; as well as development projects for Ha’apai that involves fisheries, aquaculture, and other things.
He is actively engaged in running a charity – Ascent to Life – which in partnership with others in Australia has served many needy people in India and other nations.
Stay tuned and watch out for this “son of Ha’apai” who wants to restore the islands of Ha’apai to its prominent role in the Kingdom of Tonga.