27 July 2010 | Manolo Island, Samoa
On Tuesday we made a day-long visit to Manono Island, a very small island in the Apolima Straight (the pathway between the two largest islands of Upolu and Savaii) with around 800 inhabitants. We signed up for the tour through Aggie Grey's and though I knew it would be quite staged, I wanted the kids to get a chance to see some local culture, not just the busy town of Apia with too many taxis, hot pavement, mangy dogs and feral cats.
The day did not disappoint. Our tour guides, Fooa and Jonah, were an inadvertent comedy team. They picked us up in a small bus, drove us 45 minutes along the coast to an area called Manono-Uta, which was essentially a compound of a couple houses and a half dozen boats. The family who lived there was apparently the transport company from Upolu to Manono. The aluminum runabouts you see in the pictures serve as school buses to take the Manono kids back and forth for the school day. Our boat was less sturdy looking, made of wood and quite leaky. I knew we'd make it to the other side, but I wondered how far up my legs the water would reach before we landed.
Five other people signed up for the tour besides our family, so we had a nice small group. We landed on Manono near a very large church, only one of many on this small island. You'll notice a very small islet in one of our pictures. Eric joked with the tour guide about how he knew that island didn't have people living on it - no church. Despite our best planning efforts, one of the kids had to go to the bathroom right away. We were motioned to a family home with an outhouse. I was reminded of my days in Micronesia where toilets were installed, but did not necessarily function. Freya and Finn gave it their best go - we found some wallpaper squares on a ledge ( I think they were used as toilet paper) to line the seat with. When we were done, we tried to flush but the handle was just for decoration.
Back on the tour, we walked through a couple villages, noticing that people lived in both cinderblock with tin roof homes as well as traditional thatch roofed structures. As on the more modern Upolu, each extended family has a compound, a nice chunk of land they own. There is a meeting house where the head of the family and the other ranking members have regular meetings, each person is given their specific spot on the floor upon which to sit. There are then the sleeping structures, sometimes like a house with walls, sometimes open to breeze. Most people sleep on pandanus-woven sleeping mats, not mattresses, so the beds are rolled up during the day and spread out again at night. The other curious aspect of the family compound is the graveyard that most seem to have. Family members are buried on site. The larger the grave stone, the more prominent the member. Once a family chooses to bury someone on their land, they cannot sell it (most do not sell land anyway); however, if they find they want or need to sell, they can remove the body and move it to the new location if it has already been 10 years in the ground. You can see some of the more modern meeting houses in our street views back on Upolu. They are quite close together; the lots seem to run deep.
After 30 minutes or so of walking, having passed by a couple more churches and meetings houses, and the school yard where the kids were having recess, we came to a meeting house of a family who hosted us for a kava ceremony. Kava is a root found throughout the Pacific Islands, it is ground up, mixed with water and drunk. If you have too much, or the kava is strong, you will become numb inside your mouth and throughout the body. We had just a sip, from a common cup. In Pohnpei, Micronesia the kava is traditionally chewed by someone, then spit into the bowl and mixed with water. I don't believe they do it that way in Samoa, but I didn't ask the question because I could not refuse the sip. The kids were left out of the ceremony for obvious reasons, but they were quite interested in the motions.
We were also given a coconut cream making demonstration, some local basket weaving, and of course given the chance to buy something the family had made. Finn and Sophie each picked out a fan and Freya selected a nicely sized cowrie shell that reminded her of "the planet Mars."
After the family visit, we were shuttled off to a nice open hut by the shore were we had a little picnic lunch, were given a chance to swim/snorkel (the coral was mostly dead), and then we hopped back into the boat after the boat-helper had bailed out at least 25 buckets-full of water ( I stopped counting around then.)
Our kids were thoroughly fascinated by the outing. The bus ride was educational, notice the strange yellow sign we took a picture of; one in English and then Samoan posted about every few miles along the highway: "No Rape or Indecent Acts." They said hello to some school kids their age and they got a real look at how some people live, out in the open. We were so pleased with how well they sat through the kava ceremony, tried their heads on the traditional pillow, and accepted crowns of flowers by saying "Faafetei" which means "thank you" in Samoan.