Saturday, September 13, 2014

My Night on Aunuʻu

"Let the Work Begin" by Clark Kelley Price, which depicts the arrival of Joseph and Florence Dean, and four-month-old son Jasher Harry, to Aunuʻu in the Samoan islands in June of 1888

Sometime on either the 17th, 18th, or 21st of June, 1888, depending on whom you consult for the date, Joseph and Florence Dean, missionaries belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, officially opened a mission to the Samoan islands and commenced their work of proselytizing the natives.

The Deans were assisted by one Samuela Manoa, a native Hawaiian, who years before had gone to Samoa under the direction of Walter Murray Gibson, the crafty interloper who made a lot of trouble for the Latter-day Saints in the Hawaiian islands, and who ingratiated himself with King David Kalākaua, eventually becoming one of the king's officers.

Apparently, the Deans' great-great-grandson is currently serving his own mission in Samoa and was recently able to go to Aunuʻu island off the eastern coast of Tutuila in American Samoa, where his forebears initially settled to establish the mission, to celebrate their arrival there. (In later years, the mission headquarters would move to ʻUpolu, the most populous of the Samoan islands, then and now, where it remains today, at present located just next to the temple, not far from Apia.)

The Deans' great-great-grandson, Elder Anderson, who is currently serving in the Samoa Apia Mission. The title of the commemorative plaque says, "The morning of the Restored Gospel in Samoa." In this case, taeao doesn't refer to a run-of the-mill-morning, but to an "important, memorable, or auspicious occasion," i.e., the dawning of a new era. 

During my own mission to Samoa, I once went to Aunuʻu. It's a beautiful island situated not more than a mile off the coast of Tutuila. The only way to the diminutive island, which may have served at one point in its history as a sort of penal colony, as suggested by its name, is to catch one of the few daily ferries from ʻAuʻasi.

The boat ride to Aunuʻu
The interior of Aunuʻu is swampy, and the mosquitoes there are the stuff of legend (if not now, then certainly once this post goes viral, with a nod to this and this post referring to other parts of Samoa).

As my companion and I, in the company of the local congregation's missionary leader, settled down for the night on the tile floor of one of the rooms in the tiny chapel, we realized that we had forgotten to bring mosquito nets, an absolute necessity when sleeping in the open air, as we soon would be.

To our everlasting chagrin, all the stores were also closed so we could purchase neither mosquito nets nor repellent coils. Instead, we resigned ourselves to a night of fitful sleep and constant battle with the murderous mozzies.

The mission leader we were with rubbed it in by going home to grab his own mosquito net to sleep in. After a long while, however, he returned empty handed, saying that when he'd found his net, he also found an old lady, presumably a family member, sleeping in it.

We took a certain wicked pleasure in his misfortune of having to share our fate through the night.

Suffice it to say, none of us slept well.

The next day I was so tired that, by the time we returned back to neighboring Tutuila island, my Samoan language ability had tanked. I couldn't get anything to come out right, at one point blurting out, to my great embarassment, a Tongan-ish fakalatalata (instead of the Samoan faʻalatalata; faka- and faʻa- being functionally equivalent prefixes in Tongan and Samoan, respectively).

I hope Elder Anderson, the Deans' great-great-grandson, had a more pleasant stay on Aunuʻu remembering the great work that his ancestors began so many years ago.

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