Last week we had an outing to the other Samoa, American Samoa.
The Samoan islands were divided by the Germans and the Americans in 1899 after a few brief skirmishes. The Germans took Western, or what is now Independent Samoa made up of Savaii and Upolu, while the US took the islands of Tutuila and Manu’a under what was then known as Eastern Samoa, now American Samoa.
During our stay in American Samoa, we were all hosted by members of an honor society at the American Samoa Community College. I stayed in a family of four. My host parents Heidi and Fale, and my host sisters Lillian and Siuila. I grew very close to my home stay family, and even though I lived an hour away on the other side of the island, I would not have changed a bit of my visit.
Contrary to what many of us had been told, I found American Samoa to be extremely beautiful. Unlike Upolu and Savaii, there is no flat land. Where the islands of Independent Samoa gradually slope from sea to mountain, in American Samoa it is much more dramatic. Steep, intensely green mountains and cliffs drop straight into the Pacific Ocean, causing a true sense of wonder and awe.
The people and culture of American Samoa where exceptionally intriguing as well. American Samoa has found a balance between the traditional Samoan way called “fa’asamoa,” and American cultural values. For example, every night my family and I would eat a combination of “American foods” (mac and cheese, potato salad, spaghetti, and desperately needed tacos) and Samoan foods (fresh fruit, taro, breadfruit, and fresh fish). And while we ate we would watch the national news first, then halfway through dinner the local American Samoan news, which used only the Samoan language, would come on. It was quite fascinating.
Another interesting culture mix about American Samoa is the government system. In Independent Samoa, if one were to be in the national parliament, one had to be a “matai,” or a chief. The same rule applied in American Samoa. The government is broken down similar to that of the US government with a Senate and a House of Representatives. However, while the House of Representatives may be filled by anyone in American Samoa, one needed a chiefly title to be in the Senate, an interesting way of mixing US and Samoan governing styles.
Though I loved American Samoa, there were many, many problems, I noticed while in the territory. For example, many young American Samoans have lost touch with the Samoan language. In my host family, only my host father spoke Samoan fluently, and one host sister spoke it well, but the rest could not speak any. This, as I learned, is not unusual, as classes are all taught only through English, and follow the curriculum used on the mainland.
Another big problem in American Samoa was obesity. With the rise of fast food restaurants, and preservatives added to the food to reach the island before spoiling, many of the foods available in American Samoa are very unhealthy. And though there are many programs working to teach good nutrition and exercise, there has been very little success. Obesity and other lifestyle diseases, though an issue all throughout the Pacific region, are particularly bad in American Samoa.
On my trip to American Samoa, I saw the good, bad and the ugly. Yet, overall the place captured my heart, and I hope to someday return to visit beautiful Tutuila, and my wonderful home stay family.