Pago Pago (pronounced: Pango Pango )
The U.S. Territory of Samoa (pronounced: SAMoa) is part of the Samoan islands. There are two places called Samoa. Pago Pago is the capital of American Samoa. Around 65,0000 people, mostly urban dwellers call this island home. It is a very industrial looking town, a supply town for the U.S. Navy, and has an airport as well. Traditional ways of the native Samoans are kept, yet from the tour we took, it was evident that the McDonald hamburger culture has taken over parts of their lives. Physically, Samoans are on the heavy side; 94% are overweight. Yes, they know it, no need to tell them, but they find it difficult to eat in the old ways. Modern foods add pounds to their physique that are very, very difficult to eliminate.
Our tour circumvented most of the island and we drove past villages, some of which still showed the heavy devastation caused by the infamous 2009 tsunami, which created so much havoc in the region. Clean up efforts are commendable, yet some buildings were just too far gone to resurrect them. Nature helps by growing over the scars with a greenery quilt.
Village life in American Samoa is based on the old ways. It is set up the way Samoan culture was run for centuries. Each village has a chief, a few villages combine to have a regional chief who consults with the local chiefs. To be able to run for any governmental office one has to be a chief. Chiefs are definitely an elite group in Samoan thinking. We met one of those chiefs, who offered his house as a tourist set up to show us some of their customs. Yes, it was touristy, yet how else do you get an insight into some of the culture of a different civilization? From among our group two men were selected to serve as temporary ceremonial chiefs. Each one was given an assigned seating spot on a woven mat and was decorated with a lei. All other Samoans sat on the floor facing toward or away from the main chiefs position. Kava was served. This is a strong drink that numbs the nervous system. Drink a few cups of that and your tongue gets numb and your heart rate slows way down. I am told it was also given as a drink to farm workers so that their aching muscles from the exhausting work in steamy fields were not felt. It sure has a calming effect, I know, I drank some of the brew.
Next Samoan ladies in long, down to their feet dresses, danced a slow welcome dance, in which their hand movements told a story. Naturally, those stories were lost on us who just visited. The dance was slow and graciously accompanied with a slow song in their native tongue. It was important to sing, dance, even clap in perfect synchronization to show that all attending are on the same wave length or in perfect harmony. To be of 'one' mind was the purpose of this meeting. Only being in the mental state of 'one' mind could differences be eliminated or conflicts be solved. I wish our U.S. Senate or politicians could adopt this practice. Just imagine the speaker of the house making sure that each one of the representatives sees a problem with 'one' mind. Yes, all can be discussed, but the main focus, the collective view, the harmony of the whole must always be present. Songs, dance and body language are a good guideline for all to see or judge if the man who speaks is in tune with the issue at hand. The whole ceremony is a down to earth affair, natural as can be. One sits on the ground, no fancy furniture. Each speaker is given a stick to hold so all know who may talk and who needs to listen. The chief is given his carved long stick to show to all he is in charge.
The whole affair plays itself out in a fale, an open air large room. The floor of the fale
e is plain, the roof is held up by evenly spaced columns. Many houses have fales in their front yard, now being used for large family gatherings.. Samoans are a family oriented people. The large extended family is part of their daily life. In years past it was common for all to live in one large open room. Parents, grandparents, all the children and their wives, all grand or even great grandchildren, lived, slept and ate in one large room. If a woman married, she married into this family and her demeanor would be watched and judged by her new family. Today, Samoans have western type housing for private affairs yet the fale rooms for cooking, eating and family meetings are still wide open for mutual access by the extended family. There is very little privacy in these fale rooms.
Yes we had a tourist tour, but as you can see, I learned a lot by being part of a staged gathering of the Samoans.