This is the seventh installment in a series of posts commemorating a very memorable journey.
Thirty-five years ago, I paid a visit to American Samoa. At that time, it had been twenty years since I left there after spending one of the most unforgettable years of my life on the main island of Tutuila -- a year chronicled in my memoir Mango Rash: Coming of Age in the Land of Frangipani and Fanta (Behler Publications, 2019).
In this series of posts, I'm sharing excerpts from my 1986 travel journal, along with photos from the trip.
In the last installment, I traveled with former schoolmates Abe and Robin and another woman to the outer islands of the Manu'a group: Ta'u, Ofu, and Olosega. At the time, Abe was overseeing public works and power projects throughout American Samoa.
Good things to know:
fale - Samoan for house
Soli & Mark's - a popular local restaurant
fa'asamoa - literally, "the Samoan way." The traditional way of life in the Samoan culture
palagi - white-skinned person, foreigner
taupou - ceremonial hostess, an honorary position
puletasi - traditional Samoan dress
April 25, 1986
We're up at 6 am, watching a shell-colored sunrise, then having coffee and walking by the beach. We figure Abe has been up for hours inspecting more public works projects. Just before the plane is due in, we check his room and find him asleep -- he'd been up till 2 am, talking business.
Back in Pago, I box up my stuff to send home (hiking boots, heavy sweater), lug it to the post office. Have more frustrating phone experiences.
Abe comes by for lunch. In three hours, he's had two meetings with the governor; signed checks; had an explosive argument with the budget director, who is refusing to approve construction of a new administration building; plus several other things I don't remember.
We go to lunch at Matai's Pizza Fale in Nu'uuli's shopping center. We talk about Abe's trip to Washington (leaving tomorrow morning). He lights up when I tell him I'll try to get him a picture of Lee Iacocca.
He starts telling me about the house he's building near the airport, and he gets that kind of explosive glow again. "Oh!! Do you want to drive by it?" We do -- he's having it built by a contractor from Texas -- more expensive, but good work, he says. He's building it for his parents' retirement.
This afternoon I wandered around, took pictures, bought more shirts, miscellaneous Samoan stuff.
Fatima took me down to Pago, where I looked for Tau at his insurance office, but didn't find him.
Then we met Jeanette at Soli & Mark's. She and a friend were having an interesting conversation about fa'asamoa, saying that no matter how long you spend off the island, "no matter how palagi you think you are," you always have to deal with Samoan customs. It's more a part of you than you realize.
Jeanette is caught up in it now because of the funeral for her cousin (Ray Nomura's son), who drowned off Aunu'u. The other woman is into it because her father is taking over the high chief title on Ta'u. There, fa'asamoa is really fa'asamoa. In the kava ceremony, she won't be able to get near where her father is, for example; no picture-taking. And their lives will be different -- she can't sit in her father's chair, lie on his bed, or eat his food.
Tonight, Jeanette, Mai, and I sat around in the bar at the Rainmaker, drinking. It was a good time. Then as we were going through the lobby, we saw that they were showing the Miss Flag Day competition on TV. We came in as they were having the kava ceremony competition -- the taupous doing the kava preparation, flinging the kava strands back over their shoulders. Then we saw the puletasi competition -- some of the women barefoot, shell decorations and jewelry.
To be continued . . .
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.