Samoa, Upulo and Robert Louis Stevenson

SV Jenny
Alan Franklin/Lynne Gane
Fri 28 Aug 2015 10:38
Dear Family and Friends,
Reading the journals of RLS, he was a man possessed of a tremendous capacity to engage with all of the cultures and trades that he meets, gathering cultural stories, poems and verses, recording their oral traditions, making and enchanting firm friends. Ill health, a lung condition and spontaneous bleeding caused him to seek out a better climate than his native Scotland and spurred on by the advice of a family friend whilst in his childhood, he sought the life of a Pacific adventurer with his American wife, Fanny. Although he reached Australia he found the climate too cold for him and finally made his home just outside Apia, where he had purchased some land. Here he built their beautiful home called Vailima or five rivers, just below the cooler slopes of Mount Vaea with views across the  valley to the north coast. In just 4-5 years before his early death in 1894 at 44, he and Fanny managed to clear and plant beautiful gardens, a banana plantation and kitchen garden as well as building a charming colonial style home and continuing to write. He supported the cause of Samoan independence, visiting and caring for the locals imprisoned by the colonial German powers and hosting dinners for the local Maitai, his friends and staff in an unusually equitable manner for the times. He was held in so much respect by the Samoans that together with his white friends they all laboured to cut a road to the house and a path rising 1000 m to the top of Mt Vaea, called the Path of the Loving Hearts. To this day he is remembered fondly and the path maintained by Samoans.
His house became variously the German and then New Zealand commissioner’s residence when NZ took over the territory during the First World War and then the home of the first Samoan president in the early 1960’s. More recently, it was badly damaged during a cyclone, to be abandoned until an American Philanthropist restored it and gave it to the Samoan Nation. For all its subsequent residents, the Stevenson’s spirit is still very much woven into the fabric of the building. The tour of the house is not complete without a climb to RLS grave where the views are marvellous, no wonder he chose this spot, to be buried with his favourite boots on, ‘A wanderer home from the hills’.
With my time limited by my return home, we took a day tour of the island of Upulo with our fantastically helpful taxi driver, Tala. Crossing the island to the south side we climbed steadily through the hills, stopping at the Papapapai-uta waterfalls view point. Here a river tumbled over a vertical cliff for several hundred metres amidst the bush and forest. Driving to the south coast we walked along the water front between Siumu and a hotel resort, before visiting the Togitogiga Waterfall where we could have swum but the mosquitos were out in force and even a brief photo stop left me covered in bites.  The lava caves of To Sua and the SE beach of Lalomanu, (one of Lonely Planets’ top ten beaches), looked lovely but we weren’t in the mood for swimming. The cliffs arise abruptly just a short distance inland, as you drive towards the south east corner of the island, leaving a sandy margin to the reef and sea. Much of the eastern and north eastern coasts are only accessible by 4WD. Houses and fale follow the line of the roads or perhaps it is the other way round, safe to say, habitation is not far from access and much of the island is inaccessible. Little remains of the German plantations that RLS writes about, although there are plenty of coconut palms on the plains, upland pasture for cows, horses tethered close to homes are used to farm the family lands and pigs run around the domestic compounds much like dogs. Many of the family members do not have paid employment and rely on the family plantations to grow banana, plaintain, the ever present taro, papaya, melon, squash and a range of vegetables. Apart from this, they must fish otherwise their diet is quite poor. Most villages have a kiosk where the shelves seem filled with tins and packets of food, occasional fresh produce and even some takeaway foods via BBQ. Tala explained that for many, their only source of protein was the relatively cheap (3 tala, about 75p) tins of mackerel. No wonder there were frequent roadside adverts.
The people themselves are cheerful, often the children playing in the dirt are grubby, their clothes have seen many years wear and may not be gender specific! Adults too in the rural parts were sometimes dressed in rags, their shelter open fales, their simple possessions of mattress and homemade chairs open to the elements. It is hard to detect the true state of life because we saw many signs of a reasonable affluence, bungalow style housing, cars, school children beautifully turned out in pristine uniforms, girls in coloured pinafores and boys in coloured lavalava. Families try to have 1-2 relatives working for the state which allows them a good income and I suspect supports some of the extended family, whilst other family members tend the crops and make crafts to sell.
It seems real men wear the lavalava, a type of Samoan sarong. Our health and quarantine officials who visited the boat, had them, I particularly liked the pin stripe version with side pockets just like trousers. There is the police blue version not to mention coloured versions for social occasions. Even the cricket teams play in matching lavalava. Not sure about Samoan rugby, I suspect not! Easily 50% of the men wear them, ladies have their own versions too. For those discerning types the warehouse ‘Mr Lavalava’  (Apia), has all the selection you could possibly want.
Almost every village has a church, the nature of the faith a reflection of the early missionary zeal, Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, 7th day Adventists, Mormons and more. For those early pioneers of faith it was a simple translation to merge the Samoan belief in a one God they could not see and did not have idols to represent, to those of Christianity. Such beliefs were eagerly embraced and it continues to be an important focus of life here. It is not surprising then that a Baha’i temple has recently been built here too, one of only 8 around the world. In a strikingly beautiful setting, it is an inspiring design.
Time to round up our experiences of Upulo in preparation for a trip to the sister island of Savai’i.
All our best, Lynne and Alan