Lefaga

Fifty Memories of Samoa for Fifty Years of Independence

Flags flying in Samoa for Independence. Photo by Leone Samu.

Today Samoa marks the 50th anniversary of achieving Independence. For me, the story of Samoa’s last fifty years is also my family’s story because my parents were married in 1962 and they celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary this year as well. My parents chose to stay in Samoa and raise their six children there, even though the lure of distant shores was strong. My mother came to Samoa from New Zealand, as a very new, very ‘refined’, very beautiful young bride ( wearing white gloves no less), and thankfully for us children – never left. One of the greatest blessings in my life, has been the privilege of being born and raised in Samoa – by parents who have always worked hard to strengthen their marriage and value their family above all else. I pay humble tribute to the land that nurtured me and to the parents who love me. Thank you. Here’s fifty of my favorite memories of growing up in Samoa. There’s a million more for each one listed and of course, each of you will have your own unique list!

1. Weekends at Lefaga, staying in a house on the beach. Spending the day in the water (after doing all the assigned chores of course), showering at a rusty tap by the mangrove swamp, playing cards by kerosene lantern, going to sleep with the sound of the ocean (and mosquitoes), waking up and doing it all over again.
2. Reading Narnia books while sitting in a mango tree. Sticky sweet juice on your face. Hoping nobody finds you and gives you chores to do.
3. Getting dropped off at the Nelson Public library for the entire afternoon – the only place I was allowed to go all by myself when I was eight years old – and not worrying that a psycho child abductor was going to grab me. Really nice librarians bending the rules and allowing me to borrow twenty books at a time.
4. Hot German buns. Deliciously sweet, caramalized coconut insides.
5. Classroom monitor duty, sweeping classrooms with a salu-lima. Trying to tell naughty boys what to do because I’m just boss like that. (and because I was class captain. Don’t mess with my power…)
6. Finding excuses not to play softball. Or netball. Because everybody shrieks with laughter when you make a mistake. And yells at you when you’re awful. Samoa never believed in ‘every child’s a winner on the field’. If you sucked, everyone told you.
7. Glutting yourself on whatever fruit is in season. Making a basket with your shirt and filling it with mandarins. Or passionfruit. Or crab apples. Running really fast to escape the security guard. ( We lived on an agriculture Univ campus and students had fruit orchards everywhere which we weren’t really supposed to be helping ourselves to.)
8. Hoping the neighbor’s dog wouldn’t bite you.
9. Hoping your own dog wouldnt bite you.
10. Picking frangipani so we could make ula for Culture Day at school. Sap sticky fingers, sore from all the careless needle pricks.
12.  Sunday Toona’i at my grandfather’s house. Getting to eat all the food that our palagi mum refused to make. Chop suey. Oka. Pisupo floating in oil. Taro.
13. Saturday morning cartoons at my grandfather’s house because we didn’t own a television and he got TV stations from American Samoa.
14. Eating red baked lopa seeds. Making a mess with all the shells everywhere.
15. Eating sugar cane. Making a mess with all the spit up, chewed out mouthfuls.
16. Eating lolesaiga. Making a mess with all the leftover seeds. Our mum getting mad everytime she stepped on one by accident.
17. The whole school practicing for hours in the sun everyday so we get our sasa JUST RIGHT.
18. Being in the B-group for Samoan language with all the palagi kids because we never spoke Samoan at home, because my Dad believed that English was the language that would take us places. At the time – he was right.
19. School detention for being late too many times. Mean prefects making you weed vaofefe prickle grass in the blazing hot sun. While they stood in the shade and watched. (So unlike Daniel who cuts grass BESIDE you when you’re suffering through your punishment.)
20. Traipsing around after my big brother while he catches eels at Lefaga, using an empty plastic bottle, suctioning them out of their hiding places in the lava rock pools.
21. Practicing our lines for White Sunday. ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.’ Papa getting annoyed because the Mormon kids ( us) were really bad at memorizing scriptures.
22. Driving real slow everywhere. Stopping to allow really big pigs to meander across the road.
23. Swimming at Vaiala at least three nights a week. My Dad throwing me up in the air, silver spray scatters.
24. Ice-cream cones after swimming. Sitting in the back of the pickup truck, wet and wrapped in a towel, feeling like life cant get any more perfect than this.
25. Hot pani popo from Schwenke’s bread shop. Rich, creamy and delicious. The tall cute boy serving behind the counter who I’m SURE had a crush on me because he always gave me EXTRA coconut buns. (yeah, you know it. Twelve years old and getting free coconut buns with my smile. Woo hoo!)
26. The heady fragrance of golden mosooi flowers.
27. Dancing the siva all the time. Getting called on to be the taupou every time my Dad had some kind of village matai event because the REAL taupou of the village ( aka, my big sister) was at school overseas. Somebody needs a taualuga? No problem, ‘Lani, go siva.’
28. The dreaded report cards. The parent’s responses, ‘You only came first in THREE subjects? What about the other two?’
29. The high school socials. Held in broad daylight. Everybody dressed up with no place to go. Dancing in the school hall with sweat trickling down your back and teachers breathing over your shoulder.
30. Taking empty Coke bottles to the store so we could buy PK chewing gum.
31. Eating eleni and hating it. Even when its cooked a million different ways by our Martha Stewart mother. Eleni fishballs with sweet and sour sauce. Eleni ‘meat’ loaf. Eleni baked with aubergines. Yuck.
32. Three hours of church every Sunday. My little sister giving her Sunday school teacher a heart attack, telling her ‘I’ve decided to be an aethist.’
33. Evening lotu prayers at Papa’s house. Every night. The roads closing. All traffic forbidden from six to seven because everybody is supposed to be at home. Singing hymns. Praying. Reading scriptures. Or else you get fasi’d.
34. Visiting Great-Aunty Ita who named me, who tells everyone, all the time,  that I’m going to do amazing things  – become a nun, marry a pastor, or be a lawyer.
35. Visiting Great-aunty Ita who named me, always without my mother, because Aunty Ita called her a ‘daughter of pigs’.
36. Reciting the Lord’s Prayer at school. Every morning. Every day.
37. Working in our mum’s shop every day after school . All day Saturday. Getting paid one tala for our troubles. Rushing to blow it all on lolesaiga. Or a fizzy Fanta in a glass bottle.
38. Reading books while we’re supposed to be working in our mum’s bookshop every day. Missing it when a stealer grabs three of Mum’s silk-screened t.shirts and runs out the door. Getting told off by our mum for being slack shop security.
39. Being scared whenever Evaliga came into the shop in her colorful assortment of draped fabrics and a red turban on her head. She would sit and read a dictionary for half an hour, muttering to herself while we wondered what we would do if she decided to take it. Fight Evaliga? Hell no. Breathing a sigh of relief every time she left the store. Without the dictionary.
40. Buying all the coconuts from Maria – the little girl who lugs a basket of them into the store everyday. Making her sit down. Giving her some snacks. Wishing you could pay for her school fees. And then regretting it a little bit when she comes back the next day with another basket AND three friends who all have baskets of cabbages to sell as well.
41. Being a ‘young adult’ and going dancing at the clubs – the Playground, Margreyta’s, Evening Shades and even the Mt Vaea. Our favorite DJ, Corey Keil who always played the bestest sounds.
42. Having your boyfriend get hit on by very boisterous, very bodacious fa’afafine. Hoping he’s not interested because daayuuum how can you compete with such splendors of fashion and dance?!
43. Planting a massive vegetable garden with your brothers and sisters. The nuisance of having to weed and water it everyday. The wonder of eating fresh golden corn on the cob once everything actually grew.
44. Buying a plate of BBQ from a roadside stand. Chargrilled mamoe, a chicken leg that seeps with redness, saka fa’i, and a dollop of potato salad. Loving it.
45. Peka ( our babysitter/Nanny, our other mother) crying those rare times our mother smacked us with the wooden spoon. Telling our mother she was never coming back to work again.
46. Feeding chickens and collecting eggs every day. Being scared of the psycho rooster that charges at people, wanting to scratch your eyes out.
47. My Dad doing the dishes with the lights turned off because he didn’t want anybody to see him from the road. Because ‘it’s very shameful for all of you if people see the matai of the family is washing the dishes.
48. My Mum lending her creative flair and fierce drive and determination to community service groups. Organizing stunning fundraising events for the local IHC. Dressing up as Zorro to ‘kidnap’ the bank manager in broad daylight and hold him for ransom. Wearing a fluffy skirt to dance the cancan on stage with eight other women. Lip synching ‘Jump for my love’. Whatever my mum does – she does with style.
49. Making my little brother push me around in the wheelbarrow while I give orders to the little sisters as we make scarecrows to put in the yard. Which never scared any birds. (Nobody told the Samoan birds they were supposed to be scared of raggedy clothes hung on sticks.)
50. Waking up early on Independence morning to go watch our big brother and sister march in the parade. Eating homemade cinnamon rolls and drinking Milo in the darkness while we wait for it to start. Getting our ears and hearts blown to bits by the 21 cannon salute as another year of Samoa’s Independence begins.
  Happy and blessed Fiftieth Anniversary Samoa – and my Mum and Dad.

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