Wednesday, August 30, 2006
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
“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.
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
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
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
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.