Samoa: Wedding cake and the shaking ‘fale’

Life in mid-60s Samoa could get a little strange for a guy who grew up in urban Salt Lake City. Here are just two examples: [Read more…]

The Samata ‘fly-test’: A Miracle?

When I was a Mormon missionary in Samoa in the early months of 1967, my companion and I were assigned to live in Samata, Savaii, in the Falelima district…where we experienced what some have called a miracle. Now, I experienced a number of miracles during my missionary days in Samoa, some of them even humorous, but you decide about this one, First, however, some background: [Read more…]

Upu ‘afakasi: Samoan “half-caste” words

A few posts back I blogified about Samoan pronunciation and names. Now I’d like to do a little follow-up on ‘upu ‘afakasi — Samoan half-caste words. [Read more…]

Barbed wire jump

In a recent meeting  (actually a Latter-day Saints testimony meeting) a young lady in our church shared a story of faith that involved praying for her car . . . which reminded me of two incidents where we did something similar years ago in Samoa: [Read more…]

Samoan vs. Hawaiian names

In my last entry, I went on-and-on about the Samoan language, and made a few comparisons with other Polynesian languages, which reminded me of a brief incident years ago that demonstrates the difference between many Samoan and Hawaiian names: [Read more…]

A primer on Polynesian pronounciation…

When I first started learning Samoan in 1965, I soon discovered:

  • It is totally unrelated to English or any other European language, except for ‘upu afakasi — borrowed or “half-caste” words. Please note, Samoa does not have a caste system, but the word afakasi refers to someone or something of mixed heritage.
  • English speakers can handle most of the sounds — except for a couple of sorta’ new ones and some dipthongs (vowel combinations) as well as some completely unusual “swaps” (more on these below).
  • Formal Samoan writing uses diacritic marks which definitely help second-language learners to understand better, but they are not included in most Samoan writing.
  • There is a separate lexicon of chiefly language, bolstered by historical allusions, proverbs and socio-genealogical-geographical knowledge — all filtered through a prescribed centuries-old tradition of oratory — that usually only matai or chief’s learn to varying degrees. Ministers, Latter-day Saint missionaries, and other officials are considered to be chiefly, or just below chiefly rank; and as such, for example, I learned enough to interact with the matai in giving appropriate responses to greetings, addressing chiefs, giving thanks and, of course, speaking in formal situations such as church meetings. But it seemed to me that every skilled Samoan orator considers him- or herself an authority on this chiefly language, and like many foreign-language situations, sometimes one learned just enough to get in trouble. It must also be noted that some references actually say this manner of oratory is a separate language, but it’s definitely Samoan. [Read more…]

A bamboo cannon: New Year’s 2009

First, Happy New Year 2009, or as we say in Hawaii: Hau’oli Makahiki Hou! Those of you who know New Year’s Eves in Hawaii will smile, while those of you who haven’t ever had the pleasure can’t imagine the noise and smoke of the fireworks, plus the enjoyment of the grindz — the food — and fun as families or even whole streets, especially in places like Laie, put picnic tables under easy-up awnings and go at the excitement of burning off thousands of dollars of fireworks. Some Laie families are well-known for their annual New Year’s Eve street parties.

Again, for those not familiar with Oahu, firecrackers up to a certain modest length and quantity are legal (with a permit, from licensed vendors), while almost every store sells the usual fireworks — sparklers, cones, spinners, pop-pops, etc., etc. But the legal limits have never stopped illegal pyrotechnics that also invade the community every year, including window-shaking aerial bombs, bursts and various rockets.

Amid all of this for the first time last night I noticed another noisemaker I hadn’t seen for many years: A Samoan fana ‘ofe or bamboo cannon. [Read more…]


The first sign on Friday evening, December 26, was a little flicker of the lights. I remember saying to my wife, Sally, I wonder if someone hit a telephone pole somewhere down the highway. Then a few minutes later the lights went out — then soon enough all over Oahu. Yup, for the second time in two years the complete island of Oahu went dark as HECO totally shut down:

People were stuck in elevators, the airport was basically shut down, traffic lights were out, of course. Stores closed early, a lot of gas stations couldn’t operate. In short, it was a disaster.

[Read more…]

Ono “char siu” and other adventure food tales

My wife, Sally, and I went to a graduation party last night for our nephew, Gabriel Kai Chan, combined with a birthday party for his sister, Jenna’s three-year-old, Kyra. Their mom, Ida, is Sally’s youngest sister and pal. We often have extended family gatherings at Ida and Peter’s house because it has a very large living room that was packed with family, friends and neighbors. The menu for the evening was Hawaiian food, which should have tipped me off . . . because there was this really ono [Hawaiian for ‘delicious’], or at least I thought so — as did others, red Chinese-style char siu [barbecued pork]… [Read more…]

Mormon missionary life in Samoa, 1965

Story and photos by Mike Foley, originally published on December 7, 2008

Many aspects of living in most parts of Samoa in 1965 were very different for a person who grew up in an urban American environment. For example: [Read more…]

Interisland boats in Samoa, 1965

Polynesian Airlines, 1966[Blog entry and photos by Mike Foley, originally published online, December 7, 2008]

In my “Mutiny in Samoa” entry, I referred to the fact that by 1965 most Mormon missionaries in Samoa flew between American and Western Samoa on a Polynesian Airlines DC3 [pictured at right]. New policy called for missionaries to fly whenever possible, but I still remember when I first arrived in March of that year President John Phillip Hanks came came to Tutuila to meet me and conduct mission business on a relatively small boat, about 60-feet long, that left Apia the evening before and arrived that morning in Pago Pago. [Read more…]

‘Mutiny’ in Samoa

tarita_brandoSpeaking of Samoa, where I served as a Mormon missionary in the mid-1960s, one day a number of us were traveling from Upolu, the main island in Western Samoa [now just called Samoa] and Tutuila, the main island in American Samoa. In those days Western Samoa maintained a World War II-era grass landing strip at Faleolo, about 20 miles east of Apia: The runway was too short to accommodate jets, which flew into Tafuna, American Samoa, so Polynesian Airlines used WWII-era DC3s. We were very grateful for those old workhorse planes, because the alternative was a $5, 9-12-hour overnight boat ride [oka, oka i le ma’i vasa mata’utia].

I’ve forgotten the other members of our traveling party, but I’ll always remember a couple of the other passengers: [Read more…]

Taga ‘two-seater’

In the days I served in Samoa as a Mormon missionary in the mid-1960s, there were still lots of fale or Samoan houses, just like at the Polynesian Cultural Center . . . and falevao or outhouses were everywhere, usually rickety things hanging over a beach. At high tide fish would come under them. Ebb tide provided the “flush,” and pigs would sometimes scrounge underneath at low tide. Government and Peace Corps sanitation programs were still a few years in the future.

Some villages, like Nu’uuli in Tutuila, for example, had a long row of them. But the one that really sticks in my mind, even though it’s been over 40 years since I first-and-last saw it, was a little two-seater in the small village of Taga, Savaii. [Read more…]