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 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.


The village of Vavau on the south coast of 'Upolu is home to some of the most beautiful coastline in Samoa. The beach, with its soft white sands, stretches off far into the distance. One end of the beach meets a small headland. The currents there can be quite strong, but the cautious swimmer/scrambler-over-rocks is well rewarded. Just around the headland is a small network of inlets and pools, rich in coral and fish. The rocky outcrop pictured here is also home to a pretty spectacular blowhole.

Just a couple of minutes up the road from the side road to Vavau beach is another turn off to what is called the Su'a Ocean Trench. It's amazing. A few hundred metres inland from the coast one comes across the trench. The ground drops way sharply, leaving a large circular shaft down to sea level. It doesn't look like much of a trench as one would normally think of it, but that's because the trench can't be seen from the top. Climb down the step ladder and jump into the water at the bottom. It's sea water! The trench itself is underground and runs out to the ocean. It's possible, when the conditions are right, to swim through the passage and out to the ocean. The conditions must be right however as the current is frequently very strong.

The grounds surrounding the ocean trench are quite beautiful. Colourful plants and flowers are dotted throughout and there's a lookout that affords a spectacular view of the coastline in both directions. Those not sold on the idea of rounding the headland from Vavau beach can stand here instead to watch the blowhole.

Developers have already signed a deal with the village and the Government of Samoa to build a resort in Vavau in the near future. My advice would be to get in early and appreciate the beauty of the area before it changes forever.

Friday, June 23, 2006


No one whistles in Samoa. Ever. Same applies for Tonga. Instead, as you walk down the street you'll frequently hear a variety of sharp hisses or "pssst!" as people attract the attentions of others nearby.

There are two reasons why whistling is considered a no-no here. First, there are those who believe that if you whistle at night, you risk the ire of ghosts who may visit you in your sleep and punish you (the Tongans believe this too). The second reason is more mundane. Whistling at people is clear indication that you consider them no better than a dog. And given the rough treatment that dogs cop here, that's pretty poor.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

All one season in one day

Samoa, like many tropical countries, really only has two seasons: wet and dry. We suffered a pretty wet wet season at the beginning of the year and now we're in the middle of a fairly dry dry season. Quite straightforward really.

I know they do work hard, but I reckon given this state of affairs, staff at Samoa's Meteorology Division must have things pretty good. It doesn't really seem to matter what time of year it is, or what the actual weather is outside, their weather report always seems to be the same. Here's a selection of reports I managed to find whilst rummaging through old copies of the newspaper.

24 Feb 2006
Partly cloudy with some scattered showers and a few thunderstorms.

2 May 2006
A moist east to northeast wind flow covers Samoa. Fine weather except for some isolated showers.

5 May 2006
A moist east to northeast wind flow covers Samoa. Partly cloudy with isolated showers...on highlands during afternoon.

9 May 2006
A weak convergence zone lies over Samoa. Partly cloudy with isolated showers possible over highlands.

25 May 2006
An active ridge of high pressure to the south generates a fresh to strong east to southeast wind flow over the group. Fine apart from some passing showers mainly on highlands.

29 May 2006
A ridge of high pressure extends over Samoa...and directs a fresh southeast wind flow over the group. Generally fine apart from a few showers possible over highlands.

6 June 2006
A moist east to southeast wind flow covers Samoa. Continuing fine weather.

13 June 2006
A moist east to southeast wind flow covers Samoa. Generally fine weather apart from some afternoon showers.

16 June 2006
A moist easterly wind flow covers Samoa. Cloudy at times with some isolated showers becoming frequent at times tomorrow with isolated thunderstorms.

19 June 2006
A moist northeast wind flow covers Samoa. Cloudy at times with scattered showers and a few thunderstorms mainly on highlands.

20 June 2006
A weak trough of low pressure to the south lies slow moving over Samoa. Partly cloudy with some afternoon showers.

21 June 2006
A weak trough of low pressure remainds slow moving over Samoa. Partly cloudy with some isloated afternoon showerws and a few thunderstorms, mainly on highlands.

On the basis of these reports, I'd hazard a guess that tomorrow we can expect there to be wind flow covering Samoa and it's likely to be partly cloudy and it might rain on the highlands.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A battle of the bottle openers

Perennial favourite, BoingBoing, has a post with a link to video (YouTube) of what they call "the Scandinavian way" of opening beer bottles. Let me just say, for the record, that this is merely one of the ways Samoans open bottles. The bottle opening repetoire here is quite expansive. In my time I've seen the following items employed to do the work: other beer bottles, spoons, knives, forks, table edges, lighters, seatbelts and teeth. With the exception of teeth I've pretty much used all of them too. I keep trying to convince one of my work colleagues to try and open a beer bottle with his eye socket, but thus far he's been reluctant. Can't imagine why.

We see your bottle opening way Scandinavia and are not impressed. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.

Dying of thirst

On Saturday morning I helped Darren (a fellow volunteer) set up a couple of basketball courts for a new competition he's organising for schoolkids. We had to head down to Matautu-tai (right near the wharf where the HMAS Stuart was docked) and measure out the court distances then construct and place the rings accordingly. Sure, the courts are grass (but what great grass!) but we're still happy with the result.

The work was pretty tough though. It's been hot in Samoa lately. The dry season is well and truly upon us, with only two days of rain in the last two months. Even at 10am it was really hot and the sun beat down on our backs as we undertook the work. It was clear to us that equally as important as erecting the rings was the matter of how we were going to cool down afterwards.

As we left the courts, we saw Scoops from afar and, dying of thirst, knew what we had to do. Scoops is the best ice cream & drink parlour (as it were) in Samoa. We made our way there and ordered the largest, coldest drinks they had. Two jumbo-sized chocolate thickshakes were shortly placed before us and we were as happy as pigs in poo (doesn't Darren look excited?). I think the shake would have to qualify as the single largest drink I've found in years. Probably as one of the best for value for money too. The shakes cost us $11WST a piece ($5.50AUD). Bargain!

Sure, it's not as refined as drinking a beautiful white wine from the Yarra Valley. If I could lay my hands on a good wine from the Yarra I would. But on Saturday, in the heat of the day after our labours, the largest thickshake in Samoa was exactly what we needed.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Samoan Wedding - more photos

I took a lot of photos today and I'm fairly happy with a number of them. Here are a few more to enjoy.
Some of the children from the Vaitele-fou congregation (the clown wearing my sunglasses is Aukuso's younger brother Faith).

Two more young members of the congregation.

The groom Aukuso (middle) and two of his groomsmen. Smooth.

Aukuso's father, flanked by the father and mother of the bride.

A Samoan Wedding - the reception

Aukuso and Tasi's reception started immediately after the church service finished. It was held under a large tent in the yard next to the church (and Aukuso's home). Whilst the guests snacked on various nibblies and ice cream (it was a very hot day) my attention was caught by a formal presentation from the bride's family to the groom's. Two matai, one from each family (and hence village) stood some twenty or thirty metres apart from each other. The matai representing Aukuso's family received the other, who talked for quite some time in relatively elaborate speech. (No, I couldn't understand any of it, but the language itself was different from the day-to-day Samoan you hear on the street.)

All of this was quite relaxed in its delivery but it was clear that it was an important part of the day's proceedings. Gifts of fine mats were presented to Aukuso's family and the receiving matai spoke on behalf of the family to acknowledge and thank the bride's family for their gift. Later in the afternoon the presentation was repeated, but with the groom's family presenting many gifts to the bride's family and indeed to the pastor who supervised the wedding ceremony.

After this initial presentation concluded, we were seated to enjoy some lunch and each other's company. Without even trying I found myself sitting at the bridal party's table. I sat with the pastor and we ate and talked as the afternoon progressed.

Aukuso and Tasi had two cakes for their wedding. One was a four tier cake and the other a single layer cake. Rather than cut the cakes up for everyone to enjoy, the cakes were apportioned and presented to select individuals in recognition of their social standing and importance to the day's proceedings. The four tier cake was split between twelve or so people. The other cake was cut into quarters, two of which went to individuals with the rest being cut up for everyone to enjoy. As each (large) portion of cake was presented to people the best man acknowledged them and thanked them for attending. Imagine my surprise when I heard my name being mentioned ("Thank you to John from Australia for being with us today"). Before I knew it I had an enormous slab of cake sitting in front of me to take home. This, on top of the not-insignificant amount of food already sitting in front of me.

The reception ended with a small number of performances by the church's youth groups. They danced to a few songs, some words were spoken by Aukuso's father and finally the pastor led the gathering in the last prayer for the day. Within fifteen minutes of the conclusion of the prayer pretty much every guest had taken their leave. I stayed behind to help clear up and relax with my hosts (whom I had not seen since Easter). Perhaps an hour or so later, after many hugs and kisses, I took my leave of the family and made my way home.

A Samoan Wedding - the ceremony

Last week I received a call from a friend of mine, Fa'amao, asking if I would like to attend her brother's wedding. The wedding, held today, replace the normal Sunday morning service delivered by Fa'amao's father. Having attended a "normal" service twice before (for White Sunday and Easter Sunday), I was keen to see how a Samoan Christian wedding would unfold. Of course, I also wanted to join my friends in their celebration of the occasion.

Their church, the Light of Life (Malamalama o le Ola), is a small one, a little way out of Apia on the way to the airport in the village of Vaitele-fou. The congregation is of reasonably small size, although today there were not only the usual attendees but also friends and family of the bride and groom. Consequently the church was filled to overflowing.

Fa'amao's father did not conduct the service today, leaving that task in the hands of another pastor from the bride's village. I'd be hard pressed to really say much about what his service contained as it was entirely in Samoan. Nonetheless, with my (extremely) limited knowledge of Samoan and a reasonably decent idea of how wedding services go, I was able to follow most things. Certainly I understood each "Amen", "Hallejuah", "Praise Jesus" and "Glory! Glory! Glory!" as they were shouted out many times throughout the service by most of the congregation.

The bridal party made its way into the church one couple at a time. Four sets of bridesmaids and groomsmen entered first, then the two young boys bearing the bouquet and ring. The groom, Aukuso, entered the hall next, the young children behind the pastor craning their necks to get a good view of him. They strained their necks even further when Aukuso's father accompanied the bride, Finatasi, shortly afterwards.

Tasi was not delivered to Aukuso's side as one typically sees in Western ceremonies. Rather she held back and Aukuso turned to her and sang a song of love and praise (to both her and God) as he made his way to her. Only then did they walk together to the pastor to take their vows. Aukuso slipped the wedding band on Tasi's finger, they were pronounced husband and wife in the eyes of God and Aukuso lifted Tasi's veil and they kissed. Lovely. The ceremony concluded with Aukuso and Tasi leading the way out of the church to the area set up for the reception.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Hello sailor!

This morning Samoa said farewell to the HMAS Stuart, an ANZAC class frigate which has been docked in the harbour for four days. On Saturday evening a function was held onboard the ship for invited guests. The Australian volunteer community in Samoa was invited; we tend to be good at filling out the numbers and making a party look well attended. Especially when there's free food and drink.

The Stuart was here on its way to Hawaii, where it will be taking part in a month-long war games exercise. The biannual RIMPAC wargames make for the larger naval exercise in the world. It runs out of Hawaii and sees defence force assests from the majority of the militarised Pacific nations take part. Australia, the United States, Japan, Britain, Chile, Peru, South Korea and Canada have all committed forces to the exercise. With roughly thirty naval vessels and upwards of 200 aircraft, it's going to be big.

On its way to Hawaii, the Stuart has made a few stops. First it stopped in New Zealand followed by a brief stopover in Tonga. Samoa was its final port of call before heading to Hawaii. These stopovers serve several purposes. They obviously give the crew some down time before they knuckle down for work but they also serve a purpose in terms of international relationship building. If they're going to throw a party onboard and invite me, I'm more than happy to help with the relationship building.

The evening kicked off with a ceremonial lowering of the white ensign. Known as "sunset" (despite being conducted after dark) it is a long standing tradition in the Australian and British navy whenever ships visit foreign ports. Replete with bugles, silly walks, national anthems and crew in crisp whites it's a sight to behold. It's loud too. The firearms seen here were discharged (blanks I assure you) and when you're standing no more than four or five metres away they really make one hell of a noise.

Whilst we sipped cold Australian beer and ate the national coat of arms (the emu was pretty good, the crocodile sausages great and the kangaroo kebabs truly outstanding) we had an opportunity to meet and talk with many of the officers of the ship. Those I spoke to were, without exception, interesting, polite and down-to-earth people. They were genuinely interested in who we were and what life was like in Samoa and were keen to share aspects of their life. I confess to being somewhat surprised by this, but certainly pleasantly so. There I was expecting a bunch of sheltered workshop, "I kill people for a living" weirdos.

After the conclusion of the ceremony and as the party started to wind down, we were given a tour of the ship by the officers. Wandering through a naval frigate is fascinating. Certainly much of the technological complexity is hidden from our eyes but what struck me was the intricacies of the human complexities onboard. Each role is clearly defined in terms of what the key responsibilities are, but also in terms of the lines of communication particular to that role. It's not as straight up-and-down, "the captain talks to his XO, who talks to the chief of the watch", etc., all the way down to the grunts in the engine room as one might think. Reporting and supervisory responsibilities cut across the different areas of operation onboard as much as they do up and down, reflecting the fact that the ship is comprised of a number of highly complex, specialised (human) systems that have to interoperate with as little margin for error as can be achieved. But I digress...

Our tour was excellent (thanks Dougald and Sam the navigator) and ended at the officer's mess. Here we discovered the real party and continued drinking with the officers for some time longer. A friend and I had an excellent conversation about a whole range of topics with the captain of the ship, Commander Peter Leavy, and we all got to know many of the other officers better. The night was still young however, and with just a few days in town, everyone was keen to sample the Samoan nightlife. The choice was simple: we had to go to Bad Billy's.

All but a few of us made our way to Billy's and then spent the next two hours dancing, drinking, watching the Australia vs England rugby match and having a great time. As midnight struck and the house lights came up, there were cries for more. Whilst we're used to it living here, I don't think the officers of the HMAS Stuart were quite ready to believe that there simply was nowhere else to keep partying after twelve. With nowhere else to go, we had to call it a night. We dropped them off at the ship and made our way home.

It was an excellent night. The ship was fascinating, the food excellent and most importantly, the company and conversation was great. I said before that the point of stopovers such as this one is to improve international relationships, but I think it's fair to say that on Saturday night the Australian navy improved the opinions of many Australians as well.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Gospel Gangster

Bring me your tired, your rich, your gulible

This Saturday night sees "International Evangelist" John Perry (from Australia no less!) conduct an evening of "MIRACLES / GOD'S POWER / HEALING". I'm excited. We're promised that "they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover". Sounds like Perry's serious too; his advertisement in Sunday's Observer implores readers to "bring the sick, blind, deaf, lame, cancer victims, arthritis, breathing problems, car accidents, rugby injuries" (see the image, right). Well...

I call bullshit!

I'm sorry John but go stick your lying, manipulative, insensitive and irreligious schtick up your arse and get the fuck out of Samoa. I've seen your kind before (as have Samoans) and wasn't impressed the first time. Benny Hinn anyone?

Several years ago I went to the Sydney Entertainment Centre to see what this whole Benny Hinn malarky was about. Sadly my friend and I couldn't stay as the venue was filled to capacity. On our way out we passed a woman standing with her physically disabled daughter in a wheelchair. The daughter was in a flood of tears because they were unable to get in to see the show. That was awful enough; that we saw Hinn's staff setting up their shop stalls directly behind the two women ("we're ready to take your credit card details now") made it far worse. That sight said far more to me about Benny Hinn and his "miracle crusades" than any number of Hinn's sermons and "annointings" ever could.

Perry's pulling the same wool over people's eyes. It's fucked. Samoa is a nation founded on God ("Fa'avae i le Atua Samoa" is the country's motto). Samoans take their faith very seriously. It's a fundamental part of their national and personal identity. I'm disgusted that someone is going to come over here and abuse it. Evangelism is one thing, mercenary evangelism is another. "Man cannot serve two gods" (Matthew 6:24) anyone?

I have a question: who the fuck is John Perry anyway? I've been having a hard time finding any reference to an Australian "International Evangelist" by that name. If anyone can find anything about him please post a comment with a link.

“Sala'ilua's Cahill creates history”

That's right. The Savaii village of Sala'ilua's own Tim Cahill has created history, becoming the first Australian, no wait, Samoan, to score a goal for Australia in a World Cup final tournament.

One can hardly begrudge Samoa for being proud of the achievements of one of its sons, even though he does not hold Samoan citizenship and hasn't lived in Samoa at all. The reason is simple: Samoans have unfortunately had to become used to seeing those sporting talents who are eligible for Samoan representation get snatched up by neighbouring countries. Take a look at the New Zealand All Blacks lineup, of which about half are Samoans. Even if we exclude Tana Umaga due to his retirement from the ABs, we still have Mils Muliaina, Jerry Collins, Chris Masoe, Casey Laulala, Aaron Mauger, Rodney So'oialo, Jerome Kaino, Keven Mealamu, Neemia Tialata and Ma'a Nonu in the squad. Maybe we should start calling them the Samoan All Blacks.

This is not to say that it's outright thievery. Obviously these are individuals who have grown up in New Zealand (or Australia in the case of Cahill) and have benefited from the sporting resources available to them. But without a comparable economic base and training and development infrastructure it's difficult to see how Samoa could ever really compete in securing quality players. This is why initiatives such as the IRB's High Performance Unit program, which will see a far greater investment in local sporting infrastructure for Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, are very necessary.

The IRB and its investment in Samoan rugby is not the only initiative worthy of mention. There is considerable effort being expended by aid agencies in boosting the capacity of most of Samoa's sporting organisations. Coaches and trainers from overseas are helping local coaches develop better training programs for their players. New facilities are being built to international standards (such as the FIFA-approved soccer field at Faleata). The provision of this aid has been timed to ensure Samoa will be able to successfully host next year's South Pacific Games, but the longer term goals are also clear. Improved sporting infrastructure and greater opportunities for local players can only have a positive effect on the future prospects of Samoa's national sporting teams.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Go the Samoaroos!

The Socceroos opened their World Cup account against Japan this morning. I didn't get to watch the match but it sounds like it was a real nailbiter. Most importantly, a win first match in to the tournament bodes very well indeed for the prospect of progression through to the elimination rounds.

The hero of the match was Tim Cahill, a player with a rather unique playing history. The son of an Australian and a Samoan, Cahill has represented both nations at international level. His first international matches were played for Samoa in a FIFA Under-20s tournament in 1994. Such representation immediately denied him the ability to represent Australia and a long ten year battle finally saw FIFA amend the rules in 2004 to allow a conditional change of national representation. 2004 was a good year for Cahill as he also won the Oceania Football's Confederation's Player of the Year award, edging out Socceroo team mates Schwarzer and Bresciano.

At the end of the day Cahill is an Australian and a proud member of the Socceroos. But make no mistake - after his performance this morning we can expect much adulation from all Samoans of the "Samoan midfielder" (as described in today's Observer) and his game-winning two goals.

A splash of colour

It's not Japan in the autumn but Samoa does have a fair splash of colour in its local flora. The one flower I must mention is Samoa's national flower, the teuila. It's a beautiful brilliant red/pink and is visible throughout the country. I'm pretty sure it's found throughout many Pacific nations but only Samoa lays claim to it as a national flower. And only Samoa has a week-long festival named after it.

I've been taking photos of flowers and other flora on and off over the months as I've made my way around the country. Here a few I've taken. Enjoy.


I've had a friend from Tonga visiting lately and on Saturday she and I went for a drive around the island of Upolu to visit some places of interest. Our first stop was at Piula cave pool, after which we headed straight to Lalomanu beach. Lalomanu is a truly beautiful place. Crystal clear aquamarine waters, a soft white sandy beach and lots of reef fish to make for some great snorkelling. This picture shows the view down the beach towards the south-east, with Nu'utele island in the background.

I've been to Lalomanu many times now. It's a favourite getaway for a weekend. Our visit on Saturday was, alas, only for a few hours but we had a great time nonetheless. With our underwater cameras we headed into the water to do a spot of snorkelling and we weren't disappointed.
There are huge numbers of fish feeding amongst the coral at Lalomanu. Indeed, much of the waters off the south-east tip of the island are feeding and breeding grounds for all manner of marine life, in particular turtles. They tend not to feed at Lalomanu beach so much, but can almost always be seen off Nu'utele.
It's impossible to go snorkelling at Lalomanu and not see large schools of fish moving from coral outcrop to coral outcrop, feeding en masse. Whilst the majority of the fish are relatively small there are a number of larger fish that slowly glide around the coral, occasionally chasing smaller fish they consider good enough to eat. Starfish and anemones can also be found hiding under rocks and pieces of coral. It seems that every time I head into the water at Lalomanu with my snorkel and mask I find some species of marine life I've never seen before.

With a couple of accommodation options, Lalomanu can offer travellers pretty much whatever kind of experience they want. If you want to just spend your time relaxing on the beach, reading a book or two, you can. If you want to party with friends and locals in the evening, you can most definitely do that too. There's almost always a game of volleyball or touch football being played on the beach, the snorkelling is brilliant, you can hire outrigger canoes and go on snorkel and dive trips out beyond the reef if you wish. No wonder Lalomanu is the most popular destination for travellers on Upolu.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A slight reduction in the high cost of living

One of the concerns surrounding the recent changes to SamoaTel's pricing model for landline telephony was the impact it might have on the affordability of Internet access. Compared to many other countries, Internet access is expensive enough as it is without having to pay an additional $0.04 + VAGST per minute. This increased cost is bad for the customer but also potentially quite bad for the businesses that provide Internet access. Increased prices can only lead to fewer customers and a decline in usage by those customers that remain.

It seems the three Internet service providers in Samoa have taken up this issue with SamoaTel and had a degree of success. Effective immediately calls made to special dialup numbers for the three ISPs will be charged at $0.01 + VAGST per minute only. It still makes for expensive Internet use but $0.67 per hour is much better than $2.70 per hour for the base call cost.

The quick change in position by SamoaTel does make me wonder. How much money does domestic telephony really cost them and how much of a profit are they making on it, that they can rapidly agree to the drop from $0.04/minute to $0.01/minute for Internet calls? Given the smoke and mirrors game they played when advertising the changes to their pricing model I doubt we can expect them to be a paragon of transparency and actually disclose that kind of information any time soon.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A day at the races

The Independence Day celebrations culminate on Saturday with the annual Independence Cup races at Faleata race track. This year's race day had everything required for a great day out and a lot more. There was champagne, frocks, elegant and extraordinary hats. Oh, and some horse races too.

A lot of people turned out for the day's events. As one might expect there was a healthy contigent of well-helled Samoans and ex-pats in attendance but there were lots of Samoan families enjoying picnic lunches and children running around everywhere. A group of us had a great time, enjoying a picnic lunch, having a flutter on the horses and soaking up the fantastic atmosphere of the day.

A total of nine races were held with many of the horses racing multiple times. The track wasn't exactly in the best condition, though I believe it was far less dusty than for previous meets. Indeed, the facilities don't compare with any of the racing venues I've visited in Australia but quite frankly, that was part of the enjoyment. Where in Australia would you find children clinging to the fence directly adjacent to the track as the horses bolted past? There were very few places where public access was denied. I was able to take a stroll through the jockey's rest area, which included the spartan, yet no doubt fully functional, weigh-in facilities. As the horses were paraded before each race I was able to stand no more than a couple of metres from them and inspect them up close. Which horse is looking revved up? Which one's requiring a little too much salve for sores? Too much strapping on the legs? The important questions could be asked and answered.

The races themselves were ran over a number of distances, from short sprints of 1000m to the premiere race over 3200m. The funniest race would have to be the village pack horse race. An open invitation to villagers to bring their pack horses along for a day at the races, there was no list of entrants, no odds and consequently no betting.

Nonetheless, the sight of seven or eight men ride their horses bareback over 700m was very funny. At the end of the day, these men weren't leading their horses into trailers for the drive home. No, they just hopped back on their charges and made their way homes the long way.

Being right up against the fence for a race made the excitement quite palpable at times. Some people were so overjoyed at the success of their chosen horse (indeed, the totes were running hot throughout the day) that they leapt in the air in celebration.

Unfortunately however, the day wasn't all beer and skittles. The big race of the day, the 3200m Independence Cup, had a rather tragic end. At the conclusion of the race I noticed a man running down the track being followed by a car. At first I thought that perhaps a drunken spectactor had decided that he was himself a horse and felt like a bit of a run. Once two more cars, the track ambulance and several more stewards joined the chase I realised something far more serious was up. Sadly, immediately after the conclusion of the race one of the horses collapsed at the end of the home straight. After a significant period of time the horse was declared brown bread and carted off on the back of a flatbed. I was told by the race caller at the end of the day that Kate's Gift was the third horse the owner had lost at the track over recent years.

In spite of the unfortunate departure of Kate's Gift, the afternoon continued in high spirits. The races continued and the obligatory hat competition was held. The field was a little slim but there were some great hats. Friends Kim (right) and Nicole (left), pictured here, entered the competition with Kim taking out the "Most Elegant Hat" prize. The "Most Eccentric Hat" was a shoe-in. Who could possibly compete with the toy horse and Barbie doll entry here?

The afternoon wrapped up around about 6pm and we packed our gear up and headed off to Giordano's closer to town for some of the best pizza available in Samoa. After which a few of us came back to my house for a viewing of The Princess Bride and some Lindt chocolate. It was a great way to wrap up a great day.

Independence Day - Traditional dance

After the fautasi race, the focus of the day's celebrations turned to the parliament house. The afternoon saw a marching girls' competition followed by a number of traditional performances by a number of colleges around the country. To my eye the marching girls' competition seemed out of place, being so strongly modelled on the kind of thing one sees in the United States. That said, each team's performance was well received by the crowd and some of the performances were impressive indeed.

I was more interested in the traditional performances that followed. They featured huge groups of perfomers. I went for a wander around the park where the performances were being held to the area where the various groups were preparing themselves. There I stumbled right into the middle of the CCCS Tuasivi College (from Savaii) wearing their matching pink puletasis and lavalavas. They looked fantastic as you can see here.

The group that most impressed me was that from Don Bosco. They performed a variety of pieces that were really impressive. In particular, their performances of the Maori haka and the Samoan haka were awesome. The sound of more than a hundred young men chanting and slapping their thighs was astounding. The kind of thing that gives you goosebumps. Great stuff.

The Don Bosco performance was also pretty light hearted in parts too. In the middle of one piece that featured singing, body slapping and clapping they segued into a brief rendition of Queen's "We Will Rock You". They were, without a doubt, the most impressive group I saw perform that day.

Independence Day - Fautasi race

Samoa gained self sovereignty 44 years ago after many years of colonial rule. First under German then New Zealand colonial rule, at the end of World War Two and the formation of the United Nations, Samoa became a United Nations Trust territory under New Zealand administration. Complete independence was achieved on the 1st of January 1962 after a referendum was put to all Samoans.

Today Samoans celebrate their independence on the 1st of June each year. I sure because it helps spread the public holidays through the year better. The celebrations run over a few days and feature a range of different events. One of the highlights of the celebrations is the fautasi race from Faleula to Apia harbour. After a great breakfast at the best cafe in town (where we picked up our hats) we made our way to the Apia harbour seawall to watch the race. This year ten fautasi boats entered the competition, each crew keen to win the five mile race and claim the $22,000 first prize.
The race was fiercly contested by two teams; the crew from Faleu, Manono and the crew from Don Bosco college in Siusega. These were always going to be the two teams to beat. The Faleu team has been a consistent winner of this event over the last few years and the Don Bosco team recently took top honours in the American Samoa Flag Day race (a real accomplishment as they were the only team from Independent Samoa to field in that event). Five of the other crews from around Upolu and Savaii had their own contest to determine who would claim third but all eyes were focused on the Faleu and Don Bosco battle.

By all accounts it was a close contest throughout the entire race but as the boats rounded the point and entered the harbour it was clear that the Faleu crew had gained enough of a lead to win. A huge cheer went up as they crossed the line.

Coming second can't be all that bad however. Not long after the race, as a group of us made our way up to parliament house, the Don Bosco crew drove past, chanting, clapping, singing and laughing all the way. I'm not sure what prize was awarded second place, but it must have been good given the smiles on the Don Bosco boys' faces.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The sunset slide

New viewers of Samoa's SBC One tv station rapidly become accustomed to the "sunset slide". It's a lovely image of the setting sun over the waters of Samoa. SBC uses the sunset slide to block out scenes in shows that are deemed inappropriate. Is the action movie hero about to bed the femme fatale? No problem, just produce a quick fade to the sunset slide. Joey and Rachel kissing in an episode of Friends? A quick fade to the sunset slide as they begin to embrace solves that issue.

A letter to the editor in today's Observer has a long rant about the (mis)use of the sunset slide:

As the bodies make contact, the two faces get close, the rousing orchestral music building, then ... you guessed it, cut to the sunset slide and silence. For about a minute. Then the movie comes back with the couple still embraced, fully clothed, discussing their real feelings then ... back to the sunset slide.

Other than the obvious censoring of material there are two things that really drive people mad about the sunset slide. First, the tape operators at SBC don't believe in fast forwarding the show past the inappropriate material to reduce the time that the sunset slide is displayed. Second, they have a tendency to skip significant scenes in the show. The above writer's complaint continued as when the show did return, the protagonist was in jail. Sadly the sunset slide blocked out the scene that explains why. Kind of kills the flow of the movie.

One point raised several times in the recent debate about the banning of the Da Vinci Code, was that of there being a double standard in the censors' work. The censors are unprepared to show scenes of people kissing and having sex, nor are they prepared to allow a movie that offers a fictional take on the story of Christ, but they are more than prepared to allow scenes of extreme violence reach the movie and television screens of Samoa. As today's letter asks:

More to the point, in this troubled post 9/11 world in which we live, I am confused as to why behaviour which leads to the very natural act that has put us all on this planet gets sunsetted SBC style, whereas behaviour which leads to our unnaturally forced removal from it does not. Whatever happened to "Make Love, Not War"?

The, hopefully unintended, irony of today's letter is that it appears directly underneath a reproduction of an editorial cartoon from Wellington's Dominion Post newspaper commenting on the recent Hurricanes vs Crusaders Super 14 final. A cursory glance at the cartoon shows that it too has been censored; one of the words in the cartoon obscured by a string of *!?*!?*?! characters.