Hip, hip, hurrah ! Our cheers ring out over the water. We wave our handkerchiefs and throw our hats high into the air. We are in the harbor of Pago Pago (pang’go pang’go) on the Samoan Island of Tutuila. Don’t you see that American gunboat at the wharf and the dear old American flag waving from the building behind it? This island belongs to us! Those shores covered with palm trees and the wooded hills rising up almost to the clouds on every side are American soil ; and the half-naked girls and boys who are rowing their boat loads of vegetables and fruit out to the steamer are our brown-skinned Samoan cousins, who pride themselves on belonging to the same Uncle Sam that we do.
The United States has four little inhabited islands, besides several smaller islands, away off here south of the Equator in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Their names are Tutuila (too-too-e’la), Tau (ta’oo), Of u (o’foo), and Olosenga (o-lo-seng’ga). They are very small islands, all together not much larger in area than the District of Columbia, but they are of the greatest value, because they lie on the track of the steamers going from San Francisco or Puget Sound ports to New Zealand and Australia; and near the track from the Panama Canal to Australia and Malaysia; and not far from the nearest route around the world by the Panama and the Suez canals. For this reason we need them as a coaling and naval station.
On long journeys steamers require frequent supplies of coal, and it is important for us to have good harbors along the way where our merchant ships can be supplied in time of peace, and where our naval vessels can coal should there be war.
Pago Pago has one of the very best harbors of the middle Pacific. It is about two miles long and a third of a mile wide, and is of the shape of a crookneck squash, with the small end at the entrance. The harbor is more like an inland lake than a bay. On either side of it rise steep hills, covered with a dense vegetation, which shut out the winds and the sea; and it is so deep that the biggest ocean steamers can float here without danger.
But the canoes are now close to the steamer. The boys and girls within them are ‘shouting their welcome to us. They are calling “Talofa ! Talofa !” The words mean “Love to you,” and love is the greeting we shall hear all over the island. The Samoans are the best of all island peoples. They are noted for their bravery and for their good nature. They are almost always smiling and are friendly to strangers.
The boys are big, strong, and muscular, and the girls are plump and well formed. Their skins are the color of ripe chestnuts. They have beautiful eyes, and their hair is wavy rather than frizzly like that of the natives we saw in New Guinea. They wear more clothing. The girls have skirts of wide strips of calico, which are wound about the waist, falling almost to the feet ; they have sashes or jackets about the upper parts of their bodies, although their arms are frequently bare. Nearly every one has flowers about her neck and in her hair, and even the boys wear garlands of flowers.
The Samoans are Polynesians. They are of a different race from the Papuans, having finer forms and a higher grade of civilization. The Polynesians are found in many islands of this part of the ocean, not alone in Samoa but in the Tongas, in the Society Islands, and other groups of that neighborhood, and also in Hawaii, as we shall see later on.
We throw ropes over the sides of the ship, and our brown-skinned cousins, girls and boys, climb up to the deck with their baskets and bundles. We buy their pineapples, bananas, and oranges, and as they throw wreaths of flowers around our necks, we laugh with them and cry out, ” Talofa ! Talofa ! ” in return.
After a while we leave the ship for the shore, and go far back into the country to visit the people in their villages. The houses at first sight look like haystacks upon posts. They have enormous thatched roofs, upheld about the edges by the trunks of small trees with a larger tree or so in the center. They are open at the sides or fitted with mats which can be let up and down, serving for walls.
The floor is the earth covered with little pebbles upon which mats are laid. Here the people sit or lie in the daytime, and here they sleep at night, using wooden pillows not unlike those of the Fijians. A fire is kept burning at night in a hole in the center of the floor for light and also to keep away mosquitoes.
Our cousins say ” Tofa,” or ” Sleep well,” as they bid us good night and we lie down upon the mats, the pebbles below reminding us of the princess in the fairy tale who felt the pea under her many feather beds, save that the peas under us are as large as hazelnuts and make us sore however we turn.
At daybreak we go out for a bath before breakfast. The Samoans are cleanly, and they are always splashing about in the streams. We run down to the shore and roll about in the warm water with our little brown cousins, and then help them catch a few fish for breakfast. In the meantime others of the family have brought in some sweet potatoes, taro, bananas, and a couple of chickens. The potatoes and meat are cooked on the hot stones of a native oven, and the meal is served with banana leaves as plates, a plan that is very convenient for such a large party. There are no knives or forks, but we soon learn to eat with our fingers, although not so daintily as our friends who have eaten so all their lives.
While we stay in each village we are taken about by the Taupo, or village belle, whose duty it is to entertain strangers and see that they have all that they want. This girl is usually the daughter of one of the chiefs, noted for her grace, beauty, and wit. She is the leader of the local games and sports, and has a prominent part in all village processions.
Before we depart, a council is held with some of the chiefs, during which we are treated to kava, a drink used on social and ceremonial occasions. It is made from the root of a shrub of the pepper family which grows in these islands, and is prepared in a curious way. There are special bowls for mixing the drink and odd ways of reducing it to a powder. The custom in many places is to pound it up on flat stones; but the old way, which the natives say is much better, was to cut it into little cubes and then have the girls chew it. After pounding or chewing, the kava is put into the bowl and covered with water. It is then kneaded with the hands under the water until the juice comes out, when the liquor is strained off and is ready for drinking.
Kava, when ready to drink, has a milky appearance. It tastes somewhat like soap suds, and we can scarcely drink it at first, but later find it cooling and refreshing. It is not intoxicating unless taken in large quantities, when it affects the legs more than the head, so that the drinker may be perfectly sensible, although unable to move.
We are interested in the government of the Samoan villages. The country is ruled by the United States, but our officials are chiefly advisers. Every village 4’ is a little republic with its own chief who settles everything under the direction of the American governor. The people are intelligent and well behaved. They have their own schools and churches, having been converted by the missionaries long before we took possession of the islands.
Many of the Samoans have little farms upon which they raise sweet potatoes, taro, yams, and other vegetables. Some have banana fields and cocoanut trees, from whose nuts comes the copra which is the great money crop of the islands. Copra is the dried kernel of the fully ripe cocoanut. The cocoanuts are gathered when they fall and the husks taken off. Then the shells are broken, and the kernels are cut into strips and dried in the sun.
This dried cocoanut meat is of great value in commerce, and we shall find the natives preparing it on all the islands of this part of the world. It is shipped to the United States or Europe, where a rich oil is pressed out of it, and this oil is used to make soap and other things. Here in Samoa the natives sometimes pay their taxes with it, each village sending in to the government a certain amount of copra each year.
The Samoans have but few manufactures. The women weave mats out of fine grasses, they beat the bark of the paper mulberry tree into a kind of cloth, and make ornamental straw and basket work. The men carve out clubs and models of canoes, and some of them go fishing for pearl and tortoise shell. Altogether the islands are of little commercial importance, and their great advantage to us, as we have already learned, lies in the harbor of Pago Pago.
Nevertheless we thoroughly enjoy our visit with our new relatives of the southern Pacific, and we feel sad as we stand at the stern of the steamer, our necks and hats decorated with the flowers they have bestowed upon us in parting, and wave them good-by.
Before going northward to the Hawaiian (ha-wi’yan) Islands, we steam to Apia, the capital of the rest of the Samoan Group which belongs to the Germans. The German islands are of the same nature as Tutuila ; that is, they are volcanic ; and for the most part surrounded by coral reefs. They are larger than our islands, but ours are the more valuable on account of the harbor, the Bay of Apia being unsafe in great storms.
The natives are about the same, and they live the same way. We land at Apia and stroll through the town which lies close to the beach. A little later we take carriages and drive back into the country up the mountain to visit the place where Robert Louis Stevenson, the famous author, spent his last days befriending the people and writing his beautiful stories. His tomb is on the top of the mountain above his home. It is built after the Samoan style. Upon one side of it is a bronze plate, bearing these verses written by him :
“Under the wide and starry sky, Dig the grave and let me lie. Glad did I live and gladly die, And I laid me down with a will. “This be the verse you grave for me: Here he lies where he longed to be; Home is the sailor, home from sea, And the hunter home from the hill.”