Who is Papalii Sia Figiel? Prominent Samoan author charged with murdering Tulsi Gabbard’s aunt - Hindustan Times
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Who is Papalii Sia Figiel? Prominent Samoan author charged with murdering Tulsi Gabbard’s aunt

BySumanti Sen
Jun 02, 2024 11:29 AM IST

Samoan author and playwright Papalii Sia Figiel has been charged with the brutal murder of Tulsi Gabbard’s aunt, Caroline Sinaviana-Gabbard.

A famed Samoan author and playwright has been charged with the brutal murder of Tulsi Gabbard’s aunt. 57-year-old Papalii Sia Figiel was arrested after 78-year-old Caroline Sinaviana-Gabbard’s death in Samoa. Caroline was a retired former University of Hawaii professor.

Prominent Samoan author charged with murdering Tulsi Gabbard’s aunt, Caroline Sinaviana-Gabbard (pictured) (Facebook)
Prominent Samoan author charged with murdering Tulsi Gabbard’s aunt, Caroline Sinaviana-Gabbard (pictured) (Facebook)

Caroline was stabbed several times, and beaten with a hammer, reports claimed. The murder was committed at Figiel’s home on May 25, in the village of Vaivase-Uta, located three miles from Apia. The New Zealand Herald reported that Figiel’s house doubles as the local theatre.

Before the murder, the two had gotten into an argument, according to Samoan Police Commissioner Auapaau Logoitino Filipo. What prompted the argument is unclear. Local media reports claimed that Caroline and Figiel were friends and colleagues. Caroline was also Figiel’s mentor.

Who is Papalii Sia Figiel?

Figiel was born in Apia, Samoa. She did her formal schooling in Samoa and New Zealand where she also started studying a Bachelor of Arts. She later completed the course at Whitworth College in the US.

Figiel’s poetry won the Polynesian Literary Competition in 1994. One of her novels, Where We Once Belonged, even won the 1997 Best First Book award in the South East Asia/South Pacific Region of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

In various ways, Figiel’s life has been affected by diabetes. Both her father and mother died after suffering complications caused by diabetes. Fiegel was herself diagnosed with Type two diabetes in 2003. She later went on to serve as an advocate in the Pacific region, where she shared her experiences with the disease to help address its causes.

‘Caroline was my best friend as a teenager’

Caroline was Gabbard's aunt and the sister of Hawaii state Sen. Mike Gabbard. According to Caroline’s family, she was the first Samoan to become a full professor in the United States. She was also a prominent writer, teacher and environmental activist.

“Caroline was my best friend as a teenager,” Mike said in a statement to Spectrum News. “She helped me considerably during my rebellious stage of adolescence. She got me hooked on reading, so much so that I followed in her footsteps and majored in English at Sonoma State University in California, then returned to our birthplace, American Samoa, where I taught English in high schools and was a faculty member, guidance counselor and dean at the community college for many years.”

“I love her deeply and wish her well as she continues her journey,” he said, adding that although he forgives her killer, he hopes the person “will be punished to the full extent of the law.”

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