Most of us think of December with regards to Holiday festivities, and while the time between Christmas and New Years is festive here it doesn't come close to excitement and grandeur for Flag Day! Yep, that's right, Flag Day is huge in American Samoa. Preparations began two weeks in advance and included; island wide clean-ups to pick up the abundant litter, landscaping, decorating and fresh coats of paint everywhere. Dad's company picked up litter, decorated the street near our offices and painted all the bus stops red, white and blue. The celebrating began one week in advance to the April 17th American Samoa Flag Day and included a festive tent site selling goods and food, as well as lots of song and dance performances. Many of the vendors and performers were from Western Samoa.
One of the first tents was selling hand ground kava from Western Samoa by the shell (and packets to take home). I had a few shells with the dude in the picture, he was manning the kava bowl the whole week. Just in case you missed previous posts, kava is a root ground up to make a sort of tea which results in a mellow feeling. That large wooden bowl with lots of legs is specifically for kava and coconut shells are used to drink the kava.
On Flag Day the festivities occurred at the island sports arena. We had one good rain shower in the morning, but most of the day was nice.
The Flag Day performances included singing and dancing performed by entire Villages or Schools from both American Samoa and Western Samoa. The groups practice for months and are usually excused from portions school and work to do so. I think six groups performed, but can't say for certain since we were only there a few hours. The event began at 7AM and went until at least 3PM.
After each group performed they each presented gifts to the leaders of American Samoa and neighboring islands. Typically these gifts are large mats (in Samoan "ie toga") woven from a specific tree leave, the finer the strands of the mats the more valuable they are. "Fine mats" were used as a sort of currency in Samoan history and are still presented today at ceremonies and events such as funerals. They are not actually used as mats, they are simply an item with cultural value. Some of the mats presented were so big they needed sticks to hold them up and show them off.
The big finale of the Flag Day events is the fautasi boat race, which this year was supposed to be held on Saturday (the day after Flag Day) but was postponed due to weather. The fautasi boats are a type of huge canoe. The picture below is of a boat being carried from the water after practice. The end of the boat is just being lifted from the water...
The race is seven miles long and lasted a little under two hours. Each boat has 52 people in it, one captain, one person steering and 50 people rowing. Ten boats competed in the race, they started offshore near the airport and finished in Pago Harbor. The race didn't happen until Monday morning so we could only watch on TV that night, causing the poor picture quality below. The race was controversial this year because the boat in 3rd place collided with the back of the boat in 2nd and knocked them both out of place. A final decision has yet to be made!
The Jaskowiak Family
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