Samoa II - Thumbs out for the kids

Pacific Bliss
Colin Price
Wed 8 Aug 2012 00:40
Thumbs out for the kids again
We’re starting to really like Samoa.  We are hard nuts to crack  when we arrive in a new country,  but slowly and surely we start to find the positive aspect of the people and natural beauty. Samoa for me started on a very sticky wicket due to me not feeling at all on form. But all this changed in the 3rd week.
Having loved our wee trip around Island and Colin just about recovered from having to spend a night in a resort, we manage to persuaded him into doing a bit more land based travel, only we all had to promise never to stay in anything other than basic accommodation. We fulfil this restrictive measure admirably!
So, we start off walking out of town and busing it down the western side of the island. The countryside is magnificent and totally different from what we’ve seen thus far. Very lush, snaking road with sharp drops down onto large plans where cattle are grazing on rich meadows, not what you expect of a tropical island. After 3 bus rides we reach the southern coast the place where the Tsunami reaped the worst damage. We take a small boat ride over to a button island with a few open sided beach false but we are only allowed to stay for the night, great cos  we’re the only guests.
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After an afternoons play in the white sand we are asked if they can feed us early. Actually it’s a god send as we’re hopeless at providing food for our young during these rather adhoc excursions, often relying on a packet of ant infested biscuits purchased from the local shop for lunch. We soon discover what the hive of activity all afternoon is about. Gently moved from the main meeting eating fala so that under the cover of night a series of small boat come into the island delivering a range of elderly Matai, one so infirmed he has to be carried from boat to fale. We know a little about the Matai (chief) system that reins in Samoa, but this really is a magnificent way to start to understand the activities and procedures involved in a meeting.
With out understanding this deeply embedded tradition of life here one has no hope of understanding the people and the island. Colin and I in equal measures respect and find it a difficult environment to live in. But we’re Palangi.
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There are Police in Samoa but very little are needed in the rural villages. These places are all governed by the Matai. Each family who has land, wealth and an extended family is granted the right to have a Matai in the family. There are different grades of Matai speaking, non speaking, Superior and then there are the elders who are all deeply respected even if they don’t have any mati status. Each month-ish the village Matai meet and make agreements of any issues that may be relevant in there village. This seems to invariably mean monetary fines for any wrong doing. They will also discuss the donations each family makes to the church, it does in fact have ultimate right on anyone who lives or  banished from the village.
Anyway we observed a wonderful spectacle.  All folk sitting in a strictly formatted place on the floor of the fale and the exchange of words, treasured woven mats and money. We finally fall onto our fine mattresses with woven palm frond shutters closed to the prevailing wind. Much to all our surprise we all have a rather restful night, apart from the intoxicant loud screams of fruit bats.
Next day is up’n out early, off to our next destination. This way of traveling isn’t always particularly relaxed. With little plans made we can often be at odds with one another. But the only thing we’re left to do is walk along a deserted road side, with our thumbs a wavin’.   The chose to hitch everywhere turns out to be perhaps the best bit of our Samoan trip we continue to meet magic folk and the range in extraordinary. so much so I’ll just list:
Old toothless Samoan in pickup truck bemused but delighted to assist a palangi family along there travels.
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Young returning Samoan (grown up in Aus) who owns the haulage company and has great insight into living and running a business in his Ancestral home.  Since arriving home and obviously seeming financially flush he has gone through the motions of becoming the family matai,  thus far he says it a rather expensive formality.  His first successful business was car rental and now with the aid of his wife family bank now has a flourishing haulage company.  What info we loved was that due to the profoundly religious nature of Samoa, traffic is unable to travel through a village at around 6pm, so his company transport comes to a grinding stop.   This is the case in all villages away from Apia, each family will gather together and have 10 minutes for pray, despite our lack of pious nature we really love this collective island time for reflection.  We have even started a little pre-meal pray to creation, it just helps us each day to appreciate some of the best parts about life, family and the planet.
Right enough of all this hippy stuff and on with our trip.  Two cars pass and then we’re picked up by the fastest car on the island so with our feet firmly placed on the imaginary break peddle we reach our next destination ‘toot sweet’ passing numerous interesting places at speed.   It has to be said that for many reasons Colin and I are finding the whole travel planning or lack of it rather stressful and as a result we’re not playing happy families.  We’re planning on visiting an almost never visited remote  wee volcano island and village, staying with the chief Matai.  This sort of trip requires a family in a state of harmony so without a truce I’m not willing to go.   Next day and we’re back on the road with thumbs flashing at every rare car species. The lovely old couple who pick us up take pity on us and go 15 KM out of their way, this is no big surprise given we’re in Samoa.
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Our next roadside stop over is a little longer but when we spy a elaborately adorned car coming our way we’re all desperate, low and behold this guy is a gem of a lift.  Not only does he know the Matai we staying with on Apolima island but he has also tattooed his entire family.  This guy is one of the most famous tattooed artists in the world, his traditional art has been passed down through generations.  His art is appreciated by many in the world too as he is frequently attending to folk all over the world, having now seen him in action, blimey it’s an immovable intensely painful art form.  But turning up with this guy at the Matai's house does no end of good to our initial reputation.
We are well on our way to Apolima-tai.