Stuart had a talk with Matthew and
Cameron over breakfast. "Sunday is a very special time for
Samoans. They go to church and then spend the day resting
with their families and enjoy a special lunch together.
We've been invited to join in; so we're going to set some
ground rules. You two must sit still and don't dare make
any noise. If you fidget, squeak or mess about, then the
punishment will be terrible." The boys stared up at him,
absorbing every word. Stuart searched around for a suitable
retribution. "The Samoan police will be on duty in church,
and they'll take you off to prison if you misbehave," he
continued in his sternest voice. The boys looked fittingly
We returned to our falé and rooted around for something
appropriate to wear. Our travellers' wardrobe had been diminishing
over the last few weeks, as our cycling clothes had been
sent home, binned or left abandoned in various parts of
the globe. Samoan people all wear white for church and we
had been briefed to wear light colours.
"Ok Stuart, I've got a yellow Family on a bike T shirt,
a multicoloured lavalava, a black Big Coast cycling top
and a pair of black tracksuit pants. What do you think?"
I held up the contents of my wardrobe which I now managed
to fit into a small child's rucksack.
"I think we're going to stand out like a sore thumb."
The church awaits the congregation
Outside the church there was a throng
of white flowing skirts, beaded straw hats and prayer books.
All the men wore white lavalavas, shirts and ties, and every
child was immaculately dressed in sparkling, pressed white
outfits. We were a colourful crumpled addition. Leilua,
the owner of our falé complex, had invited all her guests
to church and lunch. Her other guests were an international
collection of surf dudes who had put on their best shorts
and 'white stuff' T shirts for the occasion. Brian, Ben,
Janelle and Jamie made a donation to the man at the front
desk and ambled in, looking slightly uncomfortable. One
of them carried Leilua's handbag as she escorted her blind
mother into church. The building filled slowly and the organist
played his opening notes. The choir then took over, singing
in strong harmonies, their voices filling the church. Flies
buzzed in and out of the open slatted windows and the big
white building absorbed the chorus, stained glass windows
filled with sunlight. High, high on a pulpit the minister
appeared, the singing ended and the church became silent
apart from his preaching. Deadly silent. Matthew and Cameron
climbed onto their benches. Cameron caught his brother's
eye and squeaked; the beginnings of their well rehearsed
mousie game. "There's a policeman there, and there, and
there. See, those men in white," Stuart pointed out in a
fierce whisper. "One more squeak and they'll take you off
us." The children froze.
The minister delivered his service
and sermon and all around us the children of the village
stood absolutely quiet. The women waved straw fans in their
faces to ward off the heat, and the men dutifully read their
bibles. Then a small child in front of us turned to his
sister and poked her in the stomach. Without taking his
eyes off his bible, a burly man next to them reached over
with a fan, and with a short sharp, almost imperceptible
whack, the child was reprimanded and fell silent. As the
service progressed we noticed the small thuds coming from
all around the church; as any child so much as moved, it
was brought into line by a touch of a fan, or the lightning
strike of a bible descending onto their head. Perhaps our
police story had been a mild threat after all.
"Brian…blah blah tala." The minister was announcing who
had given what in the collection, a regular naming and shaming
device to ensure each family donates a percentage of their
income to the church, to cover the minister's salary. Brian,
the American surf dude who had just been named, shuffled
uncomfortably in his seat. Matthew and Cameron sat quiet
Organised religion is everywhere
in Samoa and has a massive hold on its people. Almost everyone
in every village goes to church. Some villages with just
a scattering of people manage to house three or four different
churches; Catholic, Methodist, Mormon, Assembly of God or
Seventh Day Adventist, the choice is yours as long as you
go. The chiefs of the village make sure everyone attends
and dispensation is only allowed to those who are cooking
the Sunday lunch. Consequently we are told there are many
volunteer chefs on a Sunday. Services are held in the morning
and afternoon and the community attends both. We have asked
many people why religious belief is so strong here, and
have received many different replies. "The English missionaries
started it," a waiter told us accusingly as he served our
breakfast. "We have always prayed, it is part of our culture,"
said a local shop owner. "The bloody Mormons come in and
build flash temples and bribe them with computers and a
university in Hawaii," said Steve our guide, a firm non-believer.
"We simply like to sing," said one of the hospitality staff
of the beach resorts, as she prepared to entertain us for
Bus loads of people, bibles and fans. Attendance is virtually
Back at the beach falé, Leilua came
to round us all up. It was now ten in the morning and lunch
was being served over at the family home. But we had only
finished our breakfast at eight, and were unprepared for
the early feast. In a large falé , Leilua's family sat crosslegged
on mats. On plates made out of leaves the now familiar traditional
Samoan food was awaiting us. A parcel of leaves containing
tarot leaves and coconut cream baked in the 'umu;'- a special
ground oven, the tarot vegetable; a starchy substitute for
the western potato, a bowl of cabbage soup and three types
of meat, accompanied by a cup of Samoan cocoa.
Leilua was charming, welcoming everyone with a big smile.
"My mother is blind but she hear everything," she said,
gesturing to the old woman sitting next to her. "You are
nosey aren't you Mother?" Her mother sipped her cocoa in
Stuart picked at the tarot leaves, unable to bring himself
to touch anything with coconut milk in it after his bout
of food poisoning. I tucked into my food, with Cameron's
plate sitting untouched beside me. "You have that one as
well, you are eating for two," Leilua cried with delight.
"I'm hungry," said Matthew rejecting his plate. But Leilua
understood. "Tell Maria and she will make you some chips
later," she briefed him, "and weren't you good in church
Matthew?" Our son smiled broadly at her praise.
"We told him the police would come and take him away otherwise,"
Stuart told her cheerfully. "But next time we might just
bash him with a bible or a fan."
"You noticed that?" Leilua shrieked, her laughter filling
the falé . "Yes, our children are very good in church. And
you could say our bibles are well used in Samoa."
Leilua rewards the boys for good
behaviour in church. Better than a bash with a bible eh