Sunday, September 20, 2009

Island Life

Mount Piao, 'Rainmaker' in Pago Pago Harbor, American Samoa

A cyber pal asked about my time in Samoa so I started to tell her about it. It was so much fun reminiscing that I thought I would post it here.

I went to American Samoa, which is a US territory, in 1978. We lived on Tutuilla, the largest of the US islands, which isn't saying much. It is 14 miles long and four miles wide at the widest part, or about 54 square miles. By way of comparison, the largest Samoan island is Savai'i, part of the independent nation of Samoa. Savai'i is 659 sq. miles.

We went to AS as contract educators. My title was curriculum specialist and my wife was a Special Ed teacher trainer. Because of our jobs we got to visit all the three high schools on Tutuilla, Samoana, Faga'itua and Leone. I also worked closely with the Caholic girls HS organizing a big speech festival. I visited the HS on Ta'u(pronounced Tah'oo with a glottal stop)which was great as it was much less developed than Tutuilla. When you walked through the village of Ta'u, the only one on the island, the little kids would gather to stare, point and yell, "papalagi, papalagi(pah lahngi) which means white person or off-islander. It literally means ‘white cloud’ and originally referred to the first European sails Samoans saw. Since the sailors were white, they called them palagi also.

My wife and my one year old daughter, Nelly, lived in a 'compound' for contract workers, mostly non-polynesian but some Samoans and islanders who were married to contract workers. There were also two live-in Samoan 'house girls' or nannies. I despise the term 'house girl' but it was the common parlance. Our first HG was Tongan(Tonga,by the way, is still a kingdom) and our second was Tokelauan. They were combo child care and housekeepers. Mafa(martha) our second woman treated me as a matai or clan chief. She would send us umu on Sundays sometimes. That is food cooked in an earth oven or 'umu'. They burn wood down to hot coals, put green banana leaves on the coals and put the food on the leaves. It cooks while they go to church. She would send taro root, the staple starch food, palusami which is coconut cream in young taro leaves, just delicious, and whatever meat she had fixed, usually 'pisupo' or corned beef bought in big plastic kegs. A little girl would knock on our door, hand us a basket woven of green palm fronds and say, "This is from Mafa" and leave. What a treat!
To be continued.


Allie said...

Wow! What an amazing experience!

equa yona(Big Bear) said...

Yep, it surely was, Allie.