“Fa’a Samoa,” the Samoan way

There are 2 Samoas, the American one and the Independent, western one which is better known as simply “Samoa.” It was the first independent Polynesian island after all the colonies had finished dividing them up, but its funny to see the similarities between this self-identified island (who has closer connections to New Zealand and Australia) and American Samoa, which has the same cultural, linguistic and religious histories, but American Samoa, with all their big Ford trucks and diesel Dodges, tend to look down on the Samoans for having more poverty and people. The only differences I noticed was the American Samoa was less touristy but more expensive, and Samoa was a lot more social.

Samoans were so friendly, it was actually hard to match. I felt like I never smiled big enough or at enough people, since every glance, even if for a second, was met with a big toothy smile, and kids couldn’t wipe it off until you were out of sight. Sometimes the’d repeatedly yell hello and wave, or run after you to ask you your name. The adults always waved too, even at a passing bus or car, and I wouldn’t be left alone in on the street or in a village for more than 30 seconds before someone wanted to talk to me. The normal questions went pretty much exactly like this: “Whats your name? Where are you from? How old are you? How long ar you in Samoa? Do you like it? Where did you come from? Where are you going next? Where is the mister?” So after that interview formula, they knew all they needed to know about me, and then they’d ask if I needed help or if I was lost.

I got the feeling Polynesians were quiet, private and religious people, but the rumors about them being promiscuous is certainly true too. I’ve only been plain-out offerred sex once before American Samoa, by a grounds guard at the Beachcomber hotel in Tahiti. He just casually asked if he could accompany me to my room, and I just had to act equally casual about saying no, without any shock or terror in my voice, even when he asked twice more if I was sure sure sure. It happened again in Independent Samoa, this time by one of the fiafia dancers, who I nicknamed the coconut man. He could shred a coconut in about 5 seconds with his teeth and then crack it open on his head. He opened a few for me on the beach after the show, then assumed he could sleep in my fale, but I used a nervous giggle and the single mattress and narrow mosquito net as an excuse to stay alone.

fiafia dancers practicing for a big show

fiafia dancers practicing for a big show

Samoans are really friendly and hospitable in other, more acceptable, ways, and I loved traveling there. Besides sex, the normal things to be offered were usually coffee, tea, fresh bananas or tobacco in some form. If you got in a car with someone, it was a cigarette, and if you checked into your beach fale for the night, it was a cup of warm drink. If you sat with someone in their shaded fale, it could be a banana or some rolling tobacco, and they never let me stand on the side of the road waiting for a bus in the sun, so I often ended up in a fale eating or smoking with some elders while one of their children got sent to the side of the road, waiting to flag down my bus for me.

fales on the beach

fales on the beach

Samoan’s aren’t the best chefs, especially compared to neighbouring Fiji, and the quality of products (compared to Australia and New Zealand) was mediocre, and the selection of food minimal (compared to American Samoa and its super American imported super markets). Canned corned beef and instant noodles are staples, as well as anything fried, rice and taro (a rich potatoey thing). They did have very good table manners, and often sent a child or staff to stand over you fanning your food while you ate (to keep the flies off).

If you join Samoan’s for mealtime, the evening family worship has to be taken first. I attended one family service, which was all in Samoan, but I recognized the tunes of some of the hymns, and they closed with a prayer in English, which I could actually join in on since it was the Lord’s prayer. They have church service often, both at home and in church, since each village has a church or two or three. There may only be a few families in the village, and still there’s enough of a congregation to support all the churches. They’re all different denominations too – Catholic, Seventh-Day Adventist, Mormon, and even Baha’i’. Its amazing that it’s already the church capita of the world, and still I saw missionaries around. I don’t know who they’re saving, but it looked like they must have been Mormons trying to convert the already redeemed souls.

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