Another of the highlights of my trip to Samoa earlier this month was my first visit to Manono. Situated between Upolu and Savaii, Manono has a population of approximately 1,000, making it the 3rd most populous of the islands that compose the country.
The people of Manono were considered to be among the greatest sailors and fiercest warriors of the Pacific in ancient times. They were routinely hired as mercenaries by ambitious leaders of other islands seeking to extend their rule. Now Manono is notable in part for having no dogs, horses, cars, or large machinery, making it a particularly peaceful island paradise.
Our captain and my colleague Joe, as we sail for Manono (in the distance).
I heard about Manono even before becoming Ambassador, and I have been very much looking forward to visiting. Unfortunately, my prior business trips to Apia have been too heavily scheduled to allow the excursion. This time, though, I made sure that we kept a day clear for the trip.
My colleagues Chad, Ben, and Joe and I drove from Apia to Cape Lefatu, the western-most edge of Upolu island. There we engaged a small, double-hull fishing boat to ferry us the two miles across the lagoon to Manono. It was a clear, blue, sunny day, and we thoroughly enjoyed the half hour sail.
Approaching the Manono shore, near the fales of Sweet Escape Resort. Our boat was the same as the fishing boat pictured here.
Manono has four villages – Faleu, Lepuiai’i, Salua, and Apai. We stopped first in Faleu, where we were officially greeted by village matai with a traditional ava ceremony. I was honored to be welcomed with such warmth and respect.
Upon conclusion of the ceremony, the elders, my colleagues, and I enjoyed a robust traditional breakfast of papaya, banana, fish, and vaisalo, a tasty pudding-like dish made from young coconut flesh and cassava starch.
My deputy Chad, me, our Manono friend Leiataua Kilali Alailima, and my colleague Ben at the ava ceremony.
The elder (at left) directs to whom the ava cup will pass, the young woman prepares the ava, and the young man guards the ava.
The tulafale (talking chief) speaks at the ceremony, with a cup of ava in his hand.
We started our walking tour of the island with a stop at Sweet Escape Resorts, where our boat had docked, to watch young men in the midst of preparing a traditional Samoan umu, similar to a hāngi but above ground.
The process involves building a fire, piling stones onto it, and then allowing the fire to burn down to embers. You then put green bananas, breadfruit, taro, fish, and lu’au (a delicacy made of coconut cream, onions, and taro wrapped up in whole taro leaves) onto the hot stones, and cover it all with banana fronds. The process creates a natural oven … and ultimately a delicious feast.
Young men preparing the umu.
After watching umu preparations for awhile, we walked to Faleu Primary School. The students entertained us with the Manu Samoa siva tau, a haka, and several songs and dances, including a rousing rendition of “Who stole the cookie in the cookie jar?”
The kids succeeded in coaxing my colleagues and me onto our feet to dance the traditional Samoan Taualuga. When time came to leave, we all sang Tofa Mai Feleni (Goodbye My Friend), the traditional Samoan farewell song.
Some of our new friends at Faleu Primary School.
Several of the girls perform a siva for us.
We then walked to the village of Apai where we consulted with Women’s Committee representatives from all four Manono villages. We discussed Women’s Committee projects, shared views on development priorities, offered thanks, and then enjoyed lunch together. What the women prepared, though, was more feast than lunch – fried fish, marinated raw fish, chicken soup, macaroni with chicken, coconut milk, taro, boiled taro and bananas in coconut cream, other types of fruit, and fried doughnuts.
During lunch the skies clouded over, the heavens opened, and we were treated to an intense but refreshing downpour. The fale of course kept us dry, and we continued talking, laughing, and eating. My new colleague Ben performed admirably as translator. Ben is a former Peace Corps volunteer who fell in love and married in Samoa. He speaks fluent Samoan, and we were happy to hire him as our new economic and political specialist.
In consultation with the Women’s Committees of the villages.
Ben tells me that one can completely circumnavigate Manono in two hours. I had hoped to do the full walk and see the entire island, but our initial stops ran long because we were having so much fun with our new friends. I could not risk being late for a fixed appointment later in the afternoon back on Upolu with His Highness the Head of State, so we had to forego the rest of the walk around the island (as well as the umu second lunch waiting for us back in Faleu).
Because of the timing of our departure, the tide was out. The water was too shallow to permit our boat to reach the shore or any of the nearby docks. So, we took off our shoes, rolled up our pants legs, and waded out to the boat. Of course, Ben chided Chad and me for not following his sartorial lead, given how much more convenient and utilitarian a lava lava is when wading across a lagoon and climbing into a boat. (And yes, I destroyed all the photos from that part of the visit.)
A local fisherman wishes us farewell as we sail away from Manono.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Manono. Our time on that beautiful island passed far too quickly. I expect to return again soon, however, and not just for a day trip. From everything I saw, Manono is a wonderful place to relax, vacation, and explore.
To all my new friends on Manono, a heartfelt fa’afetai lava for a wonderful day in paradise and for all the warm Samoan hospitality.