Post 14 — The Southern Hemisphere

Music is the backbone of the fiafia. Samoans grow up with music in their respective villages. Ukuleles and guitars are popular all over the island and even the little children manage to get something that sounds like music out of them. Once the music starts, the dancing is not far behind.

Larry

Although the weather raged outside, inside the fale it was dry and warm. A haze of pork-infused smoke wafted through the air, along with the occasional whiff of wet dog. The girls gawked at the Samoan men wearing lavalavas, a large rectangle of brightly printed cloth that wrapped around the body and knotted at the waist. The garment was well suited for the climate; it provided a breeze as well as easy access for the outhouses that stretched out over the reef. The women’s version of traditional garb was called a puletasi, which was a short-sleeved dress worn over a lavalava, usually all in the same print that had the unfortunate effect of making the wearer look a little like a large sofa. Long tables ran around the room, covered in banana leaves and set with plates that had been woven from the fronds of the versatile palm tree.

Jean ran her hand over the mat she was sitting on and said to the woman sitting next to her whose name she had forgotten, “Are these all hand-made? I think we have them on the floors of the house.”

“Aren’t they beautiful? They’re so strong, they stand up to rain and sand and everything. And the Samoans make them so fast,” said Sally, who turned out to be a next-door neighbor. “They sell them, along with other hand-crafted things, on Boat Day.”

“What’s Boat Day? asked Jean, but was interrupted as a tall, beautiful Samoan lady with copper-colored skin moved to the center of fale. Her name was Fausaga, and with her long dark hair and a hibiscus behind one ear, she looked as if she had stepped out of a Gauguin painting, although she did have on a top. She began to perform a simple Samoan dance called the siva siva. Her arm movements were graceful and her hips swayed with the music as she moved around the room. Behind the seated guests, Karen tried to imitate the movement by swinging her tiny, four-year old butt as her three older sisters laughed at her. The song melody was simple and the words an incomprehensible jumble of vowels, but the message of welcome was clear.

I‘m sure it was a put up job because within minutes after I was informed that it was an affront to refuse an invitation to dance the siva, Fausaga, the Samoan dancer, stopped in front of me, bowed, and dragged me to the center of the mat where I proceeded to make an idiot of myself. As I tried to copy the movements of her hands and feet, I consoled myself with the idea that the next time it would be someone else up there, and I would be one of the hysterical spectators.

Despite our exhaustion, the fia fia proved to be a fascinating introduction to Samoa. There we sat; six bleary eyed palagis who had eaten scrambled eggs and chicken livers prepared in an electronic oven 35,000 feet above the Earth aboard a trans-Pacific jet liner that very morning; now we sat cross-legged on a hand-woven mat in a Samoan fale with a thatched roof eating foods which had been prepared in an umu (rock oven) in a manner which dates back over a thousand years. If we hadn’t been so exhausted, I’m sure we would have appreciated the contrast even more.

Larry

The eating and music and dancing finally ended, and after profusely thanking Siamau and his family, a very tired Jean and Larry walked toward the cars, their arms laden with coconuts and bananas. Samoan tradition dictated that visitors be sent home with as much food as they could carry, and their hosts had done the village proud. The children had passed out over an hour ago and had been piled unceremoniously in the backs of various cars, stacked like Lincoln Logs. The rain had finally stopped and a cool breeze blew, freshening the air and washing away the clouds.

Overhead, the sky was clear and dark, an inky blackness seldom seen in the Midwest. With little electricity to spill out into space, the heavens above were an overwhelming mass of glittering pinpoints of light that seemed to go on forever. Nothing like a billion stars overhead to make you feel small and about as far from home as you can possibly be.

“Where’s the Big Dipper?” whispered Jean, searching for something familiar.

“We’re in the Southern hemisphere now, honey, so I don’t think you’re going to find it up there,” said Larry, giving her a hug and accidentally poking her with a pineapple. “But that’s the same moon we could see in Michigan, and two years from now when we’re home, we’ll look up at it and remember this amazing night.”

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6 Comments to “Post 14 — The Southern Hemisphere”

  1. You are so good at evoking the feeling of each place you describe, and it takes me back over the decades to re-live the experience in my mind. Thank you!
    Terrific picture of Tautalatasi Tuato’o! He accompanied Dick Danner and me on my first visit to Aunu’u. For an account of that trip, see
    http://ghastings.blogspot.com/2008/08/tales-of-samoa.html

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    • George, I loved your blog about the trip to Aunu’u. And I’m glad you were able to identify Tasi in the lava lava. None of our pictures have captions and sometimes it’s hard to figure out who is whom. Do you have any idea where the Hootens ended up? Holly Hooten (always loved her name!) was a good friend of mine on the island and I would love to find her and catch up.

      Chris

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  2. I knew your mom and dad, as we were in Samoa about the same time. We both came from Detroit, I worked for WTVS, but I did not know your mom and dad at the time. You write very well and your description of your welcoming fia fia brought a smile to my face. I look forward to the next episode.

    Michael Wilhelm
    Washington, DC

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  3. I am astonished at your memory, you could be describing our first few days on the island. I arrived just a few days shy of my 8th birthday and experienced a very similar FiaFia with my dad’s co-workers in the Dept. of taxation. I’m amazed at the details you remember. Thank you, Eve (Jeepers) Fuller

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