Ia, fa’alogo mai.
That’s what our elders would say to get children’s attention before telling a fascinating tale, especially an old Samoan myth or legend.
I missed out on that experience growing up, so I wanted to hear a few of those stories while I’m here in Samoa. When I asked around at various family gatherings, though, I got mostly blank stares. I guess childhood was too long ago for my relatives…or maybe we’re not learning our folklore much anymore, not even in Samoa..?
Finally an aunt said, you know the best person to ask about that? And she introduced me to Donna Ioane.
Along with her parents and siblings, Donna runs a holistic style primary (elementary) school. The learning environment at Le Amosa is based on Samoan values, and surprisingly, it’s the only school in Samoa these days that delivers classes entirely in the Samoan language. Traditional myths and legends are just a part of the curriculum here.
The day I met with Donna, I was in the mood for a love story. What’s that one about the mountain and the tears again? It’s a very popular Samoan legend, but I couldn’t remember the details.
Donna laughed and explained that she’s reluctant to share legends associated with landmarks (like mountains, rivers, caves and waterfalls etc). Landmarks belong to villages and villagers can be precious about their stories. If you’re going to tell a legend from a village you don’t belong to, you’re going to raise a few eyebrows and quite possibly some objections.
But I insisted – everybody knows this story anyway, right? The one with the tragic love, and the river and the big strong man…
Donna graciously relented and, with a slightly wary but keen smile, launched into story mode.
Fa’alogo mai, Samoana. This is the legend of Mt Vaea and Loimata o Apaula (as told by Donna Ioane with lots of healthy elaboration by me).
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Apparently, the root of this plant can help relieve pain. It’s widely used in Asian cooking, but I’m not sure that’s for the flavor. I’ve eaten a lot of food with this stuff in it, but I still couldn’t tell you what it tastes like – it’s so subtle and almost bland.
It grows well in Samoa, though. It’s all over the place, but I don’t think a lot of locals even know what it is.
Check back next week for the answer.
Did you recognize the Upolu building in last week’s …Read more ››
Years ago I would visit Samoa and expect to be so immersed in the Samoan language that when I returned to my western world I would feel super fluent, showing off all my newly rehearsed Samoan words and phrases.
Samoa isn’t like that anymore. Today, especially in Upolu’s town area, it’s not easy to find anyone who doesn’t speak perfect English, or who won’t obligingly switch languages once they hear your overseas accent.
It makes sense. English is the language of tourists, formal education, international aid, and therefore, money. Locals have to make a living, right? …Read more ››
It should be one of the most recognizable buildings in Upolu – just about everyone has to come here at least once in their lives.
Does it look familiar to you?
Check back next week for the big reveal.
Last week’s answer: This herb is indeed the moegalo, or lemongrass.
Can someone please do an experiment to see if it really does repel mosquitoes?
It’s a little bit tragic, I know, but the way my world is these days, I feel naked without a mobile phone (or Internet access). That’s why Number 1 on my To Do list for when I got to Samoa was easy – get connected!
I figured it should be simple enough. I keep hearing how EVERYBODY in Samoa is packin’ a mobile phone now; even the little old ladies in the kuaaaaaa as villages sport Nokias and Alcatels and somehow get the money to top up their credit, too.
And then I got advice from …Read more ››