American Samoa has a bad rap. The cruiser gossip mill has it that the harbour is dirty and the whole place stinks of fish from the cannery and the officials are corrupt to boot. We decided to check the place out got ourselves.
American Samoa is the only US territory south of the equator, consists of five rugged, highly eroded and extinct volcanic islands, and two coral atolls. The population is approximately 60,000 with most people living on the main island of Tutuila. Tuna fishing and canning are major industries however we were told that there is only one cannery now in operation. However there are lots of large commercial fishing vessels in the harbour. The people are of Polynesian descent and dress very conservatively and everyone seems to wear the national dress. In fact, Samoan’s are regarded as the largest full blooded Polynesian race left tin the world. Fa’a Samoa or the Samoan way is the foundation of Samoan society, culture and heritage. Aiga, the extended family is the core of the fa’a Samoa, the head of the family, the chiefs and each family member has their role to play in their service to the well being of the extended family. This culture is over 3000 year old and has changed little. The major western influence has been Christianity which forms the spiritual basis of Samoan society.
However, American influence was still very noticeable. After being in remote places for so long, this little bit of civilization felt really good. We enjoyed eating out and trying all the different restaurants, Philippine Fast Food, Evie’s Tex Mex Cantina and even McDonalds for ice cream!
The provisioning was great too as we found American products in bulk at good prices that we haven’t seen in years. A nice surprise was the local internet service which we were able to get in the anchorage that cost us $20.00 unlimited for one week, after the very high costs and frustrating internet service over the last 5 months this was a real treat. Ordering boat parts from the States is possible and we found it to be the least painful of any place in the South Pacific. It is very straightforward and the post office is modern.
Local public buses of every colour with music blaring took us all over the island for a dollar. What a great way to get around.
American Samoa’s motto is “Samoa la Muamua Le Atua” – Samoa , God is first, and Sunday is a day of worship and spending time with family. So with that in mind, we visited one of the many churches in town, we didn’t know which one to choose! The singing was incredible. I felt like I was at a concert at NAC! And they were sitting down ahead of us in the pews. Imagine how they would have sounded if they were on a stage, standing up and facing us.
We tried a local Samoan feast one night at Tisa’s Barefoot Bar which turned out to be alot of fun. The food was cooked in an emu or underground oven. The food consisted of different meats wrapped in taro leaves infused with coconut milk, octopus, freshly caught fish, different foods put into a coconut half, and I’m sure a few pounds of meat from the Cost-U-Less!. Tisa asked our children to be in the after dinner dance that her grandchildren (Princess, Bam Bam and their mother Easter!) were presenting. So they spent the whole time practicing the Lava Lava dance. They put on quite a show.
We rented a car and took a tour of the island. We saw a lot of tsunami damage from last year. There is an American organization building houses but there are still lots of people living in tents, you see the damage everywhere. One thing we noticed was the very high number of humungous churches on every corner throughout the island. It was mind-numbing to see these huge churches while the people were living in little cabins.
One interesting site was the Turtle and Shark site. This is Tutuila’s most famous legend set at this dramatic cliff-top site. According to just one of the versions of this legend, an old blind lady and her granddaughter jumped into the sea after being turned out of their village during a time of famine. When their family learned what they’d done, they went to the shore, guilt-ridden and called the pair by name. A turtle and shark appeared, and the family knew that their relatives had been miraculously transformed in the water and were OK.
We liked American Samoa, the people were so friendly and nice and very helpful. The harbour is very commercial and dirty. Tourism in not really an industry as there is lots of subsidy’s from the US coming in so they don’t seem to go after the tourist dollar like they try to do in Western Samoa as we eventually found out.
A few more pics from American Samoa:
September 4, 2010 – Pago Pago Harbour, American Samoa to Apia Marina, Samoa – 83.62 nm **(used to be called Western Samoa)
Apia on the island of Upolu has a gorgeous bay but a few years ago they decided to build a marina and force every yacht into it. We found a slip for us even though it was tight. The kids had a great time running around the docks back and forth from their friends boats back to ours.
Samoa is much bigger in size then American Samoa and had a much more big city feel to it. We didn’t feel like we got a taste of the real Samoan culture however we were there during the Teuila Festival so we were able to attend many events and join in the festivities. The opening night was a Choir Competition with different choirs of up to 500 members competing. Voices from heaven!
The famous author Robert Louis Stevenson came to live in Upolu five years before his death and his mansion, Vailima, features many of his belongings including part of his library and travel mementos. We took a half-hour fairly steep high to the author’s tomb at the top of Mount Vaea. Awesome views!