9 August. I glance at the gray, barren, ugly little room where they keep juvenile delinquents. There are steel bars on the windows, and one end of the room is closed off with floor to ceiling bars. The cage is empty, although according to the newspaper there are plenty of animals around who deserve to be in there. I sit and wonder how the juvenile delinquent jail happens to be in the back of the Parks and Recreation offices. The secretary signals me to go in to see the head of the Department. Tolani Toleso is a short, powerfully built man with close-cropped, greying hair, eyebrows to match, and alert brown eyes. He studies me as I explain my mission.
"The stream that flows by the market is really important in the island beautification campaign. The market is a focal point where people gather and the three solid feet of litter in the stream is a constant reminder to them that it's OK to trash Tutuila. So, how do we get it cleaned up?"
"We are responsible for the field, not the ditch," he whips back at me with admirable speed. A polished bureaucrat.
"Well, what about the vocational rehabilitation crew you've contracted with DPO funds?" I put on the pressure.
"They are only to work on the shoreline," he shifts into get-rid-of-this-problem-mode by looking down at his desk as if he suddenly remembered his heavy work load.
"But the creek is an extension of the shoreline and after a rain the garbage will wash out into the bay anyway," I'm getting a bit pissed off.
"No, they have already got a definite area to clean," he tries the 'final voice mode' and just to be sure I get the message, picks up some papers, giving me one of those eyebrow up, 'will there be anything else?' looks.
"What about your own crew?"
"Two men to clean from the Rainmaker Hotel to Pago," he holds up his hands. "The problem is not just cleaning it up but keeping it clean."
"That's a question for the police and public education. Look, we are talking about an afternoon's work for two men."
"Where's the money going to come from?" Now I've got him on the run.
"What's the minimum wage?"
"Two bucks an hour."
"OK, so we're talking $16 to clean up the stream," I insist.
"And where will that money come from," he snaps.
"Hell, I'll give you twenty bucks right now!"
"From my pocket, from me." I haul out a $20 bill.
This gets me a big happy smile. It's like the sun coming out in the Juvenile Delinquent Detention Home. "I pay for things out of my own pocket too. Just to get things done. But it's not the best way. Not good in the long run." He gets up and takes the papers out of the room and returns, sits down and stares at me for a moment. In that moment I realize he was testing me. The deadpan advanced bureaucratic expression has given way to a human face.
I ask him about the cage for wayward kids in his back room.
Tolani was a career Army man. A sergeant. He cares about the young men and women of Tutuila. For over an hour, we talk about youth problems, Tutuila, the living island, and the campaign to clean up the island.
Tolani feels the youth problem here is getting worse. "They need more activities, more jobs, more technical training. Something to do." Co-incidentally he has just returned from meeting John Kneubuhl for the first time. I was just on my way to drive out and meet John Kneubuhl for the first time. Tolani owns the newspaper - an interesting avenue to island awareness. Also of interest is that he has never heard of Dr. John Doss who works for public health and has about 500 grand to spend on a youth center.
The Samoan Affairs Office is right next to the Development Planning Office in downtown Pago Pago. John Kneubuhl says Samoan Affairs represents the alter-ego government of American Samoa. "If you want to be effective with your island awareness project, go see Senator A.U. Fuimaono."
I walk into the old wooden house, a twin to the Parks and Recreation house down the street, except there is no cage. I tell the receptionist I'm there to see Senator A.U. Fuimaono. Tufi, from the Tourism office, has come along with me, to introduce me to the Senator. We are immediately shown into Fuimaono's office. The first thing I notice is a hand carved wood sign on his desk, "Paramount Chief."
The Paramount Chief is sitting behind a huge wood desk covered with papers, looking at me with a friendly, attentive gaze. He is also speaking rapid Samoan into two phones, one held to each ear. He is a large, middle aged Samoan with a very pleasant baratone speaking voice.
He hangs up one phone, then the other, his eyes never leaving mine. "Sorry, please, sit down, sit down." There are about forty chairs in the room, all lined up facing the Paramount Chief's cluttered desk. Tufi sits in a chair about half way to the desk but the Chief waves his hand and says, "No, no, come sit here," pointing to the front row. We come forward, Tufi with his head and torso bowed low. As I shake the Chief's hand, Tufi mutters an introduction, stareing steadily at the floor.
I explain about the Island Beautification Project and how I would like to have a group of people clean up a particularly filthy beach over by the cannery. He is very interested in helping with the program and says he will arrange to have a work party at the beach whenever I want. Tufi excuses himself, and leaves, but Chief Fuimaono seems so intent, interested and friendly, I set about explaining about the island awareness concept and how Tutuila is a living organism. "If I can get people, especially the youth, to see themselves as part of the living island of Tutuila, I believe they will change their behavior towards the island, and perhaps each other, in beneficial ways. In particular, as a measure of success of the campaign, I am targeting trash. People who love themselves and the Island life that supports them are less likely to throw trash everywhere." I get as far as the need for a youth recreation center and he holds up his hand.
"I have the perfect place to build it! Come on, I'll show you." He gets up and, without further comment, quick-marches me out of his office and into his car. We drive all the way around Tutuila, almost to Leone. On the way we chat about the living island concept. He's a farmer at heart, a high Samoan chief by heritage, a lawyer and politician by profession. He got his law degree in Washington D.C. and spent years there representing American Samoa. He is a senator in the Fono and holds the position of Paramount Chief in the Samoan government.
"Here is my home," he turns off the main road. "I want to show you this land behind my home." He drives his low-slung Chrysler along a dirt trail, bonking the undercarriage on an occasional rock, and stops in the narrow gap of a high, rocky ridge. We get out and walk through the gap into a magic arena. It is a small volcano crater with high, vertical walls, and a round, flat center. The narrow gap is the only way in. The walls are maybe 100 meters high, lined with tall, old trees. A cow looks up from the center pasture and goes back to munching the green grass. I sense tremendous power in here - a peaceful, protective power. I am reminded of Nukutapu in Wallis. Another power point of the planet.
"Are there any legends about this place?" I ask, softly, as we stand and look out over the crater.
"Oh yes. This place is called Pago. The other place, Pago Pago, is named after this Pago. Years ago it was a fortress. If anyone threatened Tutuila, the women and children came in here to hide. No enemy ever found it. Everyone feels safe here. There was a large wall of stone and wood where we drove in. I tore it down." We wander around the crater and Fuimaono says he has, for ten years, had a dream to make this a Youth Recreation Center. A sporting place. He shows me where the buildings will be, the flat place for the track and football field, and the perfect spot for a basketball gym. Three cows ignore us from the middle of the future olympic pool.
"How do you get along with Tolani Toleso?" I ask.
"Oh fine, we're good friends."
"Have you talked with him about this idea? He's also very interested in a Youth Recreation Center."
"No, we have not spoken about it together," we walk back towards his car.
"What about Dr. John Doss at Public Health?"
"I have never met him." We get back in the car and the Paramount Chief drives me back into Pago Pago.
Friday, 11 August. I take a photo of some drink cans flattened on the road and then head in to see the Senator. Chief Fuimaono's office is filled with people and I sit in the waiting room as they mill about, everyone talking in whispers, bowing as they enter and leave the Chief's room. Samoan Affairs is a kind of court to settle disputes about land. In Tutuila, land is the paramount issue and there are frequent, often violent squabbles about territorial rights. Fui, as he likes to be called by his friends, sits as judge and jury on these cases.
Finally the horde clears out and Fui's secretary gestures for me to go in.
"Oh, sorry you had to wait, Richard. Please, sit, would you like some coffee?" Fui is as attentive and friendly as before. He is the first Samoan who has treated me like a friend. For the most part, the Samoans I've met either ignore me or are hostile. Once and awhile there have been some who treat me as an object of respect, or someone to use.
Some Samoans like to keep 'Pet Palangis' as status symbols or perhaps just because they might be useful in the future. The word palangi is used to describe anyone of European descent. It means "Sky Breaker." When the Samoans first saw white men, they thought they were Gods who had broken the sky to come down to visit. Another version has it that the first Samoans thought the European ships had masts that broke the sky and the sails were like clouds. In any event, palangi's are few and far between in Samoa - unlike Hawaii - and Samoans have a definite, although unconscious, xenophobia.
I sit down and accept a cup of coffee. "I spoke to Tolani again and he would like to have a meeting with you, Jim Hyatt from the Department of Interior's Park Service, and Dr. Doss from Public Health next Tuesday evening at the Rainmaker. The main purpose of the meeting will be to talk about the foundation of a youth center. Would you be able to come?"
"Yes, of course, that sounds excellent. You mentioned this Dr. Doss before. He must be new on the island."
"No, actually, he's been here about two years. He's really looking forward to the meeting. He's been feeling rather isolated and frustrated." I understate what Dr. Doss actually told me. He said, over dinner at his house, "This place drives me nuts. Here I am with more than half a million dollars to spend on youth and public health programs and I can't seem to get anything to happen. Nobody will talk to me."
"I don't understand why anyone should isolate himself like that," Fui looks genuinely confused.
"A man can be isolated, but not often by himself. He is almost always isolated by the people around him."
"Why?" I look closely at Fui to see if he is testing me as Tolani did, but he seems totally without guile, as if he really does not understand. "Why should a doctor with excellent credentials and an eagerness to help, a man invited to American Samoa to develop public health and youth programs, a senior official from the U.S. Department of Health who energetically comes up with $500,000 in aid money, be isolated?"
"Yes, I don't understand it at all."
I understand it, or think I do. But it is difficult to believe the Paramount Chief does not understand. Although he seems very friendly, I remind myself that Samoans have a very real element of danger around them. I spent an afternoon with Governor Coleman and had no doubt he understood the game plan. Coleman is a Samoan who cut his political teeth as the head of the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. They elected him as the first Samoan Governor of American Samoa and he has held the post ever since.
Finally, I decide to evade the answer to Fui's question. "Isolating him is easy. Just ignore him. A man who is used to being sought after and honored can rarely handle being ignored. He can't freely circulate outside his line of command because he knows nothing of island politics and relies trustingly on whoever is his boss - the head of Public Health, in this case."
"But why do this?" Fui could be testing me, it's impossible to tell one way or another. But he does not want to evade the question. I have never discussed my observations about how American Samoa works with anyone but Freddy. I have been unable to guess how much of the group behavior pattern is an actual conspiracy and how much is an unconscious group reaction. I might as well see how Fui receives the observations.
"The name of the game here in American Samoa is to bring money onto the island with as few palangi's as possible. The rules of the game are that the money should be spent however the power people want to spend it and the palangi's should leave at the earliest opportunity. Social and working conditions encourage them to leave quickly. The bureaucracy is so complex and screwed up it takes forever to get anything done. This not only agonizes efficient people, it prevents them from spending any money.
"If the money goes for Samoan salaries, the people hired are, in essence, bought by those who dole out the cash. Jobs are political favors giving the person handing out the cash an indestructible power base. If the money can't be spent like that, it's best if it isn't spent at all."
"Why not spend it?" Fui is leaning forward, elbows on his desk.
"There are three possible reasons. The first is total incompetence and utter stupidity. This is unlikely. Samoans are anything but stupid, things are pretty nice here. The second possibility is that someone is stealing huge amounts of money. But, since the 'don't spend anything' pattern is so completely normal here, that does not seem likely. The environment is well suited to stealing money, and I assume it does happen, but probably as a by-product of the larger scheme.
"The third reason not to spend money would be if the finance people are using the money in a kind of island trust fund. Put Dr. Doss's money in the Amerika Samoa Bank and invest it. Keep the money as long as possible, siphoning off the interest to pay salaries to whoever Doss hires and building the principal. It's a favorite game of banking institutions, and if whoever is the big finance man here on island is also a banker, that's the kingpin behind the scheme." I know who it is and so does Fui. I can see it in his eyes. But I can also see he is not, himself, involved in the plot - if there actually is a plot. "And, as a added benefit, the palangi's with the money to spend go slowly bananas. It's no coincidence the government liquor store sells booze for practically nothing. Half the palangi population here are alcoholics."
Fui sits for almost a minute saying nothing. We sip our coffee slowly. The phone rings and Fui spends a full ten minutes talking Samoan with someone. When he hangs up, I start to leave but he says, "No, stay a minute more. I'm wondering about what you said about not wanting to have palangi's stay here. Why is that?"
Now I'm sure he is testing me, but what the hell, he won't expect my answer. "The obvious answer is that those who stay too long know too much. But this is probably not the real reason. It's like I was trying to explain the other day.
"Tutuila is a living organism. You Samoans represent the consciousness of Tutuila. Culture is the memory of the island system - made visible in the homes, gardens, and pathways. The island reacts through the things Samoans do. Tutuila's life is like a giant tree, growing from the rock, taking form from the wind and the sea and the sun. All the living creatures, plants and animals and fish, are the leaves of the tree, providing life and strength. The people are the flowers of the tree, bearing new thoughts and ways of behaving into the future.
"When Europeans came to Samoa, they were like strange animals - squirrels running around in the tree of life. Pago Pago is the palangi's nest. From here, from the American Samoan Government Buildings, they attempt to control how the tree grows. But they will always be isolated from the life of Tutuila - unless, of course, lots and lots of palangis come here.
"Then, like in Hawaii, the Polynesian tree will grow old and die. The palangi's would be like the strangler fig that wraps itself around the forest tree. The Banyon becomes so large, and its branches so abundant, that the forest tree is hidden from the sun. Soon, the forest tree is gone, eaten by rot and bugs, and the memory of the Polynesian tree becomes the hollow space in the middle of the huge fig tree. Forever haunting the consciousness of Tutuila. This is what all Samoans fear deep inside."
"Yes, that's true," Fui nods his head, looking thoughtful and serious.
"In biological terms we would say Samoa is protecting its gene pool from dilution. In sociological terms, Samoa is protecting its culture. In economic terms, Samoa is protecting its land tenure. So any palangi who wants to stay in Samoa, especially powerful or intelligent palangis, must be frustrated and badgered and ignored until he or she gets fed up and leaves. That's why so many work contracts are set in two year cycles. Not many palangi's renew their contracts and I've met some who are counting the days only six months after they arrived. Lots of them survive their stay only by going into a kind of drug hibernation, staying boozed up all day long."
The phone saves Fui from my lecture and as he talks, he looks at me thoughtfully. When he hangs up he says, simply, "Go on, this is very interesting to me." One should exercise caution using words like these with a crazy scientist.
"Tutuila has devised a whole array of behavior patterns to carry out this plan. Some of the behavior is planned, and deliberate - like the immigration department bugging Americans and giving them 30 day tourist visas to visit what is, after all, part of their own country. But most of the behavior is not planned. Much of it is unconscious - things people do automatically without thinking about it. Like speaking Samoan when there is a palangi present, not keeping an appointment because of other social obligations, facial expressions and failure to make eye-contact with palangis, body language. Little things to the Samoan, but big to the palangi.
"Almost all American Samoans are bilingual and speak American as well as they do Samoan. But these two language systems are really two different WAYS of thinking. You know, of course, that the brain has two distinct halves connected with about 250,000 cross wires. Strangely, the Samoan language and English language are handled by different sides of the brain. In each American Samoan, therefore, we have a true split personality.
"I have found many Samoans who can speak perfectly fluently in either language, but when it comes to translating from one language into another, they have a very hard time. Also, the Samoan personality tends to think and say different sorts of things than the American personality. So Samoans may act one way in an English speaking situation and act completely differently in a Samoan speaking situation. They might say, in English, they will do something while the Samoan half has absolutely no intention of doing it.
"You see the exact same situation reflected in your split government system. You have the Samoan government system, with you as Paramount Chief, and the whole network of Matais or chiefs scattered throughout the island. This government system exclusively uses the Samoan language.
You also have a complete Territorial Government that is totally American, with a governor, senators, congressmen, elections, and so on. What the American Samoan government says it will do, in English, is not always what the Samoan government system does. True?"
Fui smiles and nods. I'm relieved to see the smile is friendly, interested, and not feral.
"Some of Tutuila's defense mechanisms make good sense. But others are really self defeating. That's one reason I've been working on the island beautification project. It's kind of like psychotherapy for Tutuila. 90 percent of Tutuila is kept very clean and neat. But Pago Pago is one of the filthiest places this side of the Philippines. Trash is thrown everywhere. The harbor is without doubt the most polluted place I've seen in Oceania. The stench from the canneries is ghastly and the noise from the power plant seems engineered to rattle anyone who stays in the harbor area. The end effect is that tourists who arrive on cruise ships or yachts or those who stay more than a day, wind up thinking of American Samoa as a dreadful place. They can hardly wait to leave, and they hardly ever return.
"Nobody plans this. You can think of lots of reasons why it happens, but the end effect is an unconscious and very effective means for chasing off casual palangi's. But, Tutuila does not HAVE to do this. Samoans don't have to live this way. Pago Pago could be as lovely as the rest of Tutuila and the tourists could be happy for the short time they are here. The need is for Tutuila to awaken, to become conscious, to protect itself through other, conscious means, to move from an unconscious series of reactions to a recognition of the real problem and ways it can be solved without degrading your own lives."
I'm up to Evangelist Level One, and if I get any more enthusiastic I'll be tap dancing on Fui's desk. My whole program is right there, in vivid detail, ready to be shouted and chorused and drum-beat into poor Fui's head. I should stop but once I get moving it's very very hard.
Fortunately, the phone rings again and breaks the spell. Fui and I both jump. He picks up the receiver on the bounce and I can almost see his visible relief as he gets up and running in Samoan again.
While he talks my mind races on, fast-forwarding through the whole spiel - "When I talk with you or with a small boy fishing, I am speaking to the whole living system...." "Communications - the network of words make people think and move and act in certain directions..." "Controlled by symbols - an eagle with plants in one claw and lightning bolts in the other, becomes a great agricultural nation and harbinger of war...." Vast networks of concepts barge forward trying to have their say. Fui goes on talking for ten minutes and I manage to get to the end of the reel of mind-benders after about five. Then I sit, mentally panting for another five minutes. When Fui hangs up, I excuse myself and head for the door.
"Oh, Richard, would you care to come to my village this Sunday? There are some people from the Department of the Interior coming, too."
Sunday, 15 August, Freddy and I are out of bed before dawn. We both dress in gleaming white and stumble through the filthy Ark Park in the early light to meet Fuimaono and the Interior People.
There are three of them in Fui's spacious car, all in the back seat. Freddy and I snuggle into the front seat and Fui introduces a pert redhead named Odessa who works in the Territories Affairs Office in D.C., Sue, from the Congressional Research Office, and Kieth who is so carefully silent the whole trip we have no idea where he is from or what he does. Maybe a spook. He looks glum.
First stop is Fui's house where he, his wife and a cousin of his from Western Samoa - a reverend - join the five palangi's for a royal breakfast of scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon, toast, french toast, small steaks, sausages, more eggs, this time as an omelet, with canned spagetti on the side another 40 pounds of pancakes, coffee, tea, and milo.
We stagger out to the cars, this time taking four of them. A good thing, too, considering our vast bulk after all that food. As it is, the cars barely make it up the side of a mountain. No wonder Samoans like big cars. The flotilla moves along an excellent road, into a lovely mountain-top village, makes a ponderous u-turn and slides to a stop in front of a brand new church.
"Wow, this is a truly magnificent church!" I exclaim to Fui. It is a huge, ultra modern, well finished, church with lots of windows overlooking the misty dawn island below us. "What a view."
Fui was the man who organized and coordinated the building of the church. He beams proudly as he leads us through the various rooms and into the enormous inner-sanctum. The pews are cushioned - much to my relief - with a rich fabric upholstery. The pulpit has been carved from a great big log. Fui says it was the stump of a tree from their old village.
For over an hour I meditate on the word 'stupor' as the Samoan service threads into the cloudy, windy morning. When the choir sings I recover enough to think how nice the church is and how Samoans can produce something tangible, beautiful, even remarkable, providing they do it as a labor of love.
At last we are released and our crowd moves up to the round Samoan meeting house a bit higher up on the hill from the church. First the European ceremony and now, a little higher into the sunlight of Sunday, the Samoan one. This one is much more interesting, if somewhat less comfortable. We all sit with our backs to the wood pillars holding up the circular, peaked roof - one back one post. There are no walls to the side of the meeting house, so the view is better. But the cold wind is worse. Someone in the village had just gotten a title - a new Samoan name and a new authority. He demonstrates his generosity by giving vast amounts of food, tapas, fine mats and money to everyone present.
"Malo! Fafa Tai Lava!" (Good, Thanks very much) blossoms from deep voices like bright flowers scattered in this jungle of intimate village relationships. Sometimes the words appear as praise of an especially elegant statement, sometimes for the gifts continuously being distributed and piled at the feet of those with their backs to the posts. Lots of talking, but everybody gets to do some of it. This seems to produce a better mood than the European service where only one guy gets to say everything and everyone else has to sing along.
The women of the village present Samoan Fine Mats like turkeys showing off their fabulous fanned tails, strutting around in a most peculiar head-down attitude with their work stretched out before them. The fine mats represent hundreds, perhaps thousands of woman-hours of labor each and are very powerful gifts, given only to chiefs and other very important people. Today, they are given to everyone in the meeting house, including each palangi, including Freddy and I.
The cold and drizzle and endless talking eases me into another remote, dull state of mind. I don't feel like an honorary chief, I feel like my ass is welded to the concrete right through the mat. This is due to a tremendous increase in local gravity conditions. A large part of the island of Tutuila is sitting inside me, represented as barbecued chicken, corned beef hash, roast pig, taro, chocolate cake, coconut, breadfruit and ice cream. Not to mention the still undigested pancakes. Another platter of cake with four scoops of ice cream arrives at my post.
I refresh myself by visualizing the Samoan people as protoplasmic extensions of the island of Tutuila. This is easy enough to do as most of them are massive and seem rooted to their post. I feel more and more the outside observer. There is some custom dancing. Samoans dance sitting down, with soft upper body movements and lots of high volume singing. It adds color and sound to the vision of the people as extensions of the island, reaching up from the very rock to sing and tell stories with their arms and hands.
Another image superimposes itself over the living island. A few months ago I was at the airport when a congregation of officials arrived from Washington, DC. There was sitting down dancing then, too. And flower leis for everyone. The team was escorted to the Rainmaker Hotel looking very smug and pleased, each with a Samoan mentor.
Freddy, Sue and Odessa are the only females sitting in the meeting house. I can see Sue and Odessa are really enjoying all this attention. The silent and serious Kieth is grinning broadly and gobbling ice cream covered cake. I snicker, thinking that all this power is going to his belly, not his head. As the ceremony progresses, the Interior People, and Freddy and I are all made honorary chiefs of the village. No doubt the congressional report they write will be favorable to American Samoa.
We roll out of the house between the posts (now I know why there are no walls) and wedge ourselves through the doors into the Chryslers and Chevys and plunge our cold, cement hardened rears into soft American foam seats. The cars groan and breaks smoke as we head back down the mountain to Fui's for a late lunch.
I try to work out if this is Samoan Hospitality for honored guests or if this is part of the GASP (Great American Samoan Plot) to reap monetary benefits from USofA without tourism or the presence of palangis. In the end, another round of feeding suppresses all remaining curiosity as the level of food moves up past my mouth, behind my eyes, and fills my brain cavity with desert.
The gaming room at the Rainmaker is surprisingly crowded. Tolani Toleso is flanked by Jim Hiatt, Director of the U.S. National Parks Service and Tolani's Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation, Toese Sagapolutele. John and Margo Doss, Fuimaono, John and Dorothy Kneubuhl and Freddy and I sit with them around the big table in the Rainmaker's conference room. Observers and the press sit on chairs around the big table.
Tolani introduces Jim Hiatt who sets the tone of the meeting by saying there is cash available for preserving culturally valuable sites as parks. "Guam, for example, has received almost a quarter of a million dollars to preserve such sites. But so far, American Samoa has not asked for any funds to help preserve its cultural heritage." This is a nice opening tone. The stakes are on the table and the limit is set.
John Kneubuhl and I lead off by proposing a book with a photographic catalogue of cultural artifacts and sites and a text taken from John's radio series on Samoan History.
Tolani bids a youth recreation center. "Sporting activities," says Tolani with his serious smile, "would promote a much needed sense of team spirit and cooperation among the Samoan Youth."
Fuimaono backs him up by saying the Youth Center would be a vital part of American Samoa's future. "It has been a dream I have been working towards for many years."
John Doss goes along with this, "The center will assist public health. Youth involved in sporting activities take a more active interest in proper diet, exercise, health care and in not smoking or drinking."
I add, "Participation in sporting activities provides the youth with a constructive, positive self-image. Those who excel become role models for their younger friends. Building positive self images is a vital step in the overall improvement of island appreciation. If the goal of a young person is simply to get off Tutuila, their image of their island will necessarily be a poor one. A Youth Recreation Center would provide a focus for environmental improvement."
Everyone is hot to trot with the project, but somehow, when we adjourn, it seems like Hiatt puts the stakes back in his pocket. The game goes on, though it's not clear exactly what the next moves will be. We've set a date for another meeting.
Freddy and I stroll back to the Moira feeling really good, proud to have helped get this project underway. As we amble past the Post Office, holding hands, I think about our other projects. The slide show "A healthy island is a happy island," is finished and I have most of the material shot for the Island Beautification show. The station breaks for KVZK are almost done, and they look good, too. I got a ride in a helicopter from Captain Smoothie of the Sea Encounter to get photos of Tutuila - the whole island - all at once.
My head is still enjoying the helicopter ride as we pass by the darkened Samoan Affairs Office. But, as we cross the bridge to the market Freddy stops and points down into the stream. Now why did she have to do that? Talk about a wet blanket. The creek is still full of filth and trash. There is even a big island of white diapers glowing in the streetlight, planted with red Coke cans and edged with candy wrappers. Tolani has been 'too busy' to get it cleaned up. The trash brings my Captain Smoothie helicopter ride crashing down just as I was contemplating the whole living island of Tutuila from the tropical skies.
On Thursday, I go to the Development Planning Office to speak to Joe but he's too busy to see me. I try to see Minni but she's got a migraine. Louis is in, however, and says, "Have a seat," and promptly gets up and charges out of the office with some urgent matter to attend to. My eyes roam the dusty shelves of old reports. Here lie vast amounts of unread, forgotten works costing the U.S. Taxpayer enormous sums of money and an army of researchers man-years of studious efforts. Looking at these old dusty reports gives me a reminder of how useless it is to turn out big thick reports in a society that does not read. A veritable graveyard of palangi hopes and dreams for manipulating the Samoan Tree of Life.
Reading is an antisocial behavior. You almost never see an islander alone. Picking up a book and burying yourself in it is a very impolite way to cut yourself off from the others in the same room. This is why Samoans hardly ever read. However, since I am alone, I get up and look for a report to skim through. I dust off the covers of the reports and read their titles and dates with the same sort of chilly curiosity one reserves for reading old tombstones. One title catches my eye and I feel the cold chill creep up my spine. It is a thick report - the minutes of a meeting held in 1980 on the Youth of American Samoa. With thick fingers I pick it off the shelf and shake off the dust. Bugs are eating it and little white ones scamper with terror as I flop it open to a random page. I feel like a grave-robber as I examine the corpse of ideas. It is a verbatim script of the meeting.
I read the words of Paramount Chief A.U. Fuimaono and the thoughts of Tolani Toleso and the comments by the experts from a university and from federal employees from Washington, D.C. The script could have been made at the Rainmaker on Tuesday night. Only the palangi's and the sources of cash have changed. Now, three years later, where are the results of this expensive and well researched conference? What are the actual results manifested in the behavior of the people of the island? Where is the youth center proposed during the conference? Will I return to Tutuila in three years and find nothing has changed?
At least we have not generated a big fat report like this one. Think of all the trees murdered to produce this tome of dreams. Ahh, but it has produced a worthwhile ecology of little white bugs and termites and cockroaches who are enthusiastically eating it up. Now, with this limp corpse in my dirt-smudged hands, the meeting that I was so proud of seems like a gruesome zombie. Already dead but still walking around, reaching out with skeletal fingers for the golden pot at the end of the Washington Rainbow.
I can hear Louis Wolman's voice in the next office. I put the book back in its place on the shelf, pick up my hat and sun glasses, and stroll out into the simmering heat of Pago Pago.
Tutuila, I love You
I keep thinking of the I Ching and its relationship to the comment Govinda makes in the Tibetan Mysticism book about words and images. I pick up my stride as I pass the fire station and head out past the Port towards the TV station.
I meditate while walking, mentally chanting the mantra "Tutuila, I Love You" while visualizing the I Ching's hexagram Hsien/Influence (Wooing). The upper trigram is "Tui", that just happens to mean chief in Samoan. In I-Chingese, it means a receptive, joyous lake - just about the opposite of most Samoan Chiefs. The lower trigram is "Ken", the Mountain. The image of Hsien is thus a receptive lake stimulating the mountain. There is a subtle meaning to the image. "The mind should be kept humble and free, so that it may remain receptive to good advice."
As I pace off the walk to the TV station, I stare at the Mountain and blend my mantra - Tutuila I Love You - and the image of the receptive mountain. When I get it just right, Tutuila begins to talk to me. It is a measure of the heat that all this seems OK.
"If you want to make the living island idea work," Tutuila says, "you must create a lake at the top of the mountain and let the people fill it. Be receptive and my people will provide the water for the lake." Along with these words, Tutuila provides an illustration (Tutuila lifted this from Lao Tzu);
With a wall all around
a clay bowl is molded
But the use of the bowl
will depend on the part
of the bowl
that is void
I stride along, filling up with this image, and manage to walk right by the TV Station and into the coastal park and down the path by the sea. I stop, feeling rather foolish. Of course, I realize Tutuila is not really speaking to me. The words and images are a mind-set I have constructed while interacting with Tutuila. The images are kind of a blend of Tutuila and I. Looking out to sea, the blue horizon beckons and it suddenly seems to me the whole thing is ridiculous. Freddy and I should get out of here. My imagination is getting a bit carried away. I wheel around and head back towards the TV station.
As I turn, I almost fall over a man who is weeding the public park's road-side garden. I have, in my dazed march, walked right up to him without seeing him there, hidden by the bushes. I have, in my dazed receptiveness, walked right by my intended destination and come to this man.
He stands up. It is Fa'atali Selini! At full height, he comes to my navel. He has almost no torso, a hunch back, and a gnome-like face. Tolani Toleso told me he is considered "A Special Person," and is important in the Boy Scouts. He works for Parks and Recreation and spends his life cleaning up Tutuila and trying to make the parks and roads more beautiful. Looking at this man, I am immediately reminded of John Kneubuhl telling me the Samoan concept of Mana as something possessed by a crooked tree in a forest. Mana is the interaction of mind with its surroundings. The crooked tree interacts with people as a part of their internal map. A marker in the forest for Samoans to find their way. There is only one man in all of Samoa with these looks. Faatali Selini is filled with mana.
As fate would have it, I have already made out an 'Island Beautification Award' certificate for Faatali Selini, but I have never met him before. This morning, Tutuila marched me right up to him. My faith in the Living Island is restored, refreshed, resumed by this tiny misshapen man. I discover he does not speak English very well. Two young men come over and translate for us. Their body language shows a great respect and deference to Faatali. Their eyes look at him with love.
I take some photos to go with my Island Beautification slide show and explain, through the translators, about the award. I just happen to have it with me so I haul it out and present it, even though it is dated for next month, and take some shots of him receiving it. One would think I arranged all this on purpose. By the time we are done, a small crowd of young men has gathered 'round and everyone is glowing with pleasure. As I head back to the TV station I glance at the Mountain and say, "Fafa'tai lava, Tutuila, my love."
Fui and I sit and look at each other after the rest of the meeting members have left. The second meeting on the youth center was flat and unproductive. "Too many words,"` he shakes his head.
"All talk and no action," I agree.
"The kind of help we need is the person who can walk, not sit and talk." he thumps his desk with this fine, resounding political statement.
"Production. It's important to produce something besides words." I mumble, having nothing handy to thump. "Images are very important. The image, the concept, is the way the whole group of people knows what they are aiming for. It's a style of living. We need to strengthen the image of the whole island working together as a single awareness. A living island tracking its joint destiny in a world of choices." That sounds really good and I see Fui nod.
"I intend to run for Governor or Lieutenant Governor," Fui startles me. "I would be pleased if you would help my campaign."
We talk about this for awhile and then I walk back to the Ark Park, full of political, living island, pontification. Phrases like "Each act of sacrifice is a victory over ourselves and thus an act of liberation bringing us one step nearer to our goal of living knowledge and certainty of experience." I have to stop and laugh over that one. Even I'm not sure what it means.
"No one can say where the limits of capability lie. The intensity of our striving determines these limits. Act! The means will follow and grow with the motion." At this point, however, I reach the damned bridge leading to the market. Tolani has still not arranged to have the ditch cleaned. I stand and contemplate the garbage in it. Litter is strewn everywhere in the park and in the market. There isn't a single garbage container from the Ark Park all the way to the TV station. The slide show and the TV spots will soon be made public. I sure hope they work. As I resume my walk to the Ark Park, I get another mind image.
The joyous lake at the top of the mountain is filled with sparkling mineral water but down here at the crotch of the mountain the creeks and the harbor is filled with America's plastic and aluminum wrappings. They poison the roots of the Samoan Tree of Life.