3 Voices.

Note to self: this is an english paper you wrote that you’re instructor really liked.

Monica LaPlante

Dr. Robbie Pinter


English 3010.30

Island Lessons

I remember being a little girl in American Samoa.   This small island, in the middle of the South Pacific where I resided a mere 4 years, would impact me greatly throughout the course of my life.  It was here that I learned some of my most valuable lessons.  Samoa’s local charm fostered within me an appreciation for community and connectedness.  It seemed that everyone was someone’s cousin, at least to my recollection.  The volcanic landscapes and ocean wildlife demonstrated to me the awesome power and diversity of Mother Nature.  My memories provide me with snapshots you might see in a National Geographic jungle issue.  Although somewhat westernized, in many ways the culture still reflected the historically primitive nature of the Samoan people.   After all, cannibalism was wildly practiced and it is uncertain as to when it was actually phased out.   The presence of a ritualistic, souvenir brain fork that rested on our bookshelf served to remind me of this.  Being exposed to the culture’s brutality, abuse, and corruption, no doubt stemming from these tribal practices, quickly stole from me much of my childhood innocence.  I regularly witnessed parents beating their toddlers in public and even came to understand that you could get away with murder occasionally.  The juxtaposition of this barbarianism set on the backdrop of a beautiful island paradise educated me in all the cruelty and beauty the world could simultaneously offer.

Of all my island memories, what I look back on with the most fondness are my ocean adventures.  Volcanically formed, the entire Island is surrounded by a vast coral reef.  These reefs were homes to thousands of the most beautiful and horrifying creatures I have seen to date.  It was the reefs of American Samoa that became my playgrounds.  Dodging “Man of War” jellyfish was far more entertaining than kickball.  More than the natural wonder and freedom of the ocean, I also experienced the frightening power contained within it.  I vividly recall being 11 years old, floating freely in the magnificence of the Pacific Ocean on the reefs edge.  Suspended and buoyant in excessively salty waters, I considered the island in the near distance before me measured against the magnitude of the infinite great blue behind me.  So when the pull of ocean swells would occasionally sweep me out a little further than I was comfortable with, I knew in those moments how small and fragile I really was.  Today, I measure most things against the ocean of my childhood.

On December 12, 1991, Hurricane Val began the rage of its four-day devastation over the tiny island of American Samoa (Green Peace).  I remember them declaring a state of emergency in the middle of a school day — my classmates and I completely unaware of what was about to take place.  Teachers franticly pulled us from class and ushered us away to the illusion of safety within our homes.  I found a small gap in between a boarded up window, the only space to peak out into the phenomenon of destruction that was taking place inches from me.  The once safe sanctuary of our home was quickly transformed into a rickety wooden box that no longer offered the certainty of protection.  Sheet metal swirled like loose leaf paper in the air.  I wondered how animals would survive.  I was only 11. I ventured outside for a short period during the eye of the storm–a strange calm to experience during the midst of disaster.  The air, warm and damp on my face, overwhelmed my senses.  Gusts of wind would lift me off my feet just long enough to experience the sensation of weightlessness.  I found a subtle enjoyment in this despite the promise that terror would soon recommence.  In those 5 days, Hurricane Val asserted its dominance.  Losses for the island were near total.  Food crops were devastated, structures were leveled, and people were stripped of their homes (Green Peace).  My family was lucky–only having to endure an absence of electricity for several weeks, a damaged roof, and the laborious task of removing our neighbor’s garage from our front yard.

There is a legend of an old Samoan woman named Salega and her only daughter Salofa.  Famine spread over their village and Salega became concerned that she and her daughter would starve.  In an act of desperation, Salega ordered her daughter to accompany her over the edge of a cliff into the ocean.  They grasped each other’s hand tightly and were soon consumed by waves.  Moments later they appeared again as a turtle and shark.  This enabled them to swim to a nearby island were they reappeared in human form to a local village.  Here they were warmly welcomed–fed, clothed, and honored as special guests.  Once rejuvenated, Salega told the village chief that she and her daughter would go to live just beyond the edge of the cliff as turtle and shark and that they would reappear to entertain them should they chant:

Fonuea, Fonuea, Laulau mai se Manamea,

O sa ai e i luga nei? O sa Letuli e i luga nei.

A ua ina, a la ina, O le a solo mata’iga,

Laulau tu la le i’a, Ususu!

For several centuries they lived there and made good on their promise by never failing to appear when beckoned (Jane’s Oceana).  Today, you can still visit what is locally referred to as Turtle and Shark Beach with the anticipation of seeing Salega and her daughter, Salofa.

Works Cited

Green Peace. Climate Impact Database, Hurricane Val, 1992. Web. January. 2008.

Jane’s Oceana.  Some Legands of Samoa, 2008. Web. January. 2008


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