Samoa III - Apolima Volcanic Island

Pacific Bliss
Colin Price
Wed 8 Aug 2012 01:40
Apolima-tai Volcanic Island
Apolima-tai is a small volcanic island in the straights between the main islands of Upulu and Savaii.  Why do we want to go there?  Because we were told its hard to get there, so few people do, and so it has been less affected by 20th century changes to Samoa.
We have absolutely no idea what we’ve let ourselves in for. When we arrive in the appointed mainland village of Apolima-uta we meet a small group of men. Whilst not elderly, they all obviously superior villagers, including the chief and the minister, seemingly there to vet our suitability for the visit to their island.  We’ve been told that no one has been invited to the island for two years due to unsuccessful experiences.  So we know we need to be ultra careful and respectful of our hosts. 
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The island of Apolima-tai from Manono-tai
Still without much of a clue of who-was-who we make the 40 mins trip by launch over to the tiny volcanic island of Apolima-tai.  The village is nestled inside the caldera of volcano and there is a tight opening in the crater wall to allow a boat into a small lagoon.  By launch is the only way to arrive due to the extremely narrow passage through the crashing waves into the heart of the volcano.  We’ve never been anywhere like this before and it feels rather like entering ‘Shangri la’. Total population 67.
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We’re guided up to Matai’s House, only just wising up to who’s who.  We’re fed lunch and one of the younger females, who speaks a little English, is appointed to us as guide.  The Matai’s daughter in law is our main host during our stay.  Tassi is utterly charming obviously an intelligent young mother of three with another on the way.  She is also very respectful of us - in Samoan culture guests and the family Matai are regarded as superior beings.  
ApolimaHouse The matai’s house  Samoa 307
Like I said this Island is very remote and as a result it has resisted any cultural change.  It’s Saturday afternoon and this is one of the only times the village comes out to relax and play volley ball in the middle of this unbelievable beautiful lush plateau  surrounded on most sides by plantation and steep volcanic which serves as village green all with traditional fales dotted around.   It’s a wonderful atmosphere with a great deal of laughter from young adults and the the younger children all playing rugby,  these guys are mighty fast and strong even at age 6.   We do feel hugely honoured to just a small taste of this hidden culture.  For the rest of the week the men are either fishing all night or working in the plantation – heavy work which results in a very fit looking population.
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Back to the fale for evening prayer. Only our chief matai fails to come back from his visits so we don’t get the chance to observe this daily ritual, every member of the family and village are hugely reliant on this guy. Dinner is served to us and the Matai and his wife, we’ve become accustomed to being served a meal first as honoured guests but for Mr M it’s a daily occurrence. The children serve parents first, and then once they have had their fill the younger family members are able to eat what is left,  this is often done in another house nearer the open flame of the umu and cooking fire.  It is all fascinating but also pretty excusing.  Very few folk speak English and whilst friendly there is a natural reserve.  We suspect this is largely due to their given upbringing.  A child is only a child till it is three, then it is looked after by brothers and sisters and taught only to obey, and that goes even if said child is in his 60’s.  Tassi as probably about 30 something has three children 14 yr old girl, 7yr old boy and a 3 yr old.  We met both the boys who where great fun but her daughter who attends school on the main land is not allowed to return to the island at the weekends.  I’m pretty sure this isn’t a happy decision for Tassi, she misses her daughter hugely but he father in-law and his wife have decided that’s the way it will be.  I just can’t imagine me being able to stand this sort of delicacy from Peter despite loving him.
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We learn that the Matai in fact very sick and some months ago he under went heart surgery,  rumour has it he is a big spirit drinker and we’ve observed that he smokes like a train.   Saturday afternoon he is relaxing on the on the floor of the main fale in there group of buildings whilst watching a Rugby match on TV.  With head resting on a wooden stool he is being attended on by two small boys both massaging his legs and arms.  This is no quick ‘child's play’ - for the next hour these kids keep up there attentions moving from massage to back scratching with a small directional grunt from Mr M, it extra-ordinary.  Colin we soon find out is getting ideas,  only it just doesn’t rub with our kids, any orders from the Price Matai is reply to playfully  with, ‘no Daddy, your just not Matai material!’.
Our plan was to come here over the weekend so we would be able to attend the Sunday service,  having discovered in Penrhyn that the singing in these ex-London missionary outposts is truly incredible we’re now terribly keen to attend church.  We this too is an interesting experience,  and not exactly what we had anticipated.  Mr M provides the village accompaniment to the choir, and obviously in royal Matai fashion it’s what he  like goes.  Only Mr M plays a tinny synthesiser and seems to be a bit partial to Doily Cart with a twang of Fairground added to the mix,  it is an enlightenment!
Sunday afternoon is the time when the village prepares for the weekly ordeal of the school age children departing to the mainland and in fact often it’s a time of mass exodus, one boat takes all.   The village is left with the male fishing community Minister and wives.  An we’re given an opportunity to sit with the minister and find out a great deal more about Samoan life.  He seems to be a little at odds about the system of Matai policing.  Chiefly because crimes are always paid for by  a financial charge.  This comes in the form of tins of fish, butter  and Corned beef, deemed to be a luxury item in Samoan culture.  We where in fact honoured by the Minister on Sunday breakfast when his daughter was sent down with some tinned sardine and cucumber sandwiches.  Not exactly our own family favoured Sunday breakfast, but eat we must.  We take a small proportion of the goodies and then sit back as the delicacy is devoured by the rest of the family.
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Sunday night and we have super in a little more relaxed circumstance as Mr M has departed so we chat with Tassi whilst listening to the shots of the air-rifle.  Soon to discover lunch tomorrow is sadly going to be missed by us, it’s ‘Fruit bat’, having never seen one before we’re all amazed by this prehistoric looking creature which will soon be on the table for supper.
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So our island experience was totally fascinating we hugely respect the culture whilst it would on this traditional level be impossible for us palangi to fit it to the restraints.  Monday morning and we delivered off to the largest island in the Samoan group ‘Savaii’.  Yet more adventures lay ahead 
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