I was just a child when my parents decided to move us from the suburban sprawl of Utah to a vastly unfamiliar and foreign new world in the middle of the immense Pacific Ocean. It was a world that provided an abundance of sensory experiences.
In the air was a potpourri of pungent fragrances mixed with the salty, heavy humidity. Tropical fruits tingled your taste buds while exotic vegetables and roots seasoned to perfection with coconut milk were meant to be savored, relished.
The sound of street vendors hawking goods, of domestic animals foraging for food and mothers chastising their children was a steady, calming presence. Late at night the sweet euphonic beat of the waves pounding the reef lilted above the swaying coconut palms as silence enveloped the world and lulled us all to sleep.
No matter how flowery our nouns and pronouns, no matter how descriptive our verbs, adjectives and adverbs, nothing can adequately explain the reverential beauty of Samoa, a country that is not mine by birth, but by solemn oath.
I’ve written many things about Samoa and how it utterly changed my outlook on life. It is not just the setting that altered my conscience but my people – some good, unfortunately some bad. Samoa gives me great depth and profundity, it gives me reason to pause, it stimulates my creativity, feeds my passion and humbles my contempt for the world.
One dark morning after our arrival in Samoa my dad packed up the entire family and drove to downtown Apia. He parked the truck and we clambered out, wondering what brought us here before the sun stretched its legs in preparation to run across the skis, warming our skin as it did so.
“See out there?” he said, pointing across the ocean to the peninsula that stretched out from Mulinu’u. “That’s where the fautasi will come from.”
I strained my eyes to see what he was referring to, only half listening as dad explained the boat races to my brothers and sisters who soaked in dad’s explanation.
I heard them before they came into view. The loud rhythmic chanting of its leader to the accompaniment of a tin drum echoed across harbor; one solitary voice above the din.
And then I saw them rounding the bend from ‘Ele’ele Fou, their prows cresting the waves as each fautasi sliced through and across the water, headed in the general direction of where we stood near the Vaisigano Bridge. The blades of each paddle glistened in the rising sun as their bearers pulled each stroke in unison. It was one of the most magnificent concerted efforts I had ever seen in my young life.
In essence, that is what has come to symbolize Samoa and its efforts to emerge as an Independent Nation. Yes, we have our faults and there are many things about our people and culture that are frustrating and even thwart the long-term stability of the country. But there is no mistaking the singularity of our hearts when it comes to the love that we all share for Samoa and being Samoan. So long as we paddle in unison with a vision of our children prospering on our native soil, Samoa will continue to be undoubtedly Samoan.
My parents had a dream that we, their children, would come to love our culture, our people, that beautiful tropical land, our beginnings. Mission accomplished!