Saturday, January 2, 2016

Saying “Talofa” in Pago Pago, Tutuila, American Samoa

After nearly a week at sea, the breathtaking entry to Pago Pago, the port of American Samoa, makes me want to jump overboard and swim to shore. The sun glistens through the light marine layer on the green mountains, which resemble the paws of a giant creature floating on the water. In the wide expanse of the lagoon, white-capped waves break, betraying the reef and volcanic rock below. Their choppy rhythm matches my excitement.

Pago Pago [pronounced Pango Pango], located halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, represents a balance between traditional Polynesian culture and the American influence from the US occupation. Tuna fishing and canneries, along with tourism, comprise much of the Samoan economy, which has been diminished somewhat by hurricanes and tsunamis in the past decade. For those who grew up with Charlies the Starkist tuna, you will be happy to know a statue of him exists outside one of the canneries here.

Samoan culture emphasizes family and community. In the villages throughout the island, you can see the open-aired bungalows and fale, where the village members gather every evening. 

In one such fale I had the honor of participating in a traditional kava ceremony hosted by the village chief and his princess daughter. 

Interestingly, Samoan homes have the ancestral graves, decorated with flowers and offerings, located in the front of the house. 

In addition to the abundance of tropical flowers and fruit are the numerous roaming feral dogs and chickens. The road around the island has never-ending picturesque views of palm trees, endless surf, and beaches, where the black sand is a mix of lava, coral, and, unfortunately, too much trash.

The true beauty of the island, though, comes through in the friendly Samoans who make you feel like you are visiting a friend’s home.