Our grandson, Landon requested some information about American Samoa (Island of Tutuila) for a school report. I thought the information I sent might be of interest to those following our blog…
Facts about American Samoa….
There are four major islands that make up the country of American Samoa.The largest is Tutuila. It is approximately 21 miles long and 3 miles wide. The other islands are Ta’u and Ofu and Aunu’u. Ta’u and Ofu are about 30 minutes away by plane. Aunu’u is about a mile off the South East end of Tutuila.
|Island of Aunu'u|
American Samoa is a territory of the United States, but they have their own government. They don’t vote for the president of the United States, but they do have Senators and people in the House of Representatives.
· Postage is the same as in the United States. It cost the same to mail a letter to American Samoa as it does to mail one in the States.
· Estimated population is 50,000 – 65,000
· The weather is very mild – averaging 85 degrees year round. But with the heat index it feels like 100 to 105 degrees. In May – September there are trade winds, and it seems a little cooler – even though the temperature does not vary more than about 5 degree. It rains almost every day, but the rain is warm. It can be sunny, with no clouds in the sky and 15 minutes later it is raining so hard you can’t see 20 feet ahead of you. But just as quickly as it starts it stops and the sun comes out again. It is not unusual to see people riding in the backs of trucks in a downpour of rain. They are soaking wet, but it doesn’t seem to bother them. Because Samoa is in the Southern Hemisphere the winter months are just opposite of the USA. December is very hot and humid. November - March is the hurricane (they call them cyclones here) season. They also experience earthquakes and with it come the threat of a tsunami. Last December a cyclone hit Western Samoa, 40 miles away, but it didn’t hit Tutuila. However, in 2009 there was a terrible tsunami that did major damage to the island. There is still evidence of the devastation from it today.
|Boat to the Island of Aunu'u|
· There is one main road that winds along the south side of the island. It does not go all around the island. On the North side of the island high mountains rise straight up from the ocean. There isn’t room to build a highway on that side of the island. Other than the main road most are single lane and full of potholes. Many are just dirt and all the roads – paved or dirt VERY BUMPY… and full of potholes.
· The maximum speed limit is 25 MPH. All the school zones are 20 MPH, day and night, even when school is not in session.
· There is one national park which comprises the mountains along the North side of the island. There are a few hiking trails, but the park is not as developed as most of the national parks in the States. The other islands have areas designated as part of the national park – but it is considered as ‘one’ park even though it is located on three islands.
|National Park in American Samoa|
· The island is very green with dense foliage and there are many varieties of flowers. The national flower is the Teuila (a red ginger flower).
· The island is divided into villages. Pago Pago (pronounced pongo) is the only town in American Samoa. It is kind of like the capitol - where the government offices, governor’s house, post office and the market is located. The harbor headquarters is also located in Pago Pago.
· The harbor is the deepest harbor in the Pacific. During World War II it played a very important role because of its depth and location. You can see concrete bunkers along the beaches even today.
· The harbor is also a popular place for sailboats to anchor. There are usually about 20 – 25 sailboats in the harbor at any given time. The people who own them usually live on them year round and sail from island to island in the Pacific.
· Cruise ships visit the island several times a month.
· The Pago Pago International Airport is in the village of Taufna and is serviced by Hawaiian Air and flights come from Hawaii on either Thursday or Friday and Monday nights. Polynesian Airlines flies small planes several times a day between American and Western Samoa. If you want to fly to New Zealand or Australia, or any of the other Pacific Islands you have to fly out of Western Samoa.
· The only industry is the tuna factory. The people here call it “The Company”. The hourly wage for workers is about $2.00 an hour.
Each village is run and governed by the High Chief (Matai)of the village. He is the one who makes the major decisions for how to run the village. There is also a Talking Chief - who does the talking for the High Chief. He carries a stick – like a long cane. It has intricate carvings on it. When he stands and holds the stick everyone has to stop talking and listen. He also has a Fua (like a very large fly swatter that he flips over his shoulder when he wants to get your attention. There are other men who make up the village council.
|SA Council Meeting|
· Most villages have a SA (pronounced saw) every night at 6:00. The men and older boys of the village stand along the roads for about 15 minutes. During that time the rest of the family are inside the house having family prayer. If you are on the street, driving you have to pull over and wait for the SA to end. If you are walking, you have sit down on the side of the road. There is no talking – everyone is supposed to be praying or meditating. They ring a bell to start and end the SA. They all dress alike in white shirts and different colored lava’s (mens skirts). It is quite impressive and a wonderful custom.
· Everyone is very religious, and everyone on the island are Christians (meaning they believe in Jesus Christ). There are a variety of religions on the island, and everyone seems to respect each other’s beliefs. For the most part people do not put down other religions.
Parties or celebrations are called FIA FIA’s.
|Dancing at a FIA FIA|
If someone wants to live in the village, they get permission from the Matai and are allowed to build their house. They have to pay for the house, but the land does not belong to them – it belongs to the village. So if someone in your family breaks the rules of the village, or brings disgrace to it, the entire family can be asked to leave. If that happens they have to leave their house and try to find another village where that will let them live there. No one moves into the house however, because as soon as the person who disgraced the village has made restitution the family is welcomed back. Sometimes it can be as simple as a teen-age son coming home drunk, or getting in trouble with the law and the whole family has to move. Because of this practice, people on the island can have several houses on the island. So you see lots of empty houses that no one is living in.
· There are no tall buildings on the island. The tallest building is 3 stories.
There are no addresses on the island. When you ask people where they live, they tell you the name of the village. Once you find the village almost everyone can direct you to the house you are looking for. Usually their directions go something like… go to the blue house, pass the large coconut tree to the banana grove. There will be a stone wall on the right. Go past the wall to the 2nd dirt road. But don’t turn on the road, continue to the back and they live in the green house by the large Mango tree. When people from Mesepa (the village where we live) need something delivered they usually say go to the first house (which is ours) on the road leading to Mesepa. We will meet you there. Sometimes we get things delivered to our house for someone in the village – or we will have things put in our driveway for someone else to pick-up.
There are very few cemeteries on the island. Most people bury their family members in their front yard. Some of the graves can be very elaborate. Some people even build their houses around the graves and they use the concrete slabs for beds or tables. They always have flowers and wreaths on the graves. They are very respectful of their dead.
|One of the graves...|
· There is only one bank on the island. So it is not unusual to wait 1 – 3 hours to make a deposit or cash a check.
· There is only one hospital on the island and the only pharmacy is at the hospital as well. You have to plan on a minimum of three hours if you have to see a doctor or get a prescription.
· There are lots and lots of small stores and shops on the island, but no malls. Most stores are about the size of a small house in the United States.
· Even though American Samoa is a 3rd world country, there are no homeless people – everyone has a house to live in, and no one goes hungry. It is a society that takes care of everyone. Most families live in the same village and many live together in the same house. When the children grow up and get married, they just add another room to the house, or build a house (called Fale’s) next to the main family home. As the children are growing up they can be disciplined not only by their parents, but by grandparents and aunties and uncles. The older siblings and cousins also play a big part in raising the younger children.
· Grandparents and older people on the island are very respected.
· If guests are invited to eat, the father (and sometimes the mother) eat with them. The children eat after… It is hard to see the children waiting to eat. If there are no guests, they family usually eats together – but the father is always served first.
o They wear uniforms for school. The boys and the girls all wear lava-lava’s. Most wear shorts under their lava-lava.
o The traditional dress for women is a pulitasi – a long skirt and long tunic top.
o The men wear regular shirts or T-shirts, and most wear lava-lava’s rather than pants. They are much cooler.
o A less formal lava-lava is a large piece of fabric they tie around their waist. It is called an IE (pronounced EA – long sound)
o When the men/boys dress up – usually for church they wear ties and beads.
o Women and girls wear flowers in their hair. Most have long hair, but they wear it up off their necks most of the time because of the heat.
· Sports – The most popular sport is volleyball – everyone plays it, but they play football, basketball, cricket, rugby, softball and soccer in the schools as well. Several players in the NFL are from Tutuila. Marvin Fanene. Charlie Tuna is dressed for the 2013 season for a player from American Samoa.
|NFL Charlie Tuna|
· Everything that comes to the island comes by airplane or large container ships. You can always tell when the container ship has come in because the stores are well stocked. When it has been awhile since a container ship has come the shelves are pretty empty.
· Because everything has to be imported things are more expensive than in the USA. Food is about 40 – 50% higher. A gallon of milk is $11.00.
· Electricity is very expensive – so even the large homes on the island (and there are quite a few) usually don’t have air conditioning. If they do, they hardly ever turn it on.
· HOUSES - Most houses are small, but there are some very large homes on the island as well.
· It is always HOT in the schools. They open the windows to get air circulation, but then the bugs come in…
· FOOD – Some of the most popular foods are:
o Taro – most popular food – you eat the root – a lot like a potato but more bland.
o Breadfruit – grows on beautiful trees. It is green and also a lot like a potato. They boil it or back it in UMU (outside ovens). They also make breadfruit chips by slicing it very thin and deep-frying it.
o NIU (pronounced new) also called Pe’e Pe’e (prounced pia pia) is the juice (milk) in a new coconut. They cut off the top and insert a straw. It is really good and very good for you. It is the healthiest drink known to man and can prevent many sicknesses. They eat lots of coconut and use all parts of the fruit and the tree. Some of the things they use the leaves and bark for are: mats, roofs on their houses, clothing, and baskets for carrying things.
|Have a Banana...|
|Bread Fruit - Kind of like a baked potato...|
o Fruits including bananas (several types), papaya, mango, pineapple, guava, avocados, grapefruit, lemons, star fruit, and Samoan apples.
o They eat lots of different kinds of fish – including octopus and lobster and crab. There is a crab called the Coconut Crab because the meat tastes like coconut. The crab actually climbs the coconut tree and cuts down the coconut with his claw. Then he breaks it open and eats the coconut.
o There are very few vegetables grown here. Cucumbers, green onions, Chinese cabbage, corn and tomatoes are about the only ones, and they don’t have much flavor because of the soil – mostly volcanic…
o They love snack food – especially chips – of any kind
o They eat a lot of chicken. Chickens run wild on the island.
|This is our ATTACK Chicken...|
o There are two fast food restaurants on the island – McDonalds and Carl’s Jr. There used to be a Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut, but they have both closed down within the last few months. There was a Subway here, but it didn’t last because the menu was not popular among the Samoan people.
o They serve very LARGE portions of food
o The men do most of the cooking – especially when they cook in the UMU (outside oven).
· There are lots of bats on the island. They are called flying foxes because they look like foxes. They are much larger than the bats in the United States.
· The Banyon Tree is a very large tree that grows everywhere. It’s trunk looks like dozens of small branches intertwined.
· The women weave large mats from the leaves of trees to sit on – called Fine Mats. They can be lap size to room size.
· The men carve very intricate carvings out of Ifiele Wood – a very hard Samoan wood.
· American Samoa is 6 hours behind the Central Time Zone. If it is 19:00 in the morning in Louisiana it is 3:00 in the morning in American Samoa. They do not have Daylight Savings.
· Western Samoa is a day ahead – if it is on Sunday in American Samoa, it is Monday in Western Samoa. Western Samoa is in the first time zone and American Samoa is located in the last time zone.