We took a short ferry ride to the island of Manono, which not many tourists get to. We were excited to get off the beaten path for a night, and when we got there, we learned we were the only two travelers on the island. Everyone else lived there. The island supports about 1400 people in the 4 villages. We learned about the village/chiefly system they use. The chief can make the final decision on certain issues, but the decision better be what the people want. Otherwise, the chief has to convince them that it is the best course of action. If the chief can't convince them, and if the people are sick of the chief making so many unpleasing decisions, they can remove him and another can be selected. It's quite democratic, and the chief is more of a representative than boss.
However, we also realized why we were the only two travelers on the island that night: there's really nothing to do. there's a track that one can walk around the entire island in about 2 hours. However, in the morning, we had a great time, when Leota asked his brother to show us a few things. He wanted to demonstrate how Samoans used to make fire before Palangi's (white people) brought over their matches, and other fire making utensils, and he wanted to show us how the women made the baskets that are still used frequently by all.
First of all, it was great fun, and I almost did make a fire. My first attempt wasn't very fruitful, and my arms got tired rather quickly. My second attempt created quite a bit of smoke but the ashes didn't quite light like in the demonstration. I'm positive if I had a third try, I would've gotten it. The trick is to push down more than I was the first two times. Leota told us not many people can do it--maybe one or two per family would be responsible for starting the fires. Laurie did a great job making her basket; she noted that it was a lot like braiding hair. We got some good photos of the experience.
What I thought was so interesting from it was the notion of gender roles that they have in Samoa. We noticed it in several instances during our few weeks on the island. I'm not sure if their notions of gender roles are sexist or not. I've been thinking about it a bit. I think the men are not misogynistic, but I'm not sure if it's sexism or not. For instance, Leota and his brother showed me how to make a fire, and Laurie the basket. It was just assumed that these jobs were assigned to the sexes like this. But what if Laurie had asked to make the fire or if i had asked to weave the basket. Would they have been appalled? I'm not really sure, but it's clear they had their expectations and notions of what was proper. In another case, a man picked us up while we were waiting for the but and we talked with him about his family. We learned he had 3 wives. He asked if I would like that, and I told him that's just not how we do it in America. And yet, another related detail we found in Samoa was the phenomenon of turning a male baby into a female if the family had no girls already. I think this last example shows that the society clearly values females. So i'm not sure if it's sexism or not. The roles are just clearly defined and everyone accepts them. I'm not 100% sure if the women are satisfied with them in their private thoughts, but they didn't express any displeasure with their roles. If they had, perhaps it would be sexism, but they seemed to accept it as they accepted everythign else in their culture.
Because this is a relatively short entry, I thought I'd use it as a space for some other interesting cultural items I noticed in Samoa.
For some reason, it is nearly impossible to get change for one's transactions in Samoa. Many vendors just don't have it readily available. How, you ask, is that possible? Well, I have no idea; it's simply baffling to me. The idea isn't that complicated, but for some reason, we always had to wait for change and whoever handled our transaction was nearly astonished that we had to even ask for change. I mean, who doesn't need change for a transaction? Who always has exact change for each and every purchase? One customer comes and makes a purchase; change is given and money remains in the register. Customer #2 makes a purchase, and change is available. But not in Samoa, and I don't know why. Baffling, I tell you, simply baffling.
The next cultural aspect I noticed was the driving. They drove pretty wildly on the roads which were two "lanes," one going each way. No yellow line, dotted or solid. Drivers would always drive in the middle of the road (half in the oncoming lane, half in their lane) and move over when an oncoming car was approaching. I didn't think anything was wrong with this, as the roads were pretty narrow. However, they would also drive like this going around a turn when they couldn't see the oncoming traffic. There were a few times I found myself holding my breath a bit, especially when it was pouring rain. They also pass each other going into the oncoming traffic "lane" with little regard for said oncoming traffic. I didn't see one accident, (broken down cars, yes, but accidents, no), but there were some close calls. Nonetheless, we were always fine. This wasn't what I found "funny" though. What was funny was how they handled the speed bumps. They came to nearly a dead stop and then inched their way over the speed bumps which were usually long and flat-ish, not the short and high ones that we sometimes see in the States. I came to understand that the drivers saw the speed bump sign practically as a stop sign. Given their recklessness in all other aspects of driving, I found it quite ironic that they gave such reverence to the gentle speed bumps in the road.
Another cultural aspect that was a bit different was the fact that they answered "yes" to almost any question you asked. One night, the night we went to the fiafia in LaluManu, I asked someone who worked there if we had missed the fiafia and he replied, "yes." ok, then i asked if the fiafia was going to happen soon and he replied, "yes." Basically, they just don't want to disappoint you, so they answer "yes." I also think the language barrier plays a role. But they really don't want to disappoint their visitors; that certainly is a cultural aspect that we were told about by locals, especially Leota. So I told someone who wanted to see the show as well that i had asked if we missed it along with the reply, and the person said, "oh, that means nothing, let's just wait a few minutes to see what happens." Sure enough, a few minutes later, the show started. So, I started trying to ask questions that were NOT in yes/no format, but the language barrier was just too difficult to overcome sometimes. Either way, it was an interesting cultural feature that was very obvious.
And finally, almost everything in Samoa is about 10-20 years behind us in terms of fashion, haircuts, music, and technology. The clothes they wear look like they are from the 80's as do the haircuts. They love their synthesizer for playing music and for what they listen to. They also loved the pop music from the 90's. When we were at a bar one night in Apia, an old Britney Spears song came on, and the place went nuts like it was the best song ever. The same for a Backstreet Boys song. Quite the scene to watch people doing the old boy band dances!! And finally, their internet is still dial-up and they use tapes and VHS for video. DVD's aren't mainstream yet at all. Basically, they are about 10-20 years behind. I don't mean this in a derogatory way at all. There are clearly reasons for being behind. They are a set of small islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; that's a pretty good reason by itself. I just thought it was funny to see all the old stuff. I saw some old tapes I had when I was about 10 and some old VHS tapes as well.
One more entry coming for Samoa--the island of Savai'i. Cheers all!!