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Teuila Festival
Apia, Samoa

August 28, 2004

Sunrise in Apia

I am always interested to see the similarities and differences between the Pacific Island countries that we visit. Each has its own characteristic weaving, carving, music, dance and other aspects to their culture.

The Samoans are very proud of their culture and actively incorporate many of the old traditions in their daily lives. We have seen a lot more structure to society here than in any of the other islands. In Apia, every morning (except Sunday) is started with a brass band in uniform parading down the main street to raise the flag. The family and tribal system is still very much in force here. We read a news story about a whole family being banished for some misbehavior of one boy, 26 people driven from their homes to another island for several weeks.

Tattooing is still practiced here, and young men cover their bodies from the waist to the knees in traditional designs. Many use tools made from bone or shell, and traditional ink is made from the soot of burned Candlenuts. The mothers begin collecting this soot when the baby is born. There are many rituals and taboos that are in effect while the tattooing is being done.

Teuila is the Samoan name for the national flower, a bright red plume that grows from a species of Red ginger. Every year they hold a festival in Apia for one week, to celebrate their culture. We were lucky to be here for the Teuila Festival, and also had Rob's mom, Pat, visiting us at the time.

Rob & Pat at Albatross Island

During the festival, the main street which runs around the harbor has been decorated with colored lights and flags, creating a party atmosphere. Craft stalls, and a stage for the many shows were set up in the large open area in front of the government building. This was a hive of activity all week with demonstrations of weaving, fabric art (screen printing here is done using a hand carved board to press the design), tattooing, local foods, carving, dancing and games. The opening ceremony started with a parade down the main street (led by the police brass band), then large groups of traditional dancers and finally a song competition. Groups from several of the villages compete, with a different activity each day. Traditional dance, marching teams, traditional song and choir singing were popular shows. They also had 'variety shows' each night, which included entertainment of all kinds lasting for several hours and always lots of fun. The Fa'afafine always draw a laugh with their antics. This is a widely accepted Polynesian custom we have found throughout the pacific, where one of the male children is brought up as a girl, often to become transvestites later in life.

On Thursday, all 44 boats in the harbor were requested to move onto the wharf, in order to make way for the Fautasi race. To fit in the space available we were rafted up together, 5 or 6 boats deep. Our row had boats from six different countries - Blue Moon against the dock, then Takapuna (our good friend Dominique from New Caledonia who surprised us by sailing in the day before, after a quick circumnavigation with her friend Phillipe) Opus 4 (Canada), Keita (UK), Amazing Grace (US) and Apogee (Australia). We all managed to get into position with a minimum of fuss at 8 am, only to find that once we were there we had nothing to do but socialize or fix stuff for the rest of the day until the race at 3.30 pm. We had been looking forward to the race, since we had been watching the teams training all week. The boats are 80 feet long or more, with 40 to 50 rowers, a helmsman waving frantically and blowing his whistle to provide instructions from the stern, with a drummer setting the pace in the bow. Ten boats competed in the race, and the reason we had been asked to move was to avoid collisions at the finish line. But the course was five miles, starting out at sea, so in reality they came in a long way apart, right over on the other side of the bay. We had a glimpse of the boats a mile away as they finished, then we were given the all clear to go back to our moorings.

The final event was the Miss Teuilla Pageant. Ten contestants paraded in elaborate floats, made from trucks decorated with real coconut and papaya trees, grass skirts and tapa cloth (Saipo cloth). Themes ranged from a giant Umu (the traditional oven of hot rocks and leaves), to a huge turtle, and craft stands. We watched one group making their float in the parking lot by the main wharf, creating designs from leaves being painstakingly glued onto sheets of cardboard using a flour and water paste. There must have been hundreds of individual leaves on each sheet. In the evening, the girls were judged in several categories, including traditional costumes (all incredible designs incorporating local fibers, shells and seeds), beach wear (our western swimsuits are not suitable here so this category was for 'best sarong'), formal wear (the local formal garment is called a Puletasi, a long tunic worn over ankle length lavalava), interview, and talent (singing, dancing, skits and even a fire dance was performed).


By the end of the week we had chalked up around 24 hours of entertainment, plus all the time we spent wandering through the craft stalls and demonstrations. Its been a great way to experience Fa'a Samoa (means the 'Samoan Way'), the culture and the wonderful friendly people of this island.

To view the Teuila Festival Picture Gallery click here

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