A while back, a friendly ex-pat Samoan traveler helped explain the essence of Samoa to one of our SWAP Ambassadors on her first flight to Paradise, “Oh your first time in Samoa? You’ll see, it’s all for show!” In other words, she was saying, there are always two stories in Samoa.
We have to teach the Samoan hosts in our Village Stay programme NOT to go overboard with purchasing expensive imported foods just to impress Palagi guests. Offering home-grown, home-cooked foods in a normal natural way (the one story) has far greater value to the Palagi than any primitive efforts to show off and look good (the other story), but it is a hard sell to people all too keen to impress.
The mesmerising Samoan smile or the legendary Samoan hospitality can turn sour very quickly for a Palagi who has had their baggage stolen, or when they find out that the taxi fare from Faleolo to Apia is normally $50.00, and take little more than half an hour, rather than the $200.00 three hour journey via the south coast that they were tricked into buying.
For a century or more the tropical South Seas Islands have been viewed as Paradise internationally, and a large proportion of Palagi visitors expect, and want to experience a Paradise when they get here. The outwards appearance of beauty, both human and natural is not a lie – it surely exists – yet there is the other side to Samoa that almost always smashes their dream when Palagi realise that Samoa is far from perfect. Beneath the surface, the other side of Samoa is very ready to pounce and bring the Palagi down to earth.
I’ve heard it said many times that a Samoan views a Palagi through his pockets. I understand very well the natural desire to want to “get” from those who have more than us, but there are things that really brass the Palagi off and turn the Paradise of their dreams into a Mexican-like hell-hole in their minds. When grown men in the street stick their hand out to a Palagi for money; when children are selling knickknacks on the street (and are clearly annoyed when a “rich” Palagi doesn’t buy from them); when taxi drivers “forget” the correct price for a Palagi and all manner of things arise from the pits of greed, it is then that the dream of the beautiful Samoa, and the lovely friendly, hospitable Samoans turns into a nightmare.
There are few things more upsetting for the majority of Palagi than church giving, especially legislated or coerced giving. It takes a lot of explaining to help the Palagi understand the importance in the Samoan culture of looking good. Right or wrong, understanding the power of peer pressure, cultural expectations or norms is often seen in the same light as witch doctors, cults or worse. As a whole, they do not understand nor share the same values that one man has a lien on God or His Word.
Their almost unanimous cry is, “Why? Why borrow so much, pay so much, spend so much to impress others when there is no need? Can’t you just say, ‘No!’ to the Pastor or Minister or Matai or High Chief?”
When confronted with the reality that something outside their norms is normal the Palagi can rarely ignore simple logic. To them it doesn’t make sense, but it is the way it is, and has been for a very long time! Thus the two stories will probably continue – Faalavelaves and saving face, or keeping up appearances continue to sap the people of Paradise . . . that is unless the people choose otherwise.