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Samoa is a society of survivors
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Author Topic: Samoa is a society of survivors  (Read 1111 times)
Tavita Tusitala
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Posts: 289

« on: October 20, 2009, 01:59:12 PM »

Samoa: A society of survivors

The south coast of Samoa is one of the most welcoming places on earth.

A personal look By Matt Brown

It's a string of villages with tight knit families and a tribal culture which has survived, despite the ravages of modern economics and poverty - a resource that will prove vital to its recovery from this cursed tsunami.

I stayed at the center of the region which appears to have been badly hit by the wave, surfing the offshore coral reefs with a mate in 1996 and marvelling at the strength of family and tribal institutions.

While an obvious asset, these close bonds in Samoa will also mean the damage and loss inflicted on these islands will be felt far from where the wave washed ashore.

People are asking about their family in villages like Lolomanu, on the south-east tip of Upolu. Another reports a lost loved one at Siumu, where the road from the capital Apia on the north coast cuts through the middle of the island and plunges from its volcanic mountain spine back down to the Pacific shore.

We spent most of our time on the south coast at Salani, next to the Mulivaifagatola River, in between those two villages, and I fear Salani has been badly damaged.

Like so many others in Australia and the rest of the Pacific, I'm scouring the news, trying to pick up what I can about the effects of the tsunami.

My parents took me to live in Samoa when I was just three months old because they were posted in Apia as teachers on an Australian Government aid program. They both trained other teachers and my dad developed a program to introduce Western mathematics to the islands.

When I returned in 1996 dad's old mate, Perenise, who lives in the gentle hills above Apia harbor, took us in, offering a broad smile and a thatched mat to sleep on.

We set off for Salani where his extended family had a place among the small collection of fales - homes usually featuring a concrete floor and a thatched or corrugated iron roof - and farmland.

It's the kind of place where people look out for each other. Surfing wasn't allowed on a Sunday, but a generous neighbour loaned my mate and me two starched and pressed lava lava's [like a sarong] and gave us two custom-made, collared shirts printed with brown and orange island designs so we could attend the mid-morning church service.

The memory of the congregation's south pacific gospel styled singing still transports me.

It's also a place where so much we take for granted is considered a privilege. While Sydney was getting wired up to the world wide web, Samoa was still struggling with an antiquated phone system.

I spent hours trying to make a reverse charge call from one of the few phones in the village to my girlfriend, Toni, back in Australia but never managed to get through.

It was actually worse back in Apia, where we had to queue for about an hour to get access to a phone at the central post office.

In light of the tsunami I have a strange sense of guilt about my connection to the place.

It's just north of the great Tongan Trench where tectonic plates collide beneath the ocean floor.

It had a romantic allure for me and sitting on my board, on the edge of a coral reef about a kilometre offshore, it was easy to imagine the trench just beyond the horizon as the waves lurched up out of the deep, deep blue ocean and crashed into the sudden shallow of all that coral.

The irresistible forces that pushed those islands up out of the sea and the speed and power of the waves, coming out of the deep, were what drew us there and it seems they have been integral to the tragedy now unfolding.

I checked the tsunami warning issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii.

I'm no hydrologist, but the data it contains is instructive. It reports a quake at 17:48 Zulu time [GMT], generating a wave estimated to hit American Samoa at 17:59.

Consider the speed of the thing. The report wasn't even issued until 18:04.

The people of Samoa are used to the hardships of their environment and their island life has plenty of rough edges.

I was too much of a wimp to join in, but I remember Murray playing rugby with the local lads in our host's front yard on the island of Savai'i. The yard was made of smashed up chunks of lava and, when they reconvened at the much more forgiving local sports ground, I discovered it was made of crushed coral - finer, to be sure, but no place for a softy.

No doubt Samoa has progressed a great deal since then, and its people have lived through plenty of natural disasters. If they ask for help, be sure, they really need it.
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