Sixth of seven parts
Our trip to Olosega from Ofu in the Manua Islands was uneventful. We simply loaded our luggage into Tau's truck and then drove down the road past the Ofu airport runway, through the American Samoan National Park, across the 40-yard, one-lane bridge connecting the two islands, and down a short stretch of coastal road to the Olosega community. Zip, there.
Arriving at the fale, or home with guest quarters, of Chief Misili Fai'ai, we were introduced to his daughter Anita, who was born in San Diego and moved to Samoa when her parents returned home. Speaking very good English, she was anxious to insure that we had breakfast. Of course, Ruta had fixed us a mammoth breakfast on Ofu, as is the "Samoan way." But Anita greeted us with heaping plates of fried eggs, french toast, pancakes, breadfruit and fresh bread, along with coffee, cocoa and a pitcher of ice-cold Tang. We all got to know each other over that universal denominator good food prepared by loving hands.
Chief Misili is the mayor of Olosega. He had been notified the government was about ready to send a supply boat to the Manu'a Islands and he was leaving on the 2:30 p.m. plane for his other home in Pago Pago. (Many Samoans living in the Manu'as also have a home on Tutuila, especially members of the Samoan Chiefs Council.) As one of the Manu'a mayors, he had to participate in deciding who got to bring what supplies on the government boat.
Anita and her husband became our hosts, while Chief Misili's wife was a periodic visitor. Anitas husband, who is from Western Samoa, was employed for a while with public works then became the community's carpenter while he built a house for his growing family. He and Anita have two boys, 5 and 3 years old, and twin girls, who are 6.
Anita was anxious for us to understand her community. As soon as we finished breakfast, she took us for a walk through the village plantation and back through the community proper. She is a fourth grade teacher with 15 students, including four who qualify for special education.
One of her students is Tau and Ruta's son Joshua from Ofu. He has a speech impediment that makes his oral communication unintelligible to most people, and because of this he was placed as a special ed student. His speech problem resulted from his vocal cords having been stretched during the birthing process. Anita confirmed our impression that Joshua is very bright and said he is one of the students who use the school computer the most. For Joshua, trying to talk is like trying to play a tune on an instrument with strings not taunt or in tune — the player's fingering is excellent, but the sound is not recognizable.
Anita's sister and several co-workers appeared the next day and stayed for several days. Her sister is the Samoan Land Grant Program manager and has projects going throughout the territory. She and her co-workers bedded down on mats in the fale tali-malo. For dinner, a gigantic spread was prepared and set before us. We finally realized we were fed everything first because we were seniors and guests and that we weren't supposed to eat all of it, since the rest of the family would eat what we left.
Anita served us two dishes we had not tried before. One was an orange-colored sweet banana baked until the skin split appealing in presentation, aroma and especially taste. The other was a breakfast porridge kind of like oatmeal, made of coconut water and ground coconut meat mixed well with lots of squeezing, mashing etc., then strained. Baked banana, tapioca root and sugar were added. After eating my first bowl of this fragrant mixture, I proceeded to spread it on pancakes, french toast and bread. So good!
Our activities on Olosega included hiking the island and lying about in "our" beach fale reading, writing and snoozing. Oh yes, total relaaaaaaxation.
The main Olosega road runs from the bridge, through the community and to the dump. It is almost a mile long. Another road/trail branches off from the bridge and runs along the north side of the island for about three-quarters of a mile. This secondary track through groves of banana and breadfruit goes to one inhabited dwelling in a community severely damaged by a hurricane and abandoned. We spent several hours on this walk, watching the famed Samoan "flying foxes," or fruit bats, flying over and through the breadfruit trees.
Bats are the only mammals native to American Samoa. The fruit bat eats breadfruit, weighs up to a pound and can develop a wing span up to 3 feet. Essential to the Samoan ecology, pollinating plants and spreading seeds, these "flying foxes" are not nocturnal and are most commonly seen in the late afternoon. They are good eating and have become an endangered species due to a once-thriving economy exporting them to Guam, where they are much prized as a gourmet item.
When we were snoozing on the beach fale on Labor Day, we were visited by a political caravan. This aggressive group was distributing lunches throughout the community and wanted to include us as visitors to their islands. Our lunch box contained two barbecued turkey tails, several pieces of barbecued chicken, a giant Samoan sausage, several chunks of baked breadfruit, and about two cups of macaroni and chopped hard-boiled egg. We were also given two pineapple sodas to wash it all down.
Since we knew Anita was preparing a special lunch for us, we decided not to tempt fate and turned most of the food over to her. In Samoa, one must work very hard hoeing taro, swimming after fish and other seafood, climbing coconut palms and preparing the various types of tubers and fruits. Even so, the diet is such that Samoans make excellent football players, especially defensive backs, guards and tackles. They are also becoming proficient at sumo wrestling.
We spent a stirring Sunday on Olosega attending the village Congregational Church. The women were all dressed in white with white hats, and the men wore white jackets, white shirts and white lava lavas. That Sunday, there was a meeting with the Ofu congregations. The Olosegans sat on one side of the church and the Ofus sat on the other. The choirs took turns singing the hymns, and the preachers took their turn at the pulpit. It was as if we had revisited 1900 rather than 2000 except for the choir accompaniment on synthesizer.
While there is a small Pentecostal following on the two islands, the traditional Samoan church is Congregational. Historically, a message came to the high chief that the old gods were to be replaced by a new god. He told his people a change was in the offing. Shortly thereafter, a ship appeared and the first Congregational missionary set foot on Samoan land. The rest is history. Today visitors to a Samoan community can count on someone asking them to comment on the size and beauty of their church. It is truly the center of the community.
While the churches are wonderful structures, given the resources of the communities, the organization and actions of the congregations give pause to any believer in a loving and just God. A Samoan beginning teacher is paid around $8,000 a year; a preacher may receive eight times that. The community builds what is often the community's finest house for the preacher, and the women prepare and provide all his food.
As we left Samoa, the legislature was considering a bill to outlaw the Pentecostal movement, as it was diverting money from the Congregational church. I couldnt help remembering my reaction to the movie based on James A. Micheners "Hawaii" I left the theater in tears.
Our last morning on Olosega, Anita fed us another wonderful Samoan breakfast, and then her neighbor, the Samoa Air coordinator for the airport, drove us to the airstrip. There we met many of the friends we had made on Ofu and Olosega. The Olosega preacher was there with his wife and son, too. They were going to Western Samoa for a couple day
If you're interested in visiting Olosega, I highly recommend that you visit the National Park Service web page, www.nps.gov/npsa/homestay and contact the park service via e-mail at NPSA_Administrator@nps.gov.
Next, concluding this series: Ta'u: the source of the Polynesian people.
ISLAND HOPPING: OLOSEGA, MANU'A ISLANDS
Sixth of seven parts
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