Samoan author accused of killing Samoan writer who was aunt of former US politician Tulsi Gabbard


WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — An author in Samoa has been charged with murdering another prominent Samoan writer, who was also the aunt of former U.S. congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, authorities in the South Pacific island nation said.

Papalii Sia Figiel, 57, is accused of killing Caroline Sinavaiana-Gabbard 78, after an argument last month, officials told The Associated Press. Both women were prominent figures in the Pacific literary community, and Sinavaiana-Gabbard’s family is involved in U.S. politics.

Figiel is in custody awaiting a court appearance next week. She has not entered a plea to the charge of murder. Figiel is not yet represented by a lawyer, police said, and could not be contacted for comment.

Sinavaiana-Gabbard, a poet and environmentalist, in 2013 became the first person of Samoan ancestry to reach the rank of full professor at a U.S. university, according to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she taught from 1997 until her retirement in 2016.

She and Figiel, a poet and novelist, had been friends for 30 years, said Samoa’s deputy police commissioner Papalii Monalisa Tiai-Keti in written comments provided to AP. The women had argued on the day Sinavaiana-Gabbard was killed, Tiai-Keti said.

Her body was found at Figiel’s home in Samoa’s capital, Apia, two days later, after Figiel reported the death to police officers, authorities said.

“She was accompanied by a family member who was the first person she confided to regarding the incident,” said Tiai-Keti.

Officials could not confirm a cause of death for Sinavaiana-Gabbard. A forensic pathologist was due to travel from Fiji to Apia, a city of 36,000 people on Samoa’s second-largest island, Upolu, to conduct an autopsy later this month.

Tulsi Gabbard, a former U.S. congresswoman from Hawaii, wrote on Instagram that her aunt had “often shared her poetry with me, and encouraged me to pursue my own writing” when Gabbard was a child and stayed at her aunt’s cottage in Manoa.

Sinavaiana-Gabbard’s “horrific” death “sent shockwaves through our family,” wrote Gabbard, who renounced the Democratic party in 2022 and said during a public event this month that she would be honored to serve as Republican Donald Trump’s running mate in the November presidential election.

“I was a rascal growing up, and that’s an understatement. But she always stayed positive and always encouraged me to pray to God and ask for his mercy and his love,” said the late writer’s brother, Mike Gabbard, a Democratic state senator from Hawaii.

He later followed in his sister’s footsteps to attend Sonoma State University, Mike Gabbard told AP, and he credited her for his time as a teacher at a rural high school in American Samoa.

“She also inspired me to give back, that life wasn’t always about just doing what made you happy, but also to consider serving others, you know, serving God and serving others,” he said.

Sinavaiana-Gabbard “played an essential role in moving the Department of English toward a more robust engagement with the literatures of the Pacific,” said Professor John David Zuern from the University of Hawaii in written comments to AP. Her “outstanding work with students” earned her an award from the university, he said.


McAvoy reported from Hawaii.

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