Day 13 – Samoa
Thursday, February 5, at 6:30 am we began to catch sight of Samoa, under the most spectacular of full moons.
By the time we reached the harbor at Apia, the capital of Samoa, the sun was up affording us a view of Samoa’s capital building, flanked by a hotel on the right, and the Immaculate Conception of Mary Cathedral on the left.
Apia, is on the island of Upolu, not the largest, but the most populated. The Samoan islands are divided into American Samoa (about fifty miles to the east) and Samoa, which was previously called Western Samoa, and prior to that was referred to as German Samoa. Western Samoa was originally a German territory, was seized by New Zealand in 1914, and became independent in 1962. A few years ago, they dropped “Western” from their name, desiring to be “Samoa”, much to the irritation of American Samoa who felt it diminished their name.
We have visited American Samoa twice in recent years, enjoyed it thoroughly, and expected more of the same. We were quite pleasantly surprised at the differences. Physically, the islands and people are quite similar – same lush green mountains and beautiful beaches – same rugged NFL type men, same friendly faces. But culturally they are worlds apart. Where American Samoa has “modernized” away from their ancient tribalism, Samoa has maintained their ancient culture, skillfully blending it in with British parliamentary procedures, to produce what I can only call a “civil tribalism”, resulting in little crime, little conflict and a very happy society. At the core of this system is a “matai” or family chief. There are 25,000 of these matai in Samoa. The family matai is chosen by his or her father or mother, based on which of the children exhibits the most responsibility toward the family. The matai arbitrates all major decisions for the family. In order to stand for election to parliament, one must be a matai. With this tribal influence in the legislation, it is not hard to see how they have maintained the culture. Divorce is not legal, nor is the sale of land. At some time in the distant past, they must have apportioned the land (total of 1100 square miles) to the families in perpetuity, to live on and be supported by, but not to be sold. This makes commercial enterprise extremely difficult, but maintains the culture. Most of this information was obtained from our guide, Efeso, who is chief of his family, selected by his father instead of his 3 older brothers, because of his responsible attitude toward the family. His information was largely confirmed by research once we returned to the ship.
Efeso and his bus driver picked us up on the dock for our tour to Tafatafa beach, about an hour and a half from Apia. We traveled first along the coast line, listening to Efeso proudly describe his country and his people. He explained that women were held in highest regard and considered “princesses” to be protected by all men, so much so, that the men do all the cooking. Women however, commonly have 14 to 16 children to help with the plantations (family farms). After turning inland to cross the hills, we stopped for a break, and some pictures. Here is the valley, looking back toward Apia.
Efeso, Sally and me at the lookout point.
Before reaching the beach, we stopped at this gorgeous waterfall, and enjoyed a demonstration of Samoan cooking (pork, breadfruit, and something we couldn’t identify) plus a demonstration of using the coconut for food and drink.
Back on the bus and on to Tafatafa beach. The beaches, as all property on the island, is owned by a family, rather than a business – members of the family were there to watch over the facilities and sell coconuts, papaya, and cold beer.
The beach shelters were fashioned after traditional Samoan homes, called fales. Today the fales are primarily used for weekly family meetings and they double as sleeping areas for the bachelors of the family. This two story one was rare.
Had to sample the local beer – Vailima, named after the springs at Robert Louis Stephenson’s home. He spent the final five years of his life on this island.
Back to the ship in mid afternoon, in time for a sailaway southwest toward our next port of call in New Zealand. We sailed through some of the islands of the nation of Tonga – another independent Polynesian nation.