Pacific Magazine > Magazine > October 1, 2004

Samoa

The Rock’s Royal Homecoming

Hollywood Star Finds His Roots


When Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson of World Wrestling Federation and Hollywood fame landed in Samoa in July on a homecoming visit, Samoans gave him what can only be described as a royal welcome fit for King Kamehameha himself, the Hawaiian monarch the Rock is soon scheduled to portray on film.

Samoa's Minister of Tourism, Joe Keil, the Police Commissioner and an official reception party was at the airport to greet The Rock. As it happened, his arrival coincided with the official opening in Apia of the Pacific Islands Forum leaders' meeting, which sees deliberations on weighty issues of state affecting the countries of the region.

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In the event, all 16 heads of governments and numerous other official luminaries gathered in the Samoa at the time, faded in the glare of Hollywood, which followed The Rock to these tiny islands. So much so that one prime minister was heard to plaintively ask, "Who is The Rock?"

The Rock is one of the brightest stars of big time professional wrestling and has also now moved on to starring on the silver screen. His Samoan trip followed a visit to Australia where he had been promoting his latest film, "Walking Tall."

Seiuli Dwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock, sitting with Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi in Apia. Standing, left to right, Johnson’s mother, Ata Johnson, Samoa First Lady Gillian Malielegaoi, and Afimutasi Gus Hannemann, who organized The Rock’s visit to Samoa. Photo Courtesy: Afimutasi Gus Hannemann

The Rock's real name is Dwayne Johnson. He is the son of legendary Rocky Johnson of wrestling fame. Pita Maivia his maternal grandfather was one of the first Pacific Islanders to make a name in professional wrestling. He also played minor parts in film including the James Bond blockbuster movie, Goldfinger. Johnson's maternal grandmother was the daughter of one of the senior chiefs on the island of Upolu, the most populous island in the Samoan group. He is also related to the Malietoa clan, the head of which is Samoa's present Head of State.

So it was no surprise that the first official stop during The Rock's visit was a call on Samoa's 80-year-old Head of State, His Highness Malietoa, who promptly conferred on him the chiefly title Seiuli. The honor was also in recognition of The Rock's support of local humanitarian causes, including cyclone relief after Cyclone Heta hit Samoa in January this year.

One of The Rock's favorite causes in Samoa is the Mapuifagalele Home for the aged, run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. He lost no time in visiting the Home and the Sisters. For the first time on his trip, The Rock's granite face showed signs of breaking down when being entertained by the elderly residents and their minders.

The Rock was similarly moved when visiting for the first time the birthplaces of his maternal grandparents. The villagers of Lalomanu turned out in force to welcome the Rock.

But for the people of Lalomanu it was a case of welcoming one of their own. "We wanted especially to tell The Rock how much we had appreciated his generosity in our hour of need," said Leilua Punivalu, one of the high chiefs of the district, referring to the hurricane aid donated by The Rock earlier in the year.

Hawaii-based Samoan businessman, Afimutasi Gus Hannemann, who was responsible for organizing the visit, said The Rock had always expressed a wish to see where his mother and grandparents came from. His mother Ata, had brought her son up as a Samoan, and so despite the fact he had lived all his life away, The Rock understands his Samoan heritage and had always wanted to visit the country.

Asked what he enjoyed most about his visit, "many things, but perhaps the simple feeling of just being here," The Rock said. "This is something I had always wanted to do for myself, for my mum, and for my grandfather and grandmother. I am honored and humbled by the generosity and love shown to me. I feel very much at home, and want to come back soon."

 

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