Samoa Through My Eyes 1951

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Neubarth, Nov 22, 2008.

  1. Neubarth

    Neubarth At the Ballpark July 30th

    Nov 8, 2008
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    South Pacific
    SAMOA THROUGH MY EYES (A little German American Boy in a far and distant land.)

    In 1951, at the age of three, I, as the junior member of my family, had the opportunity to venture to the South Pacific where we lived for a year and half on the tropical island of American Samoa. We flew from Chicago (where the original family home was) to Hawaii and from Hawaii to Fiji. In Fiji we caught a cargo ship that carried us to the vicinity of the Samoan Islands where we transferred to a smaller island vessel while still out at sea. That, for me, was an adventure in itself because we had to climb down a steep ladder to a small boat powered by oars.

    We were rowed to the smaller vessel where we had to climb up a ladder to the deck. I think somebody picked me up and handed me to the crewmembers above. This smaller vessel was called the Manua Tele and was about the size of a tug boat. In fact, I think it had been a tug boat in a previous life.

    The Manua Tele pulled into Pago Pago harbor late that night, just in time for us to go to our new house, quickly unpack some of our things and go to sleep. Our new home was right along the waterfront of the harbor. The house was situated just a few hundred feet from the pier where the Matson Steam Ship Line cargo and passenger vessels would tie up.

    Behind the house was a gigantic ever fruit bearing mango tree that towered fifty or sixty feet into the sky. My father told me that if I went to the tree, I would meet a great many Samoan people and even some boys my age, but he cautioned me that the first words I would hear from the Samoan boys would be “Fia Fuso,” which means, “Do you want to fight?” Dad explained that the answer to that was the Samoan word “Le-Ai,” which means “No.”

    Being an adventurous child, I ventured out to the mango tree, which was also along the main road that ran the length of the island. There, I was approached by a Samoan boy about a year or so older than I was. The first words he spoke to me were the only Samoan words that I understood, “Fia Fuso.”

    Dad was right. I quickly tried to remember the order of the syllables for the word, “No.” Not certain if it was Ai-Le or Le-Ai, I retreated to my house as quickly as I could. The Samoan boy laughed at me. I was not yet determined to be a gallant warrior.

    I returned to that mango tree a little while later and was promptly challenged to another fight, which I politely declined with the use of the proper word. I wanted to get to know these boys who had the freedom to throw rocks up into the mango tree to knock the fruit down to eat. They were very good at throwing those rocks and could usually knock down a mango in two or three throws.

    This time I stayed, and nobody hit me or hurt me. In their culture, boys are taught to fight at an early age, but they are also taught to respect the wishes of others, especially, little ones like me. No older Samoan child present would have allowed a four or five year old to hurt a three year old, even if I was a Palagi (Samoan for “white fish”—used to describe the white or pale skinned people of European descent who now lived among them, and interfered with their beautiful island lifestyle)

    I was fascinated with the brown skinned children. They wore very little clothes, either shorts, or strips of cloth that they wrapped around their waists. These cloths, I found were called lava-lava, and they were the standard attire for most Samoans before the missionaries arrived. As it was, most Samoans continued to wear them. With a lava lava you had a lot more freedom than if you wore pants or dresses which were hot and restrictive.

    Caucasion children, for the most part, stayed covered, even though it was hot and humid and your clothes were soon wet with sweat. The white people were not as smart as the islanders in this regard. The less clothes you wore, the more comfortable you were.

    In Samoa, it rained almost every day, about an inch a day. There was a rainy season, and a “less than rainy season” (never a really dry season). In the rainy season, Samoa would receive more rain in half a week than Southern California receives in a whole year. The Samoans never carried those ridiculous things called umbrellas. If it rained, it rained. A person caught in the rain would try to find shelter under a tree or overhang, but almost always got wet. That was no problem, you took your lava-lava off and twisted it sort of dry, put it back on and proceeded on your way. If you climbed a coconut tree, you would tie the lava lava in such a fashion that your crotch was covered but legs were free to grasp the tree. Samoan men used their legs and feet in climbing as much as they used their arms and hands. I never saw a woman climb a tree. That was men’s work.

    Many of the women did not cover their breasts. This was gradually changing as the missionaries convinced the islanders that they had to cover their nakedness. Not all of the women believed that nakedness applied to breasts. Breasts were for feeding babies and had to be available for that purpose. Besides, covering their upper body made the women uncomfortable because of the heat and humidity.

    In the outlying villages far away from the churches almost none of the women would cover the upper half of their bodies. In the capital of Pago Pago, the little children covered their nakedness, but in outlying villages they would run around naked as a newborn without a care in the world.

    Usually the children would be covered by the time they were five or six. Girls would be covered earlier than boys. Both would only be covered from their waist to their thighs. In Pago, the adolescent girls would cover their breasts when they developed past the one inch sprout stage. All of this was a tremendous education for me. Back in Chicago, we were always clothed.

    I used to go out by that mango tree behind our house a lot. The Samoans who could find the room would ride in crowded buses on that one road past that mango tree on their way to market or hospital or home. When they passed by, they would always be singing as they slapped or pounded on the outside of the bus to keep time, “Oh le see pi, Oh le ah nai, a pah a no enga eh la oh le oh nai,” or words to that effect. I didn’t have the slightest idea what they were singing about, but it sure sounded like fun to me. The people always appeared to find a reason to be happy in their everyday activities. If they were fishing or working in their gardens or transporting produce to market or building houses they did it with joy and quite often with song.

    Actually, their houses, or fales were made out of palm fronds for the thatch roofs. Pillars positioned in a circle supported the roof. Walls were made out of woven palm frond mats, suspended between the pillars. All of their houses were open on all sides. With the wall mats rolled up, the winds could blow through the house as well as could the children. The Samoan women would work around the fale, while the men would go out on the reef to spear fish, or up into the mountain to catch pigs or bring fruit or vegetables back to the women to prepare. There was woman work, and there was man work, and never the twain would meet.

    The men’s work always involved large amounts of hard physical exertion, sweat and dirt. The men always built the U-mu or oven that was used to cook the pigs and other foods. They would build a large fire into which they would put about a hundred softball or larger size rocks. Using sticks they would take the extremely hot rocks out of the fire when it died down and use the rocks to line a pit that they had dug in the ground. Into the pit they would place the pig, which had been heavily wrapped in banana leaves and securely tied. They would also place the other items to be cooked in the pit alongside the pig (i.e. wrapped fish, squid, taro root, and packets of taro leaves that were mixed with coconut milk. The latter food was delicious and was called palasami.) Once you have tasted it, you will never forget it. Banana leaves would cover all of the food items and then the remaining hot rocks would be placed on top and the U-mu would be totally covered with dirt. The heat from the rocks would cook the various foods. After several hours, the whole lot would be uncovered, and everybody would enjoy a fantastic feast of island delicacies. Their food was surpurb.

    Feasts were a common thing in Samoa. The adults were almost all very, very large. The Samoans are a large people, both because of abundant eating and because the vast majority have thick body frames. The men are just naturals for the American sport of football. The high schools play it on the islands with gusto, sometimes without the benefit of all of the protective equipment.

    Their culture has some fascinating aspects to it. Thousands of years ago, the women banded together and explained to a gathering of high chiefs (Ma-tai’s) that a lot of their work required great strength, which many of them did not possess, and they wanted the help of the men to complete their chores. This request, of course, violated all of the traditional values with respect to men’s work and women’s work. The decision of the Matais was that any seventh born son to a family would be given to the women to raise. This seventh son was to be used for “woman work,” and could not work with the men. They used a term to describe these men performing as women. It was Fa-fa-fene, which means, “In The Way of a Woman.” Eventually, Fa-fa-feine came to mean “homosexual.”

    Another example of their logic concerned the problem of raiders coming in from other non-Samoan islands. Much like the Vikings, the islanders of the South Pacific would raid other island villages. Early in the morning, usually way before sunrise, ten or more war canoes (Outrigger canoes or double hulled canoes designed to carry fifty or more men) would come racing into a village. The men would jump off as soon as they reached shore, and proceed to club any man who rose to fight them. The raiders would plunder and pillage and grab any young virgin that they thought might be desirable and escape back into the ocean for their return to safety of their home island.

    The high chiefs from all of the Samoan Islands gathered together and decided that enough was enough. They would effect a solution that would eventually free their island villages from attack from the neighboring non-Samoan islands such as the hated Fijian islands. Their solution was to throw all of their small undersized children into the sea. Any child that was born small or deformed was returned to nature (the ocean) to become a turtle or shark. At least, that is what their folklore told them would happen when they threw the new born babies into the ocean. Only the children with large body frames were allowed to grow to adulthood.

    Eventually, over the next few generations, the Samoans became the biggest and most feared people in the entire ocean, and the words Samoa Ta Pu (Samoa was forbidden) were understood all across the Pacific.


    All for tonight. If you want me to write more, let me know.

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fuso means in samoan