Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Rioting in the Pacific

The recent news of the rioting, looting and destruction in Tonga's capital Nuku'alofa is quite sad. With eight deaths and the rebuilding cost already estimated at $75 million USD it's a heavy blow to the country. The healing process will no doubt take many years.

A short news story on the Radio New Zealand International website caught my eye this morning. Apparently some palagis have suggested that Samoa will be the next country in the region to "have the same troubles as Tonga". Samoan Prime Minister, Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, responded by stating that "the strength of the Samoan cultural ties and the people’s respect for its traditional leaders and traditional avenues in resolving dispute will always prevail". But isn't all of this missing the mark?

Tonga is a constitutional monarchy and the Tongan monarchy plays a very strong role in the country's political process. The Tongan Cabinet currently consists of 14 members, 10 appointed by the monarch for life; 4 appointed from among the elected members of the Legislative Assembly, including 2 each from the nobles and peoples representatives serving three year terms. There are no elections; the prime minister and deputy prime minister are appointed by the monarchy.

For several years a strong pro-democracy movement has been growing in Tonga. It "emphasises reforms including better representation in the Parliament for the majority commoners, and better accountability in matters of state" (Wikipedia entry). Recently, a Constitutional Commission has been considering suggestions as to how Tonga's constitution might be reformed.

With the September succession to the throne by Siaosi Tupou V, it was believed by many that there would be advances in the reform process sooner rather than later. The rioting is said to have been triggered when it seemed that the parliament would adjourn for the year without having made any advances in increasing democracy in government.

By contrast, Samoa is a mix of parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. The Samoan monarchy, generally speaking, plays little role in the political process. There are elections held every five years and the government has been very open to political, judicial and legislative reform, driven particularly by cooperative foreign aid/development projects.

In short, Samoans have democracy where Tongans do not. It's certainly not perfect and does have its fair share of problems but by and large it works. As such, Tuila’epa's comments about the strong ties within Samoan culture, the respect for traditional leaders and traditional disputation processes are valid but in my eyes don't really strike at the heart of the matter. Furthermore, as the legal challenges following the March 2005 elections illustrate (see here, here and here), there is a growing tension between the traditional power structures and the newer judicial and legislative structures. Since I left Samoa in September, I have heard of two more cases held in the Land & Titles Court challenging village rulings over banishments.

Nonetheless, I agree completely with Tuila'epa's refutation of the claim that Samoa will be the next Pacific nation to endure mass civil disobedience and rioting. I simply cannot imagine it happening. I hope Tonga can solve the problems it faces and wish the very best for my friends in Tonga and my friends elsewhere with family in Tonga.

Mau nofo a e.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Something a little off topic

I've just been watching Foreign Correspondent on Australia's ABC. It contained a story about the hazards of living with elephants in Sri Lanka. An elephant trainer interviewed for the story said, "There's no point to a country if it doesn't have elephants." I couldn't agree more.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink

It's an island nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean yet Samoa has water supply problems. According to a recent news report from Radio New Zealand International, the Samoa Water Authority has publicly acknowledged that there is a problem, stating that low water levels at the major treatment plant in Fuluasou are to blame.

Of course this isn't news to anyone who's lived in villages like Vaitele, Vailele and Fagalii-uta (where I lived). Watching the water emanating from the taps turn from clear to milky white to murky brown then shortly after stop running at all was a fairly regular past time. I was fortunate enough to have a water tank that at least allowed for a few showers and cups of tea/coffee beyond what my neighbours typically enjoyed.

The water would most often run out during and after periods of heavy rain; soil blocking the pipes and all that kind of thing. This time around however the problem really is supply. The dry season has yet to run its course so there's not an awful lot of rainfall that would result in blocked pipes. Just before I left in mid September I drove past the major dam on 'Upolu and noted that it was almost entirely dry.

I've been told by a friend still in Fagalii that they've been without water for a while now. And whilst the rain isn't falling readily or steadily enough they're unable to catch much water in buckets and have "outdoor showers" as I was want to do. Their situation is a bit of a catch 22. No rain means no mains water; any big dump of rain is likely to lead to blocked pipes anyway. Bugger.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Miss Teuila controversy

This year's Miss Teuila pageant has not been without a degree of controversy. Supporters of Miss Samoa, New Zealand, a contestant who was named second runner-up, were extremely vocal in their disappointment. In the few days prior to my departure from Samoa, their letters of complaint filled the pages of The Observer.

I believe that it was these supporters who discovered that Pearl McFall (Miss NUS), who was crowned Miss Teuila, was 17 at the time she registered in the pageant. Pageant rules dictate that contestants must be 18 years of age or older to enter. This news was, of course, picked up by the media and became the only story worth telling for a few days.

McFall officially relinquished her crown five days after being crowned Miss Teuila, holding a press conference at the National University of Samoa campus to make the announcement. This resulted in Poinsettia Taefu, the first runner-up, being crowned Miss Teuila 2006. Having cleaned up seven of the ten individual category awards (e.g. Best Talent, Best Puletasi, etc.), it seems fitting that Poinsettia wears the crown. Congratulations 'tia!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Fine with my wife

I've wanted to post more photos and write more about Samoa but unfortunately my computer is in for repair. This might take a few weeks, so my chances of posting are going to be slim. Nonetheless, I will endeavour to put something up in the next week or so.

In the meantime, for those of you with broadband (or similar) Internet connections, might I suggest you check out this video clip (YouTube) by the biggest musical group in Samoa, Zipso. It's the song "Fine With My Wife". Nothing beats a song with the chorus
She came and said, "Sole! Zipso. You and me. My house, let's go."
"It's ok. It's alright. Girl, I'm fine, with my wife."
Enjoy the clip. I hope to get some more tales and photos to you soon. Cheers.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Gone bananas!

Dear me. I'd heard about the price of bananas going through the roof in Australia thanks to Cyclone Larry early in the year but it didn't really mean anything until I saw this earlier today in downtown Melbourne:

Bloody hell! That's $34 WST (Tala) for a kilogram of bananas. I've seen numbers that suggest your average banana weighs about 100 grams. If that's the case, it's fair to say that Samoa is living the good banana life. Ten bananas will set you back no more than $3 or $4 WST at Fugalei markets.

Just to make life worse, a morning of extreme cold a week or so ago destroyed a significant portion of the stone fruit crops in Victoria. If the stratospheric prices for bananas weren't enough, it now looks like stone fruit like apricots, nectarines and plums will cost a fair amount this season too. Crisis!

Whilst much stone fruit isn't available in Samoa, send me back anyway please! Cheap, tasty bananas and mangoes that just fall off the trees everywhere you look. Count me in.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Tofa soifua

When you leave Samoa by air, the last thing you see before you enter the plane is this sign. Sadly for me, it was what I saw on Thursday. My assignment completed, it was time for me to say farewell and fly to Sydney.

It's been very tough saying goodbye. My time in Samoa has been incredible and I've been so fortunate to have worked with, and otherwise meet, so many wonderful people. Not to mention how beautiful a country Samoa is.

I know Sydney has its own beauty but at the moment, I'm having to work harder to find it. It smells funny, it feels far too busy, there is a cacophony of noises that are both familiar and strange and no one smiles as they walk down the street.

On the flipside, I've already had some amazing food; simple food that we too often take for granted. Incredible cheeses, good Chinese cuisine and, my highlight thus far, fresh strawberries.

Other than sheer exhaustion (sensory overload!) my main problem thus far would be accepting the reality of my situation. I keep referring to things, places and people in Samoa in an inclusive way. Next week our paddling club will start regular training nights (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 5pm if anyone's interested). We commence an interesting project at work this week.

In spite of the change of location, I'm hoping that it will continue to make some sense to talk about Samoa in such a way. I'll still be in touch with friends and I'll definitely be requesting the latest news and gossip that's doing the rounds of Apia.

If nothing else, I certainly have many more things I want to say about Samoa and my time there on this blog. And having taken close to six thousand photos, I'm sure I can find a few more to put online.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Teuila races

After the Miss Teuila pageant, the fautasi race is probably the most popular event of the Teuila festival. As in the Independence Day race, fautasi crews compete in a five kilometre races that starts at Faleula and ends in Apia harbour. Once again, two teams were the ones to beat. The Manono crew that won the Independence Day race and the Don Bosco crew that took top honours in American Samoa earlier in the year.

Unfortunately, I didn't watch the race live. Due to the reef and shallows, the race needs to be held in conjunction with high tide, so it started at 6am and I'm not much of a morning person. This didn't stop me from making a bet on the outcome with a colleague from my paddling club. We made a deal that if the Manono team won I would buy him a beer; if the Don Bosco boys took out the prize then he would buy me won. I'm happy to say that I'm now owed a beer. The Don Bosco team beat the Manono crew by a decent margin. I think it's a good thing. The Manono boys have won everything in sight for the last three or four years, so a changing of the guard is healthy.

The fautasi race isn't the only race during the festival however. This year our paddling regatta was incorporated into the program. It was a great day and we had a fantastic turn out. We had nine teams in the social division and three clubs submitted teams for the more professional divisions.

We decided after the last regatta that we needed a uniform. You have to look the goods even if you're actually not that good at all. Thus, we decked ourselves out in matching tshirts and lavalavas. Alas, it didn't bring great results, but that doesn't matter. We had a good time of things. In the more senior divisions there were some fantastic races. The Pualele club edged out the Paddles club in the big races but had to fight hard for their wins. The 500m final for example saw less than a second separating the first two boats, with third place finishing less than two seconds behind them. Very exciting stuff.


Teuila festival. It's the biggest event on the Samoan cultural and social calendar. It's a week long celebration of the fa'asamoa and is full of events aimed to attract Samoans and palagis alike. Fairy lights are strung up all along Beach Road, making Apia harbour look even more beautiful at night. Stalls are set up next to the Government building where people sell clothing, art, food and demonstrate traditional crafts such as tattooing and weaving.

The biggest event of the festival is of course, the Miss Teuila pageant. Eleven women from Samoa, New Zealand, Australia and the United States competed to win the illustrious title. The build up to the pageant is pretty big but the event itself is even bigger.

I watched the pageant live on television with some friends of mine. It turned out to be far better than going to the event itself (well, I think so anyway). My friends were caustic in their appraisal of the contestants' efforts, which was hilarious. Mind you, the girls don't do themselves many favours. The talent round was particularly awful, with only one girl really showing any considerable talent. The highlight however, was (as always) the interview round.

On the topic of what she would focus on if voted as Miss Teuila, contestant number 1 had to say that "fundraising for the old people so they have more days to live on earth" would be one of her priorities.

Contestant number 11 stated that, "as a strong believer that women can do anything, women can do anything."

Yet another contestant, when asked what the best things about Samoa's environment might be, simply responded, "The best thing about the environment of Samoa is its features." The pregnant pause that followed, and the laughter from the audience, eventually convinced her to think about her answer and elaborate somewhat.

Miss Samoa Australia, when pausing for breath at the end of one mindless statement, demanded that the audience wait: "Please, I haven't finished......just kidding". No. You weren't. And I'm beginning to wonder what on earth you were raving on about when you mentioned the chattels in all the other countries of the world, that clearly made Samoa the best place to be.

The comments of the evening came from the outgoing MissTeuila, who bemoaned the loss of title. No more free air travel and "free lunch will be a distant memory". She even begged the owner of a beauty salon in Apia for just one more full body workover. Still, she insisted that any tears shed by her on the night would be tears of joy, not sadness, and thus my friends and I took her at her word.

The winner on the night was Pearl McFall, this year's Miss NUS (National University of Samoa). A work colleague's daughter came second, although thanks to winning seven of the ten category prizes, I'm pretty certain she doesn't mind one bit. She has something like six or seven return flights to New Zealand, hotel accommodation, cash prizes, wine, manicures, massages, etc., to enjoy.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Followup on the follower of fashion

Early last week I had several of my clothes disappear from my clothes line. I discovered a few of them on the body of the village security guard. Hilarity ensued.

Later that week I was called over to my landlord's house (conveniently no more than 30 metres away) and I was formally presented with my clothing and an apology on behalf of the security guard, his family and the landlord's family. It was an interesting moment of fa'asamoa.

Anyway, the end result of all of this was that not only did I have confirmation that someone liked my clothing enough to pinch it off the line, I even had it returned. Fantastic!

Sadly, my dreams came crashing down this morning as I discovered that the security guard was in fact fairly critical of one item of clothing. Imagine my horror as I noticed that he'd "coughed his rompers". No. My rompers. Now imagine my horror at discovering this after I'd been wearing them for half a day!

That's one pair of shorts that won't be making the trip back to Australia with me.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Isa, Sala and Te'a

Meet Isa, Sala and Te'a (l to r). They live on Namua. They're wonderful kids with infectious attitudes and brilliant smiles. Their family is similarly delightful. It's been an absolute pleasure getting to know them all over the last year.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A small exercise in irony

Saturday's Observer contained a story and a letter to the editor, both of which caught my eye. The letter to the editor bemoaned the poor quality of the quiz show that has just started on local television:
I agree that it is high time that such a competition should take place in Samoa. HOWEVER, the quality and the phrasing of the questions are very poor, very confusing and need considerable improvement.
But more importantly, there needs to be a proper evaluation that the answers are correct. A lot of the answers given by the quizmaster are WORNG!

I had to laugh.

The story, following on from the recent decision to shut the majority of the nightclubs in Apia for three months, focused on two tourists to Samoa who think that the shutdown order is great. Mr Backlet, in particular thinks it's great because
Despite the nightlub business being a fast money turner, only violence, corruption, prostitution, gambling, immoral sexual and gangster activities will happen as a result.

His travelling companion, Mr Coan, was in complete agreement, saying that Samoa is a wonderful country because Christian values are being upheld. Mr Backlet continued, warning Samoa against accepting foreign cultures and ideas. What? Like Christianity?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A dedicated follower of (my) fashion

A couple of days ago I noticed that some of my clothes were missing. Some shorts and maybe a t-shirt or two. Someone had taken them from my clothes line. It's not that big a deal; clothes can be easily replaced. I didn't think that much of it.

This morning, as I left for work in a taxi (I'd missed the bus), I saw the village security guard (all villages with government housing employ security guards) walking down the road in a nice t-shirt and what looked like a comfortable pair of shorts. My t-shirt and shorts. I had to say something.

I asked the taxi driver (pictured here) to stop the car and I hopped out to have a chat with the man. I enquired as to why he was casually walking around in my clothes. Thanks to my poor command of Samoan and his equally poor command of English, we didn't make much progress. At just the right moment, my taxi driver stepped out of the car and proceeded to give the security guard what seemed like a fair bollocking. A hasty conversation ensued and finally, with smiles all around, claps on the back and handshakes, we parted ways.

Back in the taxi and somewhat bewildered, I asked the driver what had just transpired. He assured me that the security guard would wash and return my clothes tomorrow. It seems his threat of taking me immediately to the police (!) seems to have carried some weight in the conversation. Fair enough.

Still, my driver was not satisfied. He drove us down to the fale owned by the pulenu'u of my village to see if he was around. I assured him that it was unnecessary and that I would talk to my "landlord". Satisfied, he proceeded to drive me to my destination.

So, it seems that (at least some of) my clothes may be coming back to me after all. A pleasant surprise. I also take heart in the knowledge that at least one person out there approves of my taste in clothing. Result!

And as for the taxi driver, Fa'apine, well he's a legend. He stepped in to help me without a moment's hesitation. A typical demonstration of the amazing attitude of the overwhelming majority of people I've met in my time here. Fa'apine; fa'afetai tele lava sole. Ou te fa'amoemoe o lau Eagles e tatau ona manu malo i le vaiaso fou!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Apia's drinking problem worsens

Three weeks ago, on advice from the Liquor Board, police issued closure notices to six popular nightclubs in Apia. Complaints from Apia village matai about underage drinking, fights, damage to property and the clubs operating beyond the midnight curfew were given as the justifications for the decision. As best I can ascertain, these were general complaints; there was not a single specific incident to which the Liquor Board referred in making their decision.

On Tuesday this week the Liquor Board ended two weeks of deliberations and decided to extend the closure period for a further three months. The decision, according to chairman Tuu'u Anasi'i Leota, would allow the board "to look at the social impact of our decision." They don't need three months to see the social impact; it's started already.

The first "social impact" of the board's decision is the immediate unemployment of almost 100 workers. Of the six nightclubs, only Lighthouse has been able to retain all of their staff because of the catering business they also operate.

With ongoing expenses such as rent, electricity, water and National Provident Fund contributions to staff, and unable to generate income, it's looking increasingly likely that a number of the clubs will simply shut down. Perhaps the next social impact the board can expect to see will be a strip of rundown, vacant buildings right in the heart of Apia.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Vale Dennis

For the last seven or eight months I've been fortunate enough to enjoy the company of a wonderfully happy (if fairly stupid) dog called Dennis. He would accompany me on walks on the weekend, wait for the bus in the mornings with me (and others) and more often than not be waiting for me in the afternoon when I returned home.

Apparently he would on occasion chase little kids around the village and could be a bit aggressive at times but I never saw it. Sure, he was an absolute pain in the backside from time to time (dirty paw prints don't look good on freshly laundered white shirts for example) but he was a genuinely happy and fun friend to have around.

Yesterday Dennis came to my place in the morning and was moping around a lot. I didn't think much of it except that perhaps he'd been in a fight with other dogs and was coming to my place to rest. Sadly, my assessment was very wrong.

Over the course of the next couple of hours he became increasingly lethargic and refused to budge from my laundry. When I discovered him lying in his own vomit I called a friend of mine who works at the Animal Protection Society (APS) and she in turn called the vet. We were far too late. We buried Dennis in the park next to my house. He will be sorely missed.

Sadly, dogs are poisoned in Samoa all the time. The poison of choice is Paraquat. One of the more widely used herbicides, it's an extremely powerful and nasty drug. For humans, the lethal dose is 35 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. In dogs, the lethal dose is somewhere between 25-50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. There is no antidote for Paraquat.

Once ingested, Paraquat is distributed by the bloodstream to practically all areas of the body, resulting in systematic organ failure. The liver, lungs, heart and kidneys all fail but it is in the lungs that the damage is most concentrated. Pulmonary oedema is the most common type of failure, the lungs accumulating fluid until they fail. It makes for a particularly horrible way to die.

The frequency with which dogs are poisoned (and otherwise ill-treated) illustrates that there is an enormous need for better education. This is the reason why my friend is at the APS. She develops and implements education programmes for schools and villages. No one contests the need for a dog control programme in Samoa but organisations such as the APS fight to make sure that any programmes are carried out in a sensitive and humane manner. I wish my friend and the APS all the very best of luck in their work.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Court rulings and village rulings

On Wednesday the court handed down its ruling in the case between Su'a and Mulitalo. The two judges found that Mulitalo was guilty of bribery as alleged. The judges arrived at the same outcome though for different reasons. These reasons are very interesting and are bound to have consequences for future cases.

Justice Shepherdson's reasoning rested, as I thought might happen, on where the presentation of o'o is made. Section 97A of the Electoral Act, which sets out the regulations surrounding 'o'o' and 'momoli' speaks of "Constituencies", "Members" (of parliament) and "Candidates for Parliament". As such, Shepherdson has argued that
There remains the vital question which is whether the "o'o" and "momoli", in order to gain exemption from illegality, must be held within the territorial limits for the particular constituency.

In my opinion, s97A should be construed so that a "o'o" and "momoli" referred to in the section is limited to those made within the territorial limits of the constituency of the Member or Candidate for Parliament who makes the particular presentation.

Justice Slicer's reasoning is, I think, more interesting. He reflected on the nature of modern life in Samoa and how custom changes over time. Specifically, he argued that
Culture and traditions adapt to new conditions. If they do not they die or are lost...More people come to work and live in Apia. Their children live and are educated in the city. Apia is a significant provider of facilities and employment. But the electors retain their identity and voting rights through their villages and through those villages their constituency. But there are compelling reasons to conclude that the traditional presentation ought not be adapted to permit the holding of 'o'o' and 'momoli' in Apia. If Apia, why not somewhere else? Should there be one for each constituency and each member or candidate?...Will the extension of custom harm the villages as political units? These are complex and important matters requiring time for consideration. They are matters which ought, at this time, remain the province of the Parliament. I do not conclude that as of November 2005 the traditional presentation, because of change of custom, permitted its making outside of the Constituency. This Court ought not legislate change, but only determine whether change has occured. I am not satisfied that there has been a change of custom.

Despite their different reasoning, both Justices agreed that Mulitalo committed bribery and found him guilty of corrupt practices. The election result for his constituency was declared void and a by-election will have to be held. Mulitalo will be ineligible to run for candidacy. Su'a will be able to run in the by-election, although events since the court ruling may convince him that to do otherwise.

Mere hours after the court ruling was handed down, the maota (headquarters) of the Su'a family in Lano village burnt to the ground. Su'a family members residing in Lano have suggested that the residence appeared to have been doused with fuel before being set alight.

Su'a matai Fa'atoafe Kaisala said that "the persons who burnt down the house were weak of mind because ahead of them was a possible fine of 100 sows and baishment from the village." Not to mention the potential for legal proceedings.

Police are currently investigating the fire and have been questioning many Lano village members. Lano's top ranked orator Malaeulu Lafaele told the Observer that "the matter [of the fire] would be dealt with when their village meets next, perhaps next week."

In spite of the arson attack, Lano village elders are insistent that conflict has not broken out in their village. I'm not so sure. Over the weekend a group of matai publicly supported Su'a even after the pulenu'u of Lano had stated that the ostracism order against Su'a would not be dropped. It would appear that this is no longer just about the tensions between village and legal rule. The tension now seems to exist within the village power structure itself.

Manase, Mt. Matavanu, dinner and back home

After saying goodbye to Maka we drove from Papa to Manase. Along the way we passed through some beautiful parts of the island (including the quite picturesque Asau harbour). Manase is the most popular destination for tourists to Savaii and there are several places to stay. Tanu's would probably attract the majority of custom given its cheap nightly rate of $50 Tala but Jane's, Vacations and Stephenson's all have many guests. Tanu's was booked out for Sunday night so we chose to stay at Vacations. At $75 we could afford it and their fales looked like they were in good shape. We didn't regret our decision.

We timed our arrival perfectly, climbing out of the car to see the Sunday to'onai lunch waiting for us. It was a feast. Bugs, palusami, pig and taro, oka. Fresh salty seaweed, baked fish, potato salad and stir fried vegetables. We ate our fill then proceeded to our fales where all four of us crashed out for an afternoon nap. Eating's hard work you know.

The rest of our time at Vacations was spent in very similar fashion. We either slept or floated in the ocean. We'd covered a fair bit of ground by this stage so it was good to take some time out and enjoy doing nothing.

Not long after breakfast we packed up and headed back towards Asau harbour, turning inland at the village of Safune. Our destination was Mt. Matavanu. Mt. Matavanu erupted between 1905 and 1911, its lava flows spilling north and north-east towards the villages of Asau and Saleua especially. The lava fields I visited earlier in the year are the result.

Thanks to the efforts of "Da Craterman" getting to the top of the mountain is much easier than it used to be. We were able to drive most of the way, stopping once we reached the Craterman's small hut. From there we walked with the Craterman as our guide.

He's an intriguing character, the Craterman. He spends his days in his hut up the mountain waiting for visitors but he doesn't pass his time idly. He maintains the tracks leading up and around the mountain and spends a lot of time fashioning signs to place along the way. For a fee, interested visitors can have their very own sign made. Creating these signs takes a little time, so the Craterman sends a photo of the sign and a letter to the people who have paid for it once it's completed.

The Craterman also keeps statistics about the number of signs he's created (541 as of this writing) and the number of visitors from different countries he's received. By his latest count he's had people from 85 different countries come to Mt. Matavanu.

We walked with the Craterman up to the first of two craters. The view was amazing. Standing at its lip, we were able to look down into dense foliage. Countless trees, shrubs, vines, moulds and fungii populate the crater and we had the perfect view to appreciate them. Looking north towards the coast we could see Asau harbour and Manase.

As the rain started to fall we made our way back to the Craterman's hut and our car. We said our farewells and drove back down to the main road. We stopped in at a neighbouring village for a swim in freshwater pools and chatted with a Peace Corps volunteer stationed there. Afterwards we headed back through Manase and drove along the east coast on the way to the wharf at Salelologa. After two and a half days our road trip was coming to an end. Or so we thought.

We reached Salelologa and joined the queue of vehicles for the 4pm ferry. We discovered that the ferry was already booked to capacity and we were placed on stand-by. We waited and waited and eventually realised that we were not going to get the car onboard. The next service with barely any spare car space would be the 10am ferry the next day.

We said goodbye to Alexa who absolutely had to return to Apia that day and drove back to Clair's place in Palauli. There we caught up with Maka and another Peace Corps volunteer Laura. We decided to take advantage of the hire car and picked up a couple more Peace Corps before driving around to the east coast of the island for dinner at the Italian restaurant there. We had a great meal and a lot of fun. Once again the language competency of the Peace Corps shone through as they casually joked with our waiter and proprietor of the restaurant.

At the conclusion of the evening we drove the Peace Corps back to their village not far from Clair's (Satupaitea I think) and returned to Clair's to crash out for the night. The next morning we returned to the wharf and managed to get ourselves aboard the 10am ferry. Our trip from the wharf was a little interesting, as our car developed engine problems but we made it home in one piece.

All in all, it was an excellent weekend. We saw some amazing things, hung out with great people and had a lot of fun. Savaii is a wonderful place and is well worth visiting.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A visit to the village of Papa

After we left Falealupo we returned to the main road and drove another three or four kilometres down the road to the village of Papa. With the exception of Clair we all work and live in Apia so we were keen to visit Maka and see an example of how the village-based Peace Corps volunteers live.

Maka lives with Papa's pulenu'u (town mayor). One of the first orders of business after his arrival was the construction of his fale. Maka and twenty or so untitled men built the small one person fale in two days. With this out of the way, Maka was able to start working on his two year project, focusing on sustainable crops and agricultural techniques for use within the village. In the year that he's been in Papa he's built a small nursery and a large garden which provide the clippings and seeds he needs to help other families within the village develop more robust farming practices. He has a range of different crops growing successfully including three types of basil, spinach, sweet potato vine, three types of tomato and watermelon.

After a brief tour of his gardens we hopped in the car and drove down the (rocky dirt) road to a secluded beach. The land is owned by a matai of Papa village but he doesn't use it too much. He's allowed to let Maka head down there whenever he likes. In essence, Maka has his own private beach!

It was a little windy and overcast when we arrived but still beautiful. We had a wander along the beach and chatted away. We came across a plant which was covered in butterflies. Maka told us that the sap of the plant was what attracted the butterflies and to demonstrate the point he used his machete to hack away the tips of the leaves. Within seconds the butterflies went crazy and swarmed over them.

Whilst we watched the butterflies Maka headed off to a nearby coconut tree and hacked away until he'd brought four coconuts down. He then showed us how to prepare coconuts for drinking. I've done this before with a large stick and husked them that way, but this was the first time I've seen it done solely with a machete. Two of the coconuts were niu - young drinking coconuts - and two were popo, the older coconuts good for the meat. After we drank the two niu, Maka used his machete to make a spoon from the remaining husk of the niu and then chopped them in half so we could scoop out and enjoy the young jelly-like meat. Very tasty indeed.

Maka leads a very different life to ours in Apia. His resources are considerably more limited but his experience is far more in line with the majority of Samoans. One of the most profound differences is that of our language skills. Listening to Maka converse freely with his host family was illuminating. The Peace Corps program begins with three months of fairly intensive language lessons. By comparison, we have five hours of lessons. I couldn't help but feel a little envious. That said, if I was really serious about picking up the language I'd have arranged private lessons and pushed myself much harder. Maybe next time.

A little while after we finished off the coconuts we drove back to Maka's fale and said our farewells. Our day was still young and we had more ground to cover before stopping for the day. Our next stop would be the village of Manase where an afternoon of relaxation awaited us.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The last place on earth

Savaii, much more so than 'Upolu, bears the scars of nature's power. Volcanic eruptions and cyclone activity have made an indelible mark on the landscape and the people of the island. The village of Falealupo, on the western most tip of Savaii, bears that mark more than most.

Today, the village of Falealupo is a mere shadow of its former self. From the second to the fifth of February in 1990, cyclone Ofa battered the north-western part of Savaii, wreaking considerable destruction. Strong winds, heavy rain and rough seas led to the complete destruction of Falealupo. The village was abandoned. Resources were recycled as best as possible but the villagers chose to leave some ruined buildings stand as they were, as testimony to both the power of cyclone Ofa and the village of Falealupo itself. The most striking of these is the Catholic church that stands close to the water's edge.

With its roof long gone and walls crumbling away the church is slowly giving way to nature. Trees, vines and low shrub are reclaiming the structure, as they have much of the surrounding landscape. The concrete walls are stained with mould and streaked with cracks. The few remaining bas relief sculptures along the walls are losing their features.

The remains of Falealupo were not the main reason we headed there this weekend. The International Date Line passes within about 60 kilometres of Samoa, making Falealupo the last place on earth. It also means it is possible to watch the sun set over today and tomorrow simultaneously.

We took some photos of each of us standing at the "edge of the world" (as you do) and watched the sun set. It was quite beautiful. All the while I couldn't help but laugh and think of Monty Python's Crimson Permanent Assurance and how "they sailed off into the ledgers of history...or so it would have been, if certain modern theories concerning the shape of the world had not proved to be...disastrously wrong." Unlike the Crimson Permanent Asssurance, we didn't see the edge of the world, but we did see today and tomorrow all at once, which I'm more than happy about.

We spent our evening in beach fales about a kilometre down the road from the ruined church. Whilst there we bumped into a friend of ours, Maka, who is a US Peace Corps volunteer living on Savaii. He was heading home to the nearby village of Papa and invited us to visit him the following day. After breakfast and a quick swim, we packed our bags into the car and drove away from the last place on earth to take him up on his offer.

Olemoe waterfall and Alofaaga blowholes

A few friends and I have just spent three (and a bit) days on Savaii touring around the island. It was great fun; we managed a complete lap of the island, seeing sights I'd never seen before, eating great food and catching up with friends.

After completing the hour ferry ride from 'Upolu to Savaii's port at Salelolga, our first port of call was the village of Palauli. There we collected Clair, a fellow Australian volunteer who works at a Marist school in the neighbouring village of Vailoa. From there we travelled about a mile or so up the road to stop off at the beautiful Olemoe waterfall. I've been to Olemoe before and like the last time, this visit didn't disappoint. Recent (unseasonally large) rainfall guaranteed that the waterfall was running at full steam. In her many visits, Clair hadn't seen it as powerful as it was on Saturday. The water was cold and very refreshing and the little freshwater prawns were nibbling our toes as we relaxed.

After our swim we returned to the main road and continued west. Our destination was the village of Taga. Located at the south-western tip of Savaii, Taga is home to the Alofaaga blowholes, perhaps the most powerful blowholes in the South Pacific. The coastline here is very rugged. Past volcanic activity has resulted in the inter-tidal area being almost entirely covered in lava flow and sharp lava cliffs jut up from the sea. The eponymous coconut trees are, unlike most places, some distance from the water.

When we arrived the tide was high, which meant that the blowholes would be operating with some ferocity. We paid the village fee to enter the area and had a young village member hop into the car to show us around. We made our way to a parking area then walked across the lava to the blowholes. There, our guide collected some coconut husks and used them to demonstrate the power of the blowholes. We watched as the husks were shot skywards, easily seven or eight metres high.

We were on a little bit of a time limit so didn't really explore the Alofaaga region of Taga as much as we would have liked. Those with more time might consider the walking trail that leads to an old village called Fagaloa, the lava tubes and caves to explore and some rock pools that are safe enough for swimming. As for us, we bundled ourselves back in the car and set our course for the last place on earth.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Old versus new (cont.)

One consequence of Su’a’s court submission has been his ostracising from the village of Lano. Unhappy that he continued with his petition against Mulitalo, Lano matai decided to banish him “for the good of the village”. This decision is not unusual or rare. I’ve seen reports of three such banishment orders since I’ve been here. What is interesting about this case however is the court’s response. The Observer reports that Justice Pierre Slicer told the Lano pulenu’u, Malaeulu Amoni, that “Lano was not more powerful than the Legislative Assembly, the Constitution, the Electoral Act, the Head of State, or the Supreme Court.” As such, the ostracism of Su’a was “unlawful conduct.” Justice Slicer, along with Justice Tom Shepherdson (both judges from New Zealand Australia), ordered the matai of Lano to lift the ostracism resolution or “be jailed by us for contempt of court.” A well-established and understood mechanism of the fa’asamoa has been overruled by Samoa’s adopted legal system.

“K.T” asked in Wednesday’s Observer,

Who are these judges to raise havoc about the cultural values our people have cherished for so long?

Despite the hardships, our matai system has never failed to impose peace and unity amongst our people. Our forefathers must be turning in their graves and we need to solidify their profound wish i.e. Tofia e le Atua Samoa ina ia pulea e matai. (God chose Samoa to be governed by matais).

Such forceful instructions levelled at the Lano village mayor is an unprecedented call to all other village mayors that not following the norms of the Westminster model could be reason to waive and abandon their cultural prowess in this traditional culture that has survived and had persevered for centuries.

What we have guarded with life is suddenly declared illegal…and this court decision is seen as rather hostile towards the fa’asamoa and coming from a judge, I feel it is simply inappropriate.

This is not an uncommon feeling. A vox pop in Thursday's newspaper was dominated by similar sentiment. There is a very real need to find ways of satisfying both the traditional and modern systems of power and regulation in Samoa. Whilst it might prove unpopular from time to time, I suspect it is going to be legal cases such as the one between Su'a and Mulitalo, where legal interpretations of the fa'asamoa end up being defined, that will be the major drivers for this process.

Old versus new

At times, the tensions between the traditional fa'asamoa (Samoan way) and the modern world become quite visible. The recent debate surrounding the issue of homosexuality is one example but it is within the legal sphere that this tension is most visible. The Westminster system is still new to Samoa, having only been established at the time of the creation of an independent Samoa. Unsurprisingly, forty years later, understanding and incorporating the fa'asamoa within the Westminster system is an ongoing challenge.

Shortly after the General Elections in March this year, court petitions were brought against several of the successful candidates. All the petitions alleged bribery had taken place to secure the votes of individuals, and more commonly, of entire villages. Whilst most of the petitions were withdrawn, two petitions went to trial. One has been settled already and the other is currently being heard in court.

The petition currently being heard in court, brought by Su'a Rimoni Ah Chong against Mulitalo Seali'imalietoa Siafausa Viu, has focused around the presentation of gifts by Mulitalo prior to the election. The presentations of gifts, known as an o'o, is a long standing tradition within the fa'asamoa. Individuals newly bestowed with matai titles always present an o'o to their fellow matai in their fono ale nu'u (village meeting). The presentation is often quite elaborate, with an ava ceremony and exchanges of very formal speeches.

The Electoral Act states that "the traditional presentation of 'o'o' and 'momoli' by a Member or candidate for Parliament...shall not be considered as treating or bribery...provided that the presentation is made within the period commencing with the 180th day and ending within the 90th day from the expiry of the then Parliament at five years from the date of the last preceding General Elections." The timing of the presentation is not being challenged here. The heart of Su'a's submission lies in how the term "traditional presentation" is to be legally interpreted. He alleges that as Mulitalo's presentation was not held in his own constituency, was not presented only to matai, did not include an ava ceremony nor any exchange of speeches, it could not be considered an o'o.

Is a "traditional presentation of 'o'o'" one that has an ava ceremony, formal speeches and that is only presented to matai, as Su'a claims? Furthermore, in the context of an election, can such presentations only be considered o'o if they take place within the presenter's own constituency? A legal definition of a deeply held Samoan tradition is required before these questions can be answered.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Some good, some bad

Tonight I sleep in a house with no electricty nor running water. Unfortunately, it's my house.

In the span of less than twelve hours I've had first the electricity, then the water, stop. On a Sunday. I'm obviously having a run of good luck.

Still, it's been quite pleasant to sit and read a book by candlelight and enjoy the sounds of the village. The dogs are keeping largely quiet tonight; a nice change from the last couple of weeks. The night sky has been wonderful too, a waxing moon casting its soft light over everything. It's almost like sleeping at the beach in an open air fale.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A few quiet nights in

Crisis! Yesterday the police served temporary shutdown orders to all the major night clubs in Apia. So for the time being, Bad Billy's, Crabbers, Lighthouse, Paddles and RSA night clubs are all shut. Apparently Police have been frustrated by the clubs not meeting their obligations. These include keeping a lid on fights, foul language in public and, in particular, shutting up shop in a very timely fashion on the stroke of midnight.

It was suggested yesterday that in spite of the fact that not all clubs were breaking the rules, the police had decided to shut every single one, on the grounds of "fairness". I wouldn't know about fair but it's true at least that every club is suffering as much as the others.

So how long will the shutdown last? No one's entirely sure yet. One night club owner told me that the order was stated as being "indefinite" but there has already been talk that the clubs will be up and running as per usual tonight. We'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, patrons will probably just buy cases of beer and sit themselves on the sea wall across from the clubs. There, outside of a controlled club environment, they'll be able to get as drunk as they like, get into as many fights as they wish and not have to go home at midnight. As for me, I think a couple of quiet nights in are in order. (Yeah, right!)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Views from up the hill

This afternoon after work I joined a few friends in a walk up Mt Vaea. We didn't take the track normally travelled, rather the one that leads up to the mobile phone and microwave relay station. It's a gravel road all the way up which makes it a little easier to navigate, though one has to be careful about slipping on the gravel on the way back down.

Apart from the health benefits of going for a good walk up a mountain, the reward in the case of Mt Vaea is a fantastic - and different - perspective on Apia. I've been on the roof of the government building a few times, which affords a pretty great view, but the view from the mountain is brilliant.

The first shot is towards the north-west. The point just leftof the middle of the shot is all reclaimed land and is home to a few key buildings and organisations in Samoa. The white domed building is Samoa's parliament house. Across the road from the parliament (but not visible here in this closer view) are the offices of the Land and Titles Court, Samoa Broadcasting Corporation and the Yacht club (which has a great restaurant out the back). A bit further up the road, right at the end of the point, is the Meteorology Division. Notice the extent to which the reef stretches out from the coast and those huge clouds are so common here.

Looking more directly north we had a great view of the eastern part of Apia. It's a great view of Matautu wharf and Aggie Grey's hotel is visible in between the two telegraph wires. The large building to the left is the John Williams building. It houses the head office of the country's electricity company, EPC. It's this side of the harbour where I go paddling each week.

Looking east, we were afforded a great view of the grounds of the national hospital. I knew it was big but never really appreciated the full size of the place until this afternoon (surely that's a good thing right?). Just left of the foot of the mountain in the background is a clear straight strip of grass (I know, it's hard to spot). It's the disused airport at Fagalii-uta. I live about two minutes' walk south from its eastern edge.

Finally, looking towards the south-east, a special treat. There was obviously a bit of rain about as were treated to rather a spectacular rainbow. I captured it peeking through the trees but the thing was enormous. It completed a full arch and its colours were strong and vibrant. Of course, the thing you have to be careful of once you notice the colours of a rainbow getting stronger, is the high chance of impending rain, but we were spared with little more than a very light sprinkle that lasted all of about two minutes.

All up I think we took a bit over an hour to make the walk up and down the mountain. It was a great way to end a day that was mostly spent sitting at a desk staring at a screen. I'll be doing it again I can assure you of that.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

It's regatta season

The second outrigger canoe paddling regatta of the season was held yesterday. A bunch of us have been paddling for a while now but never really in races. The regatta (like the first of the season a few weeks ago) gave us a great chance to get some experience.

We ended up competing against some fairly strong crews as many of the other social teams were unable to make it. As a result we weren't quite able to make the impression on the social division as we did in the first regatta. Nonetheless we had a great time.

The standard race length is 500 metres but there is also a 250 metre sprint and the longer 1500 metre race. The junior men's and open men's teams were the only ones that raced the 1500 metres. The mixed social teams and open women's teams competed the 250 and 500 metre reaces. The photo above shows the open men's teams in the second leg of their 1500 metre race.

The sun never really came out all day so the temperature was quite mild making for perfect conditions for paddling. At the conclusion of the day however, whilst we were sitting back with a couple of beers, the sun came out from behind the clouds and put on one of the best sunsets I've seen in Samoa.

It was an excellent day, replete with exercise, relaxation, good conversation, remarkable scenery and beer. We're already talking about the next regatta with much anticipation.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Non-verbal communication

One of the features of daily life in Samoa is the extensive use of non-verbal communication. Walk down the street and you'll be nodding your head, raising your eyebrows, grinning, using your eyes and flicking your hand out to quickly wave at a lot of people. It's something you get used to fairly rapidly as it's so immediately obvious.

Some of the non-verbal signals used here are quite backwards to what we're used to in Australia. Meetings are a fine example of a situation where one can be baffled at the conduct of the attendees. I've sat in meetings and watched people clip their toenails, play on their mobile phone, look as if they're falling asleep and otherwise seemingly ignore the speaker. If being spoken to, one may find that the speaker avoids eye contact for the entire conversation. This physical disengagement is a sign of respect. In those meetings, in spite of appearances, everyone is aware of every word that is being spoken.

Other non-verbal signals can inadvertently get you in trouble. If someone senior (in age but particularly in social status) to you is sitting, you should not stand. If you're sitting, never point your feet at someone. I've mentioned the taboos surrounding whistling already.

The one signal that I've really enjoyed seeing is the hand wave. Sure, it's just waving to someone as they (or you) pass by but here in Samoa it's an art form. I've never come across so many unique, odd and humourous ways of waving to someone. Stay in Samoa for any significant period of time and you'll find yourself developing your own style. I have. Several of my palagi friends have too.

This culturally based non-verbal communication isn't the only kind I've learnt since I've been in Samoa though. Thanks to some very good friends I've been learning Samoan sign language. It's heavily based on Auslan which means I'm learning a language that I can use when I'm back in Australia. For a significant portion of the last ten months, I've spent my Monday evenings learning how to fingerspell, expand my vocabulary and converse fluently. It's been immense fun and my friends have been fantastic teachers. I've now reached a point where I can hold fairly involved conversations with my deaf friends without having to ask for the definition of a sign too often.

I find the linguistic characteristics of sign languages fascinating. At the moment I'm learning classifiers, which are a fundamental part of many languages (such as Japanese and Samoan), but particularly important in sign languages. What is most fascinating for me is the spatial grammar that is employed. Meaning is frequently conveyed by a combination of the hands, the facial expression and the body posture in the same moment. Multiplicity of meaning can be derived from changes to just one or all of these information "channels". As an example, I can use a hand sign in reference to myself, then use that same sign but change my facial expression to turn it into a question to the recipient.

There's a wealth of material online about sign languages and Auslan in particular. I'd recommend looking at Wikipedia's entries on sign language and Auslan as a good introduction. The online resource I've benefitted from the most though would have to be the Auslan Signbank. It's an online dictionary of signs (free registration required). You search for the keyword you're interested in and if it's there, you'll see a small video of the sign and relevant definition(s). It's a great idea very well executed.

My classes will continue up until about one or two weeks before I head back to Australia. I do want to keep learning after I leave though. Thankfully, the Deaf Education Network runs a variety of courses in NSW on a regular basis. Organisations in other states have similar offerings.

Thanks to friends here I already have a couple of deaf Samoan-Australians to call upon once I'm back in Sydney. I'm excited as it'll be a great way for me to continue to improve my sign language but also continue my relationship with Samoa and Samoan culture. In short, it'll be a lot of fun!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The buses of Samoa

The buses in Samoa are fantastic. A throwback to the old school buses of the United States they make a big impression as you wander the streets of Samoa. There are a small number of companies that operate most of the buses, most notably Queen Poto Transport (pictured here) though many of the operators are individuals, running what may be the single bus that runs to their village.

Whilst the companies like Queen Poto make sure their buses are identical in look, most of the buses feature highly individual designs. Of course I've managed to miss most of these whenever I've had my camera in hand, so the best example I can offer is one of the buses that run to the village of Letogo - the "God Is Good All The Time" bus. Other notable buses include "Queensland - Samoa" and "Poetry in Motion" but my favourite would have to be the "Don't Tell Mum" bus. Apparently the driver's selection in music was so good that schoolkids would stay on the bus instead of getting off and going to school. Their catchcry, "don't tell mum!", now adorns the side of the bus.

The music on the bus is just as important as the way it looks. The buses here are loud. Very loud. I'm able to leave my house at the very last minute in the morning because I can hear the bus coming from a good 200 metres away. If I'm half asleep when you get on the bus, I'll definitely be awake by the time I get off it. The selection is predominantly Samoan but a fair whack of hip hop/r'n'b gets played. Bob Marley is also a favourite.

So what does the interior of a typical bus look like? They're spartan affairs. Hard wooden benches that seat two people line the sides of the bus. Apart from the odd dashboard adornment (see the koala clipped to the top of rear vision mirror?) and the mandatory oversized speakers at the front and rear of the bus, that's about it.

Seating arrangements are very particular on the buses here. There are a raft of unspoken rules that govern who sits where. Typically, women and children tend to sit towards the front of the bus, the men towards the back but as the bus fills up with people, a cramped version of musical chairs gets underway. If an older man or woman, or a person with a young child gets on the bus, one of the younger passengers will instantly offer their seat and move towards the back of the bus. This will continue until there are no spare seats left. Things get fun from that point on.

To deal with the lack of seats people will simply sit on the laps of other passengers. In this way, seats that are designed to hold two people end up holding four. People will also stoop in the aisle (the roof is very low) once things really start to get busy.

My village isn't that far out of town so my bus tends not to get too full but a bus trip to the village of Manono-tai (some 40km out of Apia) felt like an unofficial attempt to break a Guinness world record. It was Friday afternoon in peak hour, so there were lots of people heading home for the weekend. Every seat held at least four people. The aisle was full of people, plantains, taro and other essential supplies. It was madness!

Every visitor to Samoa must catch a bus at least once. It's an extraordinary experience and one that is very Samoan. Your bum might be a bit sore from the seat, your ears might ring a little from the loud music but I guarantee you'll hop off the bus with a smile on your face.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Crazy as a coconut

One of the things I never really gave much thought to before I arrived in Samoa was what little skills I'd pick up here and there. Sure, I was certain to learn aspects of the language but beyond that, what else could I possibly learn?

Plenty as it turns out (unsurprisingly). The least expected however would be learning to obtain free coconuts. In the ten months (!) I've been here I've had ample opportunity to learn how to climb a coconut tree (and climb down as well), how to husk a coconut and how to crack it open to eat or drink its contents. Of course I'm still nowhere near as good at all of this as most Samoans I've met but I have the basics down well enough to guarantee I won't starve if stranded on a tropical island without an alternative food source.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Beach basketball

Fellow volunteer Darren and I have just spent the last couple of days on Namua. We needed some time out from our hectic life in Apia and Namua's the perfect place to relax. Whilst there, we spotted a rather sensational basketball ring. Yes, it's a car tire. Bound to a tree branch. On the beach. Perfect playing conditions don't you think?

For a little fella, Darren's got hops. This photo is a rather excellent demonstration of good vertical extension, with the ball held high to make the shot easier. Nice one Darren. Good on you!

Thankfully for some of us, we don't have to rely on a good vertical leap or sound technical skills to make our shots count. Eschewing Darren's excellent technique, one of our hosts on Namua went for the far easier, "I can grab the ring whilst standing flat footed on the beach" approach. I took a similar approach but somehow still managed to stuff things up and make the ball sail over the ring more times than I should have. They do say that practice makes perfect, a mantra that I may use as another reason to head back to Namua again soon.

Manu Samoa vs Auckland PNC

On Saturday Manu Samoa played their one home game of the year against the Auckland NPC squad. Auckland won last year's NPC title and are a quality side full of Super 14 and All Blacks players. Coached by former Manu Samoa captain Pat Lam they've been on the road these last few weeks getting some matches under their belt before the NPC tournament kicks off next week.

It was always going to be a tough match for the Manu Samoa, made harder by the absence of many of their top players. With the international season over for the team, most of the overseas based players were recalled to their clubs. Consequently coach Laulii Michael Jones (himself a former Samoan All Black) looked to local players to make up the squad. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the players were selected from the recently successfull Savaii Samoa team that took out the inaugural Pacific Rugby Cup. A few players from the 'Upolu Samoa squad were there too though and Super 14 player Loki Crichton was prominent.

The match was fairly close. Manu Samoa opened up the scoring with a penalty conversion but Auckland struck back with winger David Smith slipping past two defenders to score the first try of the match. The score see-sawed through the rest of the half with Auckland taking a slim 14-13 lead into half time.

Auckland came out much stronger in the second half and played some great rugby. They persisted in attacking the Manu Samoa goal line and were rewarded for their efforts. All Black Jerome Kaino scored his second try of the match to seal the win. The final score: 21-16 in Auckland's favour.

Despite the loss, it's a fairly positive result for Manu Samoa. Michael Jones only had a week or so to put the team together but they played very cohesive rugby. That the majority of the team played together during the Pacific Nations Cup no doubt had a lot to do with it. Also positive was the fact that the match gave a lot of local players their first opportunity to don the national jersey. With the Rugby World Cup just around the corner it was a good chance for Michael Jones to assess the quality of the players available to him and he will, inevitably, need to draw from the pool of players based in Samoa as well as those overseas.

As for us in the stands, we had a great day. We'd splashed out and bought the "corporate" tickets (though I negotiated a discount) and were able to enjoy drinks and nibblies as part of the package. Sure, the bar ran out of beer earlier than we hoped, but we had a great view of the field, the atmosphere was fantastic and we were entertained by some quality rugby. It's just a shame that Manu Samoa only had the one home game this year.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Should gays be banned?

Last week the Worship Centre Church of Samoa urged the Government of Samoa to consider criminalising and banning gay people from the country. The National Council of Churches General Secretary, Reverend Fepai Kolia, said that whilst they shared the Worship Centre Church's objections to homosexuality, they would not be calling for a ban, as it would transgress the boundary between church and state. This is an interesting comment from the Council, considering how heavily they trampled over that boundary in the case of the censor's banning of the Da Vinci Code. Reverend Kolia went on to state the "the Holy Bible condemnds homosexuality, which is a Western value (emphasis added)". Really?

Samoa has long accepted homosexuality in the form of fa'afafine. This has traditionally meant being effeminite and submitting oneself to a life of domestic responsibility. What Rereverend Kolia really means when he says that homosexuality is a Western value is that he finds the notion of a homosexual person being equal to a heterosexual one foreign. In other words, the idea of a masculine homosexual man is viewed as abnormal and an affront to heterosexuals.

Picking up the story, today's Observer asks, "Should gays be banned?" The people they asked had the following to say:
I think they should. To allow gay relationships in Samoa is like turning our lives back to Sodom and Gomorrah.
Being gay is not right and not normal. It is against our religion and it's evil. It should be banned.
It is a sin and it will bring a curse to this country. We've got to stand up and be vocal about this issue.
It is a sin to be attracted to a person of the same sex and we should not allow it here. We've got to be very careful that our children do not grow up in that kind of environment.

I'd love to see the Observer run a follow-up question asking people if fa'afafine should be banned as well. I think it would be quite a revealing question to ask. In the meantime, I'll have to be content with continuing to ponder the subtleties surrounding these - at times contradictory - understandings of homosexuality.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Table Tennis anyone?

Thanks to our ever-growing friendship with the staff at the Chinese Embassy, we now have a ping pong table in our office. Productivity at work over the last couple of days has plummeted as a result. We've had to resort to locking the net, paddles and balls in a cabinet. We're trying our best to only unlock the cabinet when we've reached the end of our normal working day. We're not quite there yet, though we're getting better with each day. Pictured here is our boss, Fouina, as he prepares to return the serve of another of our staff members (Jacob, left of shot).

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What's news in Samoa?

It would seem that the hoo-hah surrounding the Da Vinci Code has finally subsided. I think most people are bored of the endless rhetoric and in light of two particular developments, it's pointless to continue. First, the appeal to overturn the ban was declined. That pretty much nails it there. The second reason however, is that everyone now has access to it on dvd anyway. As was predicted at the outset, illegal copies are making their way around town. Arguably it's a win for both sides of the debate.

Far more important than some silly ban however, is the matter of how one acts when nature calls in public places. Moments prior to the kickoff of last weekend's match between the Wallabies and the (Samoan) All Blacks, Jerry Collins felt the urgent need to heed Nature's call. After the completion of the haka, he knelt on the pitch and urinated, using his body and arms to shield himself from view. Nonetheless a camera operator at the stadium managed to catch it all on tape. Class.

Being Samoan, Jerry has received lots of support from Samoans, as evidenced in the newspaper over the last two days. The best line however would have to come from New Zealand website stuff.co.nz:
In my opinion if he keeps playing the way he does he can piss wherever he wants.

The only other news to really hit the pages recently is that of the impending home match between the Manu Samoa and the Auckland NPC squad. The NPC tournament in New Zealand is the feeder comp for the Super 14 and the Auckland squad is full of talent. The Manu Samoa return after two wins on the road (against Tonga in Gosford and against the Western Force in Perth) and are keen to notch up a win on home turf. It would seem however, that the squad will be comprised largely of local players, as the European clubs have already demanded the release of their contracted players. For the most part this seems to be taken in a very positive light. Much is made of the fact that the majority of the Manu Samoa players are based overseas. Any opportunity for local players to get a run in the blue uniform is always heralded as a "Good Thing". I guess we'll know how much of a good thing it is after the final whistle blows on Saturday.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Commission of Enquiry

If T. Aitu's letter in today's Observer is anything to go by, the (HRPP) Government's Commission of Enquiry into the Electoral Act 1963 runs the risk of being discredited even before it makes any official recommendations. The Commission is comprised of ten individuals, of whom
six members were all unsuccessful HRPP candidates in the recent...elections. This means 60% of the Commission are HRPP, 20% are part of Government and HRPP employed and only 20% are non-HRPP.
This isn't exactly the kind of balance one would hope to find in such enquiries. I haven't seen the Terms of Reference for the Commission, so can't comment on whether the whole process has been crippled in a way similar to how the Australian government established the AWB Commission of Enquiry currently underway in Australia. I'd love to see what kind of recommendations it will be able to make.

I'm not suggesting for a second that the enquiry is a complete loss. I've had informal discussions with members of the legal community in the last few days who assured me that there are provisions within the Act that do need to be reviewed. Recent electoral experience has also highlighted a need to review the processes that are used to vette voters' identities, etc. With the membership of the Commission so heavily stacked in the HRPP's favour however, it is hard to imagine a thorough examination of the recent allegations of bribery. We'll wait and see.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Lake Lanotoo

As its name suggests, Cross Island Rd connects one side of the island to the other. It's the fastest way to make it across to the southern coast and the multitude of beaches and hideaways on it. Along the way however are dotted a number of sites of interest. Robert Louis Stevenson's old house Vailima, Papapapai-tai waterfall (say that three times quickly!), the Baha'i temple and Lake Lanoto'o are all found along the road. Today I travelled to Lake Lanoto'o.

Lako Lanoto'o is a pea-green body of water in the crater of an extinct volcano in the middle of the 'Upolu highlands. It's a fair way off the beaten track however; after our taxi deposited us a few kilometres down the off-road from Cross Island Rd, we spent the next hour and twenty minutes hiking through lush tropical jungle to the lake.

Whilst we didn't have a guide, it's not that hard to find the way. First you pass the paddock full of cows. Keep that to your left as you go and pay attention so as to avoid the occasional cow pat that marks the way. Eventually you'll reach a fairly high wall of dense foliage. A small sign tells you that's where you need to go.

The track gets a little muddy here and steep quite rapidly. It's advised that you have long pants and good shoes for the hike but a couple of us managed with thongs today. If it had been raining, I'd have definitely worn shoes. Your mileage may vary.

Pick your way along the track and gradually ascend the mountain ridge. You'll eventually reach a part of the track that provides a pretty spectacular view north-north-west out towards the ocean. Don't rest here though because you're not even halfway to the lake. Keep climbing!

You know you're almost there when you stumble across the crumpled remains of a telecommunications tower. The tower is situated on the eastern ridge of the crater. The track heads downwards pretty quickly and as you make your way, you're afforded your first peek at the lake. It really is pea-green!

Once we arrived it didn't take long before we were in the water. You'll be in the drink in a flash too. The water's definitely cool but not freezing cold. Look underwater and it's a lush green colour, deepening in tone as the lake's bottom drops away. It's very refreshing and very necessary; the hike through the jungle will leave you sweaty and dirty.

We stayed at the lake for just about an hour before we turned around and made our way back to Cross Island Rd. Along the way I snapped a few more photos, including this one of some moss on the side of a tree. It's such lush jungle.

We called our cab driver on our way back (there's mobile phone coverage for much of the hike) who was waiting for us at the end of the dirt road. A quick stop in at a supermarket on the way home for an ice cream capped off a fantastic day's trekking. It's a bit out of the way but Lake Lanoto'o is definitely recommended!

A great park

I just spotted this sensational bit of parking in the neighbouring village of Vaivase-uta. Full marks for effort but none for execution I'm afraid. Even I park better than this!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Off the south-east tip of 'Upolu lies Namua island. I've already written about it, but didn't really say all that much. This is a shame, as it is without a doubt my favourite place in Samoa. It warrants a far better description that I've previously given it.

It may not have the best beach in Samoa but it certainly has one of the most secluded. Just one family lives on Namua and they provide accommodation and meals for their guests. The only way to and from the island is in their little tinny. Upon reaching the small jetty on the main island in the village of Aleipata you have to hoist up a large pole with a white flag on it to attract their attention and let them know guests have arrived. You'll be greeted warmly by your hosts and most likely find yourself the subject of the curiosity of their young daughter.

Guests stay on the side of the island facing the 'Upolu. The fales are open, with just woven coconut shutters for dealing with inclement weather. Mosquito nets are provided and that's a good thing too. Namu means mosquito and namua is the plural form - lots of mosquitoes - and the island lives up to its name (although I've stayed at several other places with far more). The family provide three meals a day and have lots of extremely tasty lemongrass tea. They just pick the lemongrass from their garden and put it in the kettle.

There's not a great deal to do whilst you're there. It truly is a fantastic place to relax. The one thing I try to do every time I'm there however, is make my way around the island. At low tide it's possible to walk around the southern edge of the island and the reward is well worth it. The rocky point is a great place for snorkelling and I've spent a lot of time just sitting there watching the waves roll over the nearby reef break. It's beautiful.

Round the southern tip and you discover steep cliffs stretching up over your head, with sea birds circling about searching for food. Carefully navigate the very slippery rocks for a couple of hundred metres and you reach another small headland. Round that and suddenly you stumble across a secluded little beach. I love it. The tracks of hermit crabs criss cross over the soft sand and a fantastic array of shells wash up on the shore. You really do feel like you're living in your own private tropical paradise.

You can spend hours there just sitting and watching the waves roll in and the hermit crabs scuttle by but don't forget to head back before the tide turns. Navigating the point as the water comes in makes the going much harder. The rocks get very slippery and when you're carrying a towel and camera and water, etc., it becomes a bit of a challenge.

Dinner is served between 6pm and 7pm. You know it's ready when the sound of a wooden drum punctuates the air and raises you from your afternoon nap. There's no electricty on the island save for that offered by a generator, so after you finish your dinner the generator is shut down and hurricane lamps provide soft light for your fale. Watch the last of the sunset, read a book and fall asleep to the soft sound of water lapping against the sands of the beach. And go to bed with a smile because when you wake up in the morning, you get to experience the beauty of Namua all over again.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Samoan parliamentary democracy

The 31st of March this year saw the ruling HRPP re-elected to govern Samoa for another five year term. Since their return to power they have made a couple of decisions that have provoked criticism from a number of areas. The appointment of twenty Associate Ministers and the recently announced rise in VAGST and excise being two notable cases. These decisions are examples of actions that cause serious concern for some observers about the parliamentary process and political governance in Samoa.

Another example is the issue of electoral petitions and their resolution. Several unsucessful parliamentary candidates filed petitions claiming electoral fraud shortly after the general election. Some of these cases are still ongoing but the majority of the cases have been withdrawn, with little or no discussion as to why. An opinion piece in today's Observer's by Toleafoa Afamasaga Toleafoa touches on all of this and sheds some light on why and how these petitions are typically handled:
What we have...is a one party system, the result of a series of very unhealthy political developments in the last twenty years, two of which I want to mention here. Aspiring politicians have always been attracted to the party in power. That is where the gravy is. It also reflects the opportunistic character of Samoan politics.

And because of the length of time our present government has been at the controls of the train, it means that it has been a magnet to politicians, with terminal results for the concept of parliamentary opposition and parliamentary democracy. Everyone wants to ride the gravy train.

The other development is the way money can now buy almost anyone a seat in parliament. Take this all too familiar scenario today for example. First, candidates at election time buy the parliamentary seat from the voters with money. That is a corrupt practice according to the law. But when the law intervenes, the candidates then buy their election opponents as well. The opponents go home with a bagful of money, and the successful candidates take their seat on the gravy train.

It's a pretty grim picture of the Samoan political process, but from what little I've seen and understand, quite accurate. The HRPP currently enjoys 35 of the 49 parliamentary seats. Only 30 of those seats were won by HRPP candidates at election time. The last five seats were won by independents who immediately joined the HRPP. These people knew where the gravy was to be found. As for the electoral petitions, the fact that the majority of petitions were withdrawn before proceeding to trial seems to lend serious credibility to Toleafoa's comments.

This kind of behaviour is by no means unique to Samoa. We've seen, for example, Australian, British and American governments all take advantage of their parliamentary and political power in the pursuit of their agenda in recent years. It's a telling demonstration of the need for real plurality in democratic political systems. Viable opposition parties are needed not only to provide voters with a range of different views to consider but more importantly to provide the kind of oversight that is so sorely lacking here in Samoa (as in Australia).

For Samoa the big question is how to break the stranglehold on power enjoyed by the HRPP. I thought the SDUP did a reasonably good job during the election campaign in presenting itself as a meaningful alternative government but clearly that wasn't enough. Many, including the SDUP, think that the electoral process itself requires close scrutiny and reevaluation. The HRPP has esetablished an Electoral Commission to do just this but whether its members are interested in shaking up the system or staying comfortably on the gravy train remains to be seen.