Time in American Samoa right nowAmerican Samoa time right now
SAMOA: IS THIS A LONG PARADISE? - Press release of the New York Times
On first glance, the Luma seems to be an unlikely place to gain glory. It is a beautiful town, with a beautiful landscape, sun-drenched peace and seclusion. It is shabbily and distressingly warm, like many silent, forgetable Third Worlds backwater. Situated on Tau Isle, part of the small Samoan Isles Manuan-Archipelago that comprises the greater, autonomous Western Samoa and non-incorporated American Samoa (see chart on page 50).
This is where 23-year-old young humanist Margaret Mead did her first research about 58 years ago and came by ferry from Pago Pago, the American Samoa capitol, about 70 leagues across the South Pacific. Later on, a hurricane that devastated the country stopped them from questioning village people on the American Samoa part of the city.
But when she departed in April 1926, as she wrote in her diary,'by thoughts of ethnic gain'', she had gathered materials that would soon give her the kind of glory and figure that no other humanist had ever attained. I visited Tau last months as a visitor of Tufele - head of the Pola Imu Pola, and knowing Margaret Mead's now famous stay on the islands I found many continuity with her time.
He was the villager who welcomed Margaret Mead and saved her. Tufele F. Li'a, his replacement and Lieutenant Governor of American Samoa, has been kind enough to help me see Tau. Today, as then, the people of the villages are organised in large, large communities, each led by chieftains whose powers and reputations are high.
Mrs. Ifetu, who is living with her kids, grandsons and relatives in a roomy shingle trellis decorated with a wall hanging of'The Last Supper', recalled Margaret Mead very well and spoke of her as one who enjoyed staying here and observing the beauties of these isles. Whenetu said she had escorted Dr. Mead to Pago Pago so that she could be given identical tattoos, a hurtful introduction to an element of the Samoan rite that is more frequent in men than in the case of a woman who lasted two whole nights and wore it with great encouragement.
But, despite this attachment to the past, Tau has evolved a lot since Margaret Mead's work. Dr. Mead picked this place because of its seclusion. As she wrote in a note to Franz Boas, her Columbia University lecturer, explaining that she needed a place "not affected by American goods and American visitors" where she could see a characteristic image of Samoa's "original culture" - apparently not an easily accomplished undertaking even in the 1920s.
'' Although the isle had been fully reconverted to Christianity about 80 years before its advent, it was still relatively unaffected by the West's people. Even the school is Samoan," she said. Tau, she explained, seemed to be the most primal and "untouched" area in the whole Samoan Islands.
Today, the American goods and westerly routes that reached the remainder of Samoa as early as 1925 - and from Dr. Mead's point of views spoil - have also flooded dew. People on the island receive a constant amount of American TV programmes, including advertising. Most of the few remaining open Samoan homes are used for ceremony rather than for housing.
Each of the 26 large Luma households has large American fridges and cookers made from the revenue from the game. One Samoan works abroad for each of the 2,000 inhabitants of Tau's village, either through military duty in the US army or through work in American states such as Hawaii and California, and sends back funds.
Many of the village inhabitants, probably one of eight, have become US nationals after the establishment of residence in the states. The Manua Islands are shabby, sluggish, sluggish, sun-drenched and apparently isolated in the vastness of the South Pacific, not only affected by the West's influence, they are ingrained.
Sitting at a dinner in the large, elongated Samoan guest lodge near Tufle's home. There are at least two main reason why the changes that have befallen Samoa are of particular interest. Firstly, the Samoan Islands has recently become the centre of an human rights discussion in which Margaret Mead, who passed away in 1978, and Derek Freeman, retired anthropologist at the Australian National University in Canberra, were involved.
Dr. Mead's classical novel "Coming of Ages in Samoa ", released in 1928, made a profound impact in the West on Samoa as a place of soft primitivity. Dr. Mead described the people of Manua, especially teenage women, as free from many of the tension and fears that plague the people of technologically more developed and more complex communities, and pleaded for environmental domination, the importance of cultured care over ecology as the defining element of mankind's evolution.
Dr. Freeman, who has been studying and visiting Samoa for the last 43 years, wrote in his novel "Margaret Mead and Samoa": In her account of Samoa, Dr. Mead was not only deceptive, but her work has no relevance.
Dr. Freeman claims that Samoa has a fixed and hierarchic population. Dr. Freeman portraits an ultra-puritan company that looks out for the maidenhood of unwed women and is so soft and casual that it has some of the highest levels of violent crime and violent crime in the whole wide underworld. Dr. Freeman's assault on Margaret Mead has triggered controversies in the anthropology community, drawing back publicity to Samoa as a kind of vivid lab of man.
But while I had the Mead Freeman dispute in my minds when I visited West Samoa and American Samoa, my interest in the island began to turn to a second theme that went beyond the humanist debate: the inconsistence between the contemporary and Samoa's stubborn and appealing images, especially in the West, as a kind of terrestrial heaven.
Samoa's helter-skelter, challenging modernisation processes have their cost as a kind of final storage for a lasting Westan dream of a place where man and man and untouched natural beauty coexisted in complete balance. Small-sized, just below the Ecuadorian Sea, about 800 leagues to the north-east of Auckland, New Zealand and Samoa, like much of the South Pacific, represents a profound longing for Eden in the mind of man.
The remote South Pacific islets seem to be an ideals of softness, lightness and fruitfulness since the emergence of Europe's exploitation and growth in the South Pacific more than 200 years ago. This picture of paradise is clearly visible in the texts of the patrons who preceeded Dr. Mead, including Henry Adams, the English writer Rupert Brooke and Robert Louis Stevenson, who lived the last four years of his entire career on a hill with a view of Apia, the capitol of West Samoa.
Adams, who in 1890 and 1891 lived in Samoa for almost three month and described the Samoans as the luckiest, simplest and smiling person I have ever seen, thought that the attacks of the West, the missionsaries, the financial industry, the merchant farmers were already destroying Samoa. Another generation," he said in a note, "will be leaving behind the most beautiful part of the Samoan state.
'' In order to be sure, the picture of paradise in some authors - Hermann Melville is an example - was mitigated by simultaneous pictures of the dark, by an consciousness of deception and ferocity in savage South Seas communities. However, even a nascent author like Melville described the island as a land of lightness and abundance.
Likewise, Rupert Brooke, perhaps the most enchanting visitor to Samoa, found the South Sea isles in general and Samoa in particular as'these forgot - and disintegrating - parts of heaven''. SAMOOA was probably never as calm and joyful as Brooke and others.
Adams and Stevenson were certainly conscious of the island's politics and the incidence of wars. However, the books and testimonies of some Samoans suggest that the Samoa anthropology lab was once at least easier, less torn apart by societal tension, less overloaded by occidental artefacts than it is today.
Samoa, and especially West Samoa, is now a very restless place, beset by most of the problems of emerging world. Although the isles are lazy and crude by the west, rural ladies are spending their time waving hammocks of leafy palms and dryin' coir flesh in the outdoors. However, the Samoan and Samoan fight not only for economical and politic well-being, but also for their identities.
Inefficiently, discouraged, neither contemporary nor conventional, Samoa's vulnerable societies have been tarnished by the challenge to their conventional authorities and other interventions in European civilization. Today more Samoans are living abroad than in Samoa itself, which is a powerful indicator that their own people find their lives better elsewhere, regardless of their ethnic attraction. Generally, there is a higher level of tension in West Samoa than in much smaller, heavily subsidised American Samoa.
West Samoa has the highest youth suicide rates in the whole wide range of countries, a high level of criminality, a glaring lack of commerce, a lack of politics and a curious lack of historical self-sufficiency. Last year alone, West Samoa had four administrations. After a long and fierce discussion, in March Parliament adopted an economy plan that reduced public expenditure and increased taxation for the 157,000 inhabitants of the island, which appeared to be compatible with the terms of a new lending agreement currently being brokered by the International Monetary Fund for the treasure chamber of West Samoa.
It was in the 19th and 19th centuries, when Margaret Mead came here and was launched into the twentieth centuries within a few decades," says Felix Wendt, Dekan of the University of the South Pacific School of Agriculture in Western Samoa and grandchild of a German who came to the island in the last hundred years, marrying and staying with a Samoan.
The Samoans of 1925 and 1945 are very different by promoting education," says Dr. Wendt, "and the distinction between Samoa of 1945 and today is even greater. Old bannyan bushes line the cobbled street crossing Mount Vailima in the centre of West Samoa's Upolu Islands, and the descend to Apia provides one of those vistas that are the material of South Pacific romance.
Nearly all 12 Samoan archipelagos, which have been subdivided into two distinct realms since the beginning of this centuries, share the pristine beauties and abundance of this area. This smaller area, made up of seven small isles and about 32,000 inhabitants, has been ruled by the United States since 1900 and is an unregistered American area under the Ministry of the Interior's jurisdictions, which grants an average of more than $20 million in a year.
West Samoa, once a Germany settlement and then a New Zealand trustee area of the League of Nations, became the first of the South Pacific states to become an autonomous nation in 1962. The Samoans say that there are practically no intercultural distinctions between the two Samoans. As it is bigger and self-sufficient, for most Samoans Western Samoa is a representative of their nationalities on the world's Council.
Samoa, a brief leap across the Pacific in the Orient, has been purely religious for about 50 years, after John Williams, an envoy of the London Missionary Society and Protestant, came to Upolu in I830. On Sunday mornings one of the most noteworthy attractions of both Samoans comes.
School girls dressed in dark coats and blankets, ladies in floral gowns and big caps, young men in tights and crotches, men in west coats over Lvalavas, the long Samoan apron. It is almost obligatory to attend the churches in many towns, and the villagers choose which confession their population belongs to.
Usual powers can conflict with the contemporary unconstitutional safeguards of religious liberty in Western Samoa. On one occasion, a coach company called Tariu Tuivaiti from the town of Falelatai in Upolu declined to visit the school. Tuivaiti employed one of the four lawyers working as lawyers in West Samoa when the villagers imposed a fine on him and denied to let the locals join him on his coaches.
Tariu Tuivaiti was favoured by the judiciary, and the chieftains had to foot the bill. Then Tariu Tuivaiti's home, probably by the people of the villages, was burnt down in retribution for leaving the Samoan Way or Samoan Way. Conflicts between the West's constitution and the country leaders' tradition of rule reveal the often gruelling transitions of the island to the modern age.
We are in a very traumatic phase," says Albert Wendt, Felix' brothers, writer of several Samoan writings, among them "Sons for the Return", and literary prof. at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. Albert Wendt points to a number of frequently debated issues in Western Samoa, each of which reflects a difficulty in adapting to the challenges of the contemporary age.
From an economic point of view, for example, the small island has forfeited much of the self-sufficiency that was the miracle of former Europeans due to the surplus of coconut, tartar, fruit of bread and seafood. In the years of Germany's domination, the Samoans' reluctance to work in external plantages resulted in the importation of workers from China by the colonising powers, some of whom are now shop-owners in Apia.
Today, Westsamoa is an importer of consumables, food processing, machines and heating oils for electric energy, which account for about sevenfold the value of such export products as coppra, psyllium, taro and banana. Import habits on the island have resulted in some odd flavours and dependences. Although the Samoan people are in the middle of the sea, they mostly favour tinned seafood over freshwater cuisine.
The Statistical Office of Western Samoa reports that overall exports trebled from around $23 million to $70 million between 1976 and 1981. In Western Samoa, too, a peculiar social security mindset has emerged that is not due to state alms, but to the large number of Samoans living abroad and sending money transfers home.
Dissemination of missionary education, coupled with an extensive public school system, has left Samoa with one of the best trained groups in the Third Worl. In 1981 no less than 52,000 of the 157,000 inhabitants of Western Samoa - or a third of the total head count - were registered in elementary, middle and high school.
However, many Samoans claim that the business world just doesn't allow these young people to get a good job after they graduate. They have an unemployment group of perhaps 30 per cent of alumni, just because they were trained outside the local economy," says Pito Faalogo, journalist for the Samoa Times of the Week.
So there is pressure and tension as Samoa goes through the process of transformation from a sub-sistence state to a new state. Mr President, the number of deaths in Western Samoa is a mysterious phenomenon. In recent years, the number of deaths in Western Samoa has increased dramatically.
Of the youths between the ages of 15 and 24, the highest number of suicides in the whole wide globe. Young Samoans' great migration to New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii not only reflected the appeal of bigger places, which are wealthier than the small, tranquil Samoa, but also made those who remain in the land felt abandoned and less appreciated by their family than those who make periodic referrals from abroad.
My statement for these murders is that the Samoan person is a very controversial, a very logical one," notes Le Tagaloa Pita, a three-year-old member of parliament and a high ranking head of the town. But the Samoan can also become sudden acts of violence; he can be fleeting, and in this ephemerality he can act beyond what he really wants.
'' The Tagaloa Pita, a Burly man brought up in the United States, says Suicide has always been a part of Samoan civilization, but agrees that Paraquat has called for the strong rise in deaths in recent years. If you only had a bit of cable or an abyss to drop off, you had time to think.
At the outskirts of Apia, opposite a favourite swimming area, there is a round, air-conditioned building with glazed partitions and a vaulted ceiling, an example of Samoan contemporary yet independent architectural style, representing the way in which the reign of the heads of the villages was converted into a state.
Named Samoan for a Fono Chieftain gathering, the edifice is home to the 47-strong parliament of a country that has all the form and substance of a contemporary democratic system, coupled with a large amount of dictatorialism. It is not a general election, but is chosen by a few l6,000 chieftains or Matthew.
The Tagaloa Pita uses the term "matai-ism" to describe Samoa's system of politics, which, he himself admits, has been damaged by parliamentary divisions and widely spread accusations of corruption by winning canditators. As Le Tagaloa Pita says, the Samoa system represents the strength of Samoa's traditionally large family system.
"In Samoa," he says, "everyone belongs." The chieftains, most of whom are males, are selected by members of their large families and are in charge of a variety of rural matters, as well as the allocation of lands and residential areas to the people. The American Samoa, which shares its legacy and tradition with the western island independence, saw the Matai's might watered down by an American-style two-home, democratic law, with the lower chamber voted in by general election and the upper chamber exclusively by country cadres.
Yet it is often the chieftains in the towns of both samoas who set the pace of their lives. For example, in the town of Tau, living is largely governed by religion. On Sunday I went to visit, my native Pola Imu, an American national living in California for several years before she returned to Samoa, said that he asked me for his minister's approval to show me the Isle instead of going to Mass.
The whole town gathers in the chancel three nights a weeks for rehearsal, and in case of non-appearance a penalty may be fined by the mayor. The villagers patrolled until the early mornings to make sure no one hurt them - although the evening I was in Tau, a group of chieftains showed up at the apothecary around 12 o'clock and looked at the doctor's video of the Second World War, Tora Tora Tora, before returning to their itineraries.
Imu Pola says: "The 6 pm clock bells mark the time for all men to show their respects to God and to thank God for his safety during the time. In American Samoa there are rallies, especially among the chieftains, that promote a more strict observance of the Samoan type of Samoan-Asia.
Pola Imu is not a proponent of this move, but says that it would include some of the icons and ceremonies of Samoan living, such as the rejection of American-style marriages. Some in the town say it would mean less government interference in Pago Pago and less respect for the constitution.
Thus, last year the government refused a call by the town of Tau to exile people who wanted to join a new Christian congregation instead of staying in the dominating Christian community of Samoa. Long ago the leaders of the villages had established that the congregation was the only faith establishment in Tau, and the Pago Pago ruling to maintain the right to worship was a clear defeat of their once-eminence.
The chieftains have a greater say in Western Samoa, as the single-chamber legislation is all theirs. But some Samoans say that because of the chief's powers, Western Samoa is plagued by corruption or, as some Samoans like to call it, the necessary sharing of presents between eligible chieftains and nominees for re-elect.
If you want to be voted in, you have to farm the chieftains, give them beers, smokes and money," said a member of parliament about a cup of local beers. In fact, it was the accusation of corruption, coupled with disagreements over the state finances, that resulted in a swift change of government in Western Samoa last year.
It is the issue we are all discussing," Faalago of the Samoa Times said, pointing to the Samoa corrupt state. And it is partly due to the move from a system of community leaders to a system of government. One of the solutions cited by Faalogo and others would be a system of general electoral law, although such a modification would probably be rejected by the tribes.
If you have 5,000 inhabitants in a town and 400 chieftains, it is much simpler to buy the 400 chieftains than the 5,000 people," he said. He added that serious tension will arise in Samoa, especially between young and old, if the leaders try to keep the old ways. It' the kind of riot some folks are going through right now.
'' American Samoa native John Kneubuhl, a Yale alumnus who recently came home from a Hollywood screenwriting writing job to lead a Samoan study programme at the city' s universities, talked about the changes that have taken place on the island in recent years. There are only a few of us left," says Kneubuhl, a slim, grey man of 63 years old, "we are part of the Samoan family that has passed through the horribly intensive transitional period.
'' He says that Samoa was largely insulated until the end of the Second World War, watched over by quotas of American marines. He compares his childhood recollections with modern Samoan living and says: "Our connections to the elementary things were tighter. Each Saturday mornings all the wives in the town where I was raised brought out the bone of their beloved deceased.
'' As Kneubuhl says, Margaret Mead's account of Manua's libertarian-sexuality corresponds to his own recollections. One of the miracles of the day was the relationship between the two. We kids were sitting on the edge of the grown-up world," he says.
'' The other Samoans in a discussion largely triggered by Derek Freeman's criticism of Dr. Mead claim that the Samoan, who is familiar with the essence of living, is more a historic legend than a world. Also many Samoans seem to be insulted by Dr. Mead's findings because they believe that they have presented them as proactive beings who are not dominated by rules of sex or behavior.
If you believe that," says Aiono Fanaafi, Vice Chancellor of the University of Samoa, "then you believe that we are either animal or deity. Margaret Mead was the heiress of the whole of the South Seas' romance myth," says the writer Albert Wendt. It is a tough one here," he added, "just to live, even if it may seem like a light living for those who come from America or Europe and see the sun, the coconut, the breadfruit so on.
Long before Margaret Mead set an example with her Samoan insights, the importance of conservation and care or inheritance and the world around her for the evolution of man's psychs. But as important as it is, something will stay unsolvable on Samoa, largely because Margaret Mead and Derek Freeman in Samoa were living and working in different places and in different epochs.
Anyway, the anthropologic dispute, while drawing renewed publicity to Samoa, does not include what seemed to me in 1983, almost 60 years after Dr. Mead's first trip, the nature of the place, its difficulty adapting to the contemporary age. Rupert Brooke joyfully spoke in one of his correspondence to England about the original quality of a dancing on board the boat, on which he sailed by Samoan men and topless sisters.
'' There were no old, harsh grouchy screams in me while I was in Samoa, and I don't think it's because I'm less romantically than Brooke or less prone to looking for the glorious element. All of us want to live the original, and much of our love of the South Pacific stems from the hopes that man exists somewhere in harmony and cosiness with the essence of living, where, as Adams put it, a "general nudity" appears so naturally that it blends with a feeling of decency.
'' But they don't have them in Samoa. But the whole globe has become too fashionable.