Two weeks ago Samoa celebrated the opening of its newest international harbour port at Salelologa on Savaii. The Prime Minister and members of Cabinet amongst others gathered to watch the MV Southern Cross weigh anchor at the new wharf.
Things didn't quite go to plan.
About 100 metres short of the wharf the ship ground to a halt. According to the Samoa Ports Authority, a small sandbank had caused the ship to run aground. According to candidate for the coming elections, Tuilagi Vavae Simi Jr. Fruean, the real reason was something far more interesting. From today's (2nd Feb) edition of the Samoa Observer:
"The real reason why the ship was stuck was not because of a sandbank...The ghosts of Savaii stopped it," Tuilagi told the Samoa Observer. "I spoke with these ghosts and they told me what they wanted to do," he said.
"One of them wanted to pick up the ship and throw it on the tree tops. The other wanted to snap it in half and throw it back to the ocean. But they decided against it in the end. So they just decided to stop the ship from berthing."
Apparently, the ghosts were angry "because they did not want Government to fool their people again. They knew that what the Government was trying to do was to win votes for the election and they did not want the Savaii people to be fooled." It would seem that the ghosts of Savaii as unhappy about the current Government as Tuilagi.
I asked a couple of colleagues at work about this story, and about Samoans' belief in ghosts and ghost stories in general. Apparently many villages have tapu - rules dictating conduct in places of importance, places generally considered to be overseen by their ancestors' ghosts. To breach the tapu was the incur the anger of the ghosts.
I was told a story of four young women who went swimming in a local pool governed by tapu. They infringed upon the rules in some way; perhaps by not wearing their hair up whilst swimming in the pool or making too much noise and generally showing disrespect. All four women suffered some form of mental breakdown over the following days. Whilst three recovered, one apparently still suffers mental illness.
Whether or not you believe in ghosts and the stories they appear in, the story in today's newspaper highlights two things. First, respect for their ancestors is fundamental to the Samoan people. Second, Tuilagi is a shrewd man, hoping to improve his chances of election in March.