A Letter From Samoa

Society and culture | Pacific


Nikki Mariner, ANU academic, writes to us from Talofa, Samoa.

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Greetings from Samoa aka The Pearl of the Pacific.

The crisp Canberra autumn I've loved in recent years as an ANU PhD candidate feels a world away from my study leave in hot wet Savai’i. After years of being permanently attached to a keyboard and internet, I have found myself reduced to a Samsung phone and daily data recharge for the last two months. But, no complaints here. The weather is fabulous for my skin and the technological deprivation is liberating. I can still easily find my loved ones on Facebook.

I’ve been to Samoa before. In fact, my father is Samoan so I'm not a total tourist. I've taught Pacific Studies at ANU, so I know the geography, culture, history, sociology, demography and politics of the region. However, living here is a whole new education. Working here is a study in innovation. And, village life is schooling me big time.

I am here with my Samoan husband, Lalovai Peseta, and we are living with his family in the village of Avao, on the island of Savai’i.  He is an artist, carver and tattooist, and we are establishing a bespoke art business in Samoa. Thanks to the internet we have a global market (even if the local postal service is rather unpredictable).

Living in Savai’i, we have plenty of space and creative inspiration. We have commandeered the family fale (fah-leh) as our studio. A fale is a breezy Samoan structure, which could be described as a floor, upright poles (usually made from tree trunks) and a roof. Every family, school, and church in Samoa has a fale; each tailored in size and formality to suit its occupants.

Funnily enough, the family pigs live under our fale-turned-studio. We literally work above the rhapsody of ten pigs going about their lives. The look on the faces of tourist customers being tattooed while listening to the swine sing below is just priceless!
We have accepted payment of pigs three times in exchange for tattoos in accordance with local bartering custom, so this is the tale of three piggies:

1. Evan

In December 2012, Cyclone Evan destroyed much of Samoa. We ourselves ended up running for our lives and staying in an evacuation centre for days. Not long after, we received a small black piglet as payment for a tattoo, so we named her after the cyclone; Evan. Our little pig with a mighty spirit began to thrive and grow. As our very first pig, she had nothing but the dogs for companionship and even responded to her name. Evan was special, and she knew it.

One day she disappeared for two weeks. A fisherman told us he saw her on the ledge of a cliff. After injuring her leg, she couldn’t climb back up. Once home, she recuperated under the fale, and was back to herself within a month – she even grew bigger than the dogs. We were proud as punch when she gave birth to two female pigs - one black and one white - so I named Evan's girls Salt-n-Pepa!

Sadly, Evan turned feral. Pigs grow and live well within a household as vegetarians. However, after eating with the dogs, Evan developed a fetish for chicken bones. She didn’t discern whether chickens were dead or alive and began to eat our chickens and the neighbour’s chickens. This antisocial behaviour created chaos! Unfortunately Evan had to say goodbye, but lives on through her daughters. Thankfully, Salt-n-Pepa inherited her good looks but not her dark appetite for chicken bones.

2. Madonna

In October 2013, Maeli gave us a sleek red pig in exchange for a sleeve tattoo. Maeli has begun working with us. He has a lot of designing talent, a good eye and perfectionist streak that was not being nurtured by taro farming. Now he does half days at the plantation and the other half painting and carving with us.We called the pig Madonna because she is established, she knows what she wants and she knows how to get it. Right now Madonna is heavily pregnant with her first litter. We are all eagerly watching Madonna for signs of labour. Any day now!

3. Lil’ Kim

Two weeks ago, we were given another round black piglet in exchange for a shoulder tattoo. She just loves eating bananas and has been christened Lil’ Kim. She is currently confined to a large airy wooden pen while she gets used to the sights and sounds of her new home. When she first arrived, my mother-in-law smeared her eyes with coconut oil so that she would forget her way to her former home. Then, Maeli and Lalovai snipped her ears as a form of branding. Now she happily eats coconut and bananas every day, from her penthouse pen. Soon to be released!

So this is has been the Tale of Three Piggies: Evan, Madonna, and Lil Kim.

Alofa atu (much love) from Samoa!

Nikki Mariner

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