A Long Awaited Visit to the Paka o Amerika Samoa, Ta’u Island

Two years ago I visited our island’s section of the National Park of American Samoa with my second graders on a school-wide field trip. Although I really loved being able to enjoy the park with my students, I’ve always wanted to go back and see more of it (and that side of the island in general). On Saturday, Saunoa (the legendary) took a group of us to Fiti’uta to see some of the more popular places. (Small note: my lens is in need of repair and until that happens, most of my photos are going to look slightly out of focus because, well, they are. So do try to forgive the blur.)

View of Saua

View of Saua

The last time I was there, we mainly hung out around the park entrance, but this time we drove until the road ran out at Saua.

Saua is considered the most sacred site in the Samoan islands as it is believed to be the birthplace of mankind.

(You can read more about the Samoan creation myth here. It is difficult to find much information about the myths nowadays for two reasons: first, because many Samoans believe that the legends should only be passed orally [and never ever ever shared with non-Samoans, even if refusing to record the myths means losing them completely]; and second, because the oral tradition is nowhere near as strong as it once was. Whereas just a generation ago children heard these traditional legends from their grandparents or village elders, today’s children are much more interested in [cough, distracted by, cough] modern technology [and nearly all of the children in my village have ipads, kindle fires, etc to distract them to no end]. Just keep in mind that what little I know I’ve gotten from neighbors and books.)

The Great Beards of Manu'a walk the Beach of Saua

The Great Beards of Manu’a

Though the adoption of Christianity (or, more accurately, church) and Western influence in general have re-shaped how Saua is viewed in greater Polynesia, still many people on Ta’u consider it a sacred place. (In fact, I have heard several stories of palagi who visit Saua and attempt to take photos or video, only to find later that the film/camera/video equipment has been irreparably damaged. It is well-known on island that the aitu, or spirits/ghosts, who reside here are fiercely protective of the secrets of Manu’a.)

Saua was, of course, our first stop (as it is where the road ends). We emerged from the trees on a long stretch of untouched, rocky beach. There is supposedly still an ancient grinding stone at the Saua site, but in the excitement of being there I forgot to go look for it.

The birthplace of Polynesia

The birthplace of Polynesia

Teine palagi enjoying the view

Teine palagi enjoying the view

From there, we walked to another important historical site in Manu’a, Tai Samasama (yellow tide) where legend has it ancient kings and matai (those holding rank in the chief system) held meetings in the shallow waters between villages. They paddled out to one another and, still in their separate canoes, held ‘ava ceremonies in a show of mutual respect and kinship. As customary, ‘ava would be poured out from their cups, turning the water a murky yellow. It is said that the water remains yellow to this day. The view  from Tai Samasama was extraordinary. (The distant mountain slops down to  place known as Tufu point, which I also hope to visit before we leave. From there you can see the entire south side of the island.)

Rock bridge for the crabbies

Rock bridge for the crabbies

We continued our hike along a coastline that unfurled before us in a breathtaking display of black and grey lava rock.  I was having a hard time trying to watch my step on the rocks while trying to never ever ever take my eyes off of all the awesomeness around me. But we made our sure-footed way across the lava rock path to our next destination.

Wanna go to there?

Wanna go to there?

It's not a terrible life.

It’s not a terrible life

So green

So green

We continued on to a place I believe is called Lauma’a (the palm covered mound jutting out in the photo above), and then climbed some rocky steps into the lush paleo-tropical rain forest.

Saunoa briefly explained how to properly catch a coconut crab, should we find any on the trail, and then we all went our own ways, wandering erratically through the rain forest like little lost ants.. I was mesmerized (per usual) by the fact that I was walking in a rain forest! and got a little behind the rest of the group. One thing I love about living here is that you can meander through as much jungle as you’d like without worrying about any poisonous creatures attacking you. (Or ruthless machine-gun carrying bad guys, a la The Beach.)

Dry pandanus leaves litter the forest floor

Dry pandanus leaves litter the forest floor

After about half an hour of failing to adequately capture the park in photographs, I continued on the trail to the rest of the group. I found a few of them in a sea of pandanus leaves, searching for coconut crabs.

Dianna was the first to spot one of the alien-like creatures climbing in the trees overhead, and suddenly it seemed as though they were everywhere. We didn’t see any particularly large ones, but the ones we did find were big enough to be creepy. Usually you see several coconut crab traps on the forest trails, but we were far enough in that we hadn’t seen any for quite some time. Maybe the crabs thought they found some place safe from human interference. (Wrong.)

Just a little crab in a tree

Just a little crab in a tree

Crabby crap

A dinner fit for a Beard

Saunoa cracks a coconut for us.

Saunoa cracks a coconut for us.

Saunoa appeared again out of thin-air in the patch of Pandanus and we all walked back to the truck together. We stopped for a while in the shade by Saua to enjoy the crisp ocean breeze. Saunoa regaled us (as he is wont to do) as we sipped from young coconuts and gnawed hungrily on the fresh meat. Despite having never found someone to teach me how to, I inexplicably wove a dead palm branch into a small heart-shaped fan. (So, that was cool.)

After stopping at the store (and buying 5 frozen french bread pizzas!!), Sauna took us on a short tour of his land. His property is beautifully landscaped and boasts pretty much everything I’d love to have one day (star fruit trees and all) on a patch of my very own tropical mountian land. Here are just a few pics:

Star fruit. Not quite ready to eat.

Star fruit. Not quite ready to eat.

Gazebo built around a papaya tree and covered in cucumber.

Gazebo built around a papaya tree and covered in cucumber.

Turtle garden

Turtle garden

From there we all returned to Faleasao. The Beard spent much of the remainder of the day playing games with the other foreign teachers while I stayed back at the house to read, write, eat, and sleep the time away. We will probably be taking a break from hiking for a little while as the upcoming holidays will be keeping us pretty busy. I have been writing a lot lately about more complicated and personal things; I hope to clean those essays up a bit and post on here shortly. In the mean time, you may as well enjoy some more photos from our hike on Saturday.

PS: I hope those of you who are reading from the northern hemisphere are enjoying your winter! hehehe.

If you're into this kind of thing...

If you’re into this kind of thing…

Turquoise | Pandanus

Turquoise waters

Mr. H holds his treasure

Mr. H holds his treasure

The palagi navigate the rocks

The palagi navigate the rocks

Tai Samasama

Tai Samasama

Forest view of the beach

Forest view of the beach

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About Cat Q.

For three years, I lived on a tiny little island in the South Pacific called Ta'u, where I taught elementary and high school English. Much of this blog is a chronicle of my time there, and of the travels we were able to do while we were on that side of the world. Now, I'm doing a different kind of travelling in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. I graduated with a B.A. in English and a history minor from Kennesaw State University in 2010, and earned an advanced certificate in TEFL while teaching abroad in 2012. I love Jesus and enjoy knitting, Atlanta Falcons football, and spending time alone with my Kindle. I've been married for 10 years to a beautiful bearded man who makes me laugh like no other. The Beard occasionally blogs over here: http://www.leapfromthelionshead.wordpress.com
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