Sunday, January 27, 2008

Samoa Part 5: Environment

Samoa has two seasons: hot and wet, and hot and wetter. Since the islands are in the southern hemisphere, their hot and wetter season corresponds with our northern hemisphere winter. The hot and wetter season could also be aptly called the rainy or typhoon season. In the early 1990s, Samoa and American Samoa were devastated by two powerful typhoons within two or so years' time.

In the 23 months that I served in the islands we never experienced the fury of a typhoon. Once one passed within 100 kilometers to the west of Savaii and we had strong enough winds to blow down banana trees, but that's as close as it got.

When I arrived in Samoa it was the end of May, 2001. The hot and wet, or "dry", season was under way. That meant that it still regularly rained but not as much as the other half of the year. With such an ample amount of heat and rain the islands of the Samoan archipelago are lush and beautiful.

During the late 1800s, Germany took interest in then "Western" Samoa as a means for copra and chocolate production. The German business and government leaders in Samoa developed coconut and cocoa plantations as well as planting programs mandating that the Samoans plant so many coconut trees each month.

Today all that remains of the German legacy are some few politically and economically powerful Samoan families which bear German surnames and the vestiges of old plantations. However, the best part is that Samoa was unwittingly beautified by the planting programs as the land is literally covered by old, tall, graceful coconut palm trees which sway in the warm island breezes and provide refreshing green drinking coconuts for weary and overheated missionaries.

To illustrate the coconut palm's usefulness to Samoans an old legend is told of a Fijian king who heard of the beauty of one Samoan girl named Sina. The king turned himself into an eel and swam the distance between Fiji and Samoa to find his intended love.

When he arrived to Samoa, the king found that he could not turn himself back into a man. The king located Sina but rather than marrying her he became her pet eel. She placed him in her bathing pool and there he grew into a monstrosity.

One day Sina went to bathe and noticed that the eel was leering at her. She swore at the eel and fled from it. The eel followed Sina over both water and land. Far from her home, Sina dashed into a council hut seeking refuge among the village chiefs. The eel entered the hut and rose up to tower above the men who cowered in fear of the great fish.

The old king-turned eel explained to Sina his undying love for her. He told her that he soon would die because of the difficulties he had in following her. His only request to Sina was that she would cut his head from his eel body and plant it in the ground next to her house. From the spot where she planted his head would grow a tree whose fruit and various parts would provide food and drink, fiber and lumber, and a host of other useful products for Sina's people. The catch though was that every time Sina or her people drank from the coconut, they would meet the eel in a kiss.

So the next time you see a coconut, take a close look at it and notice how the three dark spots form "eyes" and a "nose". Thus a face appears, the face of the old Fijian king turned-eel.

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