Friday, August 7, 2009

Chief Tupu Fa’a Samoa

In 1975 I had an unexpected opportunity to move to and live in Samoa. As a child growing up in Hawaii, Samoa was like the most exotic place. My childhood friends and I would sometimes imagine what it would be like to live in Hawaii before the white man came. Much of Hawaii is still pristine nature and you can easily look into valleys and imagine how the Hawaiians lived. There were a lot of rivers that had remnant taro patches and many still exist. Once you hike into a valley and go around a curve all civilization falls away. You suddenly are hunting and exploring as a Hawaiian.

The thing was, in 1975 I was married to a girl from California and had a baby boy not yet one. Ryan celebrated, Samoan style, his first birthday in Apia on Upolu.

We were managing the Steve Percival trading Company in Apia as Steve moved to New Zealand to expand his trading company there.

Our residence was in Steve and Greta’s home above their office which we shared with his son Grant, a pilot for Polynesian Air. But we felt a little need for privacy as we got our bearings and decided to have a look around.

We were introduced to Chief Tupu who was then 82 years old. He had a large plantation just on the outskirts of Apia, maybe a 10 minute drive. His land as all land in all of Polynesia is, from ocean to the top of the mountain. A slice of land that may follow a natural ridge on one side and another ridge on the other side.

In the lower section of his estate he resided with his 8 wives. Each with their own Fale (House). Also on this property were other Fales for some of his children. One Fale was a Palonge House (White mans house). Traditional. One of his children had married a Kiwi and they had lived there for some years before moving to New Zealand. Now the house was vacant.

We visited for a while and then suddenly he says to me, Move in. I want you to stay here. Just like that.

So we did.

I would like to further describe his property to you. Just off the highway and along a road that ran along his property line, you come upon an open grass area with traditional fales, set comfortably here and there on a slightly rising incline toward the mountains. Patches of banana trees. Breadfruit trees. Coconut trees, Papaya, mango, and Plumeria, Hibiscus. But the thing that subtly worked its way into your feelings and thoughts was how nice and comfortably manicured it all was. Clean. Neat. And yet huge. No palm prones laying around. No fallen leaves or flowers or any clutter. Just clean and neat open spaces with the fales here and there and all the trees spaced out. As you took in all of this you could see that it actually was very well thought out.

So we moved into this Palonge house and lived on Chief Tupu’s property. After moving in the very first day we were acclimated to Samoan life style as evening settled. Just at dusk, Chief Tupus grand children gathered and walked around the property, singing as they went. Samoans sing while doing anything except playing rugby. We glanced out the screened windows to see them going systematically through the estate, lighting all the coconut hanging cups with coconut oil and wicks. All these hung from the eaves of the fales including ours. Intoxicating. Heavenly. The illumination of these flickering coconut perfumed lamps brought to a crescendo all of my childhood dreams of Polynesia.

There were evenings there that under a clear moon full sky you felt as peaceful as any you could ever imagine.

My work required me to wake very early and pick up our Samoans at like 4:15 AM and drive them to our commercial accounts to clean. We would finish and I picked them up and brought them to our business.

I would go back to our house on Chief Tupus estate, take a shower eat breakfast which was still quiet early and take Gwen to our office. But as I was generally taking my shower, I would hear outside the grandchildren of Chief Tupu singing. I looked outside to see them moving through the estate and carrying baskets. When I got out of my shower Gwen would show me what they had been collecting. Every morning we had a basket of fruit and as I saw, looking around, similar baskets at each fale.

This was our life in Samoa at Chief Tupus estate with his 8 wives, 26 children and over 200 grandchildren. Talofa!

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