I have ties that run through many categories. Many of these categories overlap with some of the others. The Spanish Empire in its historical contexts includes large parts of the United States where I have lived including my Louisiana Home. It also includes Mexico, Colombia and the Philippines which between them have made up a great deal of my life. The USA in a broad sense of histoice sweep includes the Philippines, the Federated States of Micronesia, American Samoa, Guam and the States themselves. Likewise the British Commonwealth has formed me in central assets like the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and penumbras like Fiji and Tonga as well as the historicaly tied Thirteen Colonies which became the revolutionary USA. The French Empire has formed me in France, Louisiana, Louisville (Kentucky), Acadie, Quebec and the francophone world that gather in Louisiana from time to time. China in China herself, Manila, San Francisco New York and the Chinese food industry I wonce worked with from time to time. One reason I find it hard to form intimate relationships is that each of these cultural matrices is real to me and has formed me and I cannot entirely leave it behind.
That sounds like quite a lot but it leaves out a part of my life that has been brought to the surface by the news of the Tsunami striking Samoa. I am deeply formed by Polynesia. I lived in Tonga on the Island of Tongatapu and attended Tonga Side School in the last independent Polynesian Kingdom. I lived in American Samoa in the city of PagoPago which was among the places hit by today’s tsuanmi and fished in its deep blue surrounding waters. I attended Viard College in Porirua near Wellington on New Zealand’s North Island and lived in nearby Titahi Bay just off Cook Strait. My friends were mostly a mix of unmixed Samoans, Maoris, English, Scot, Irish and Welsh youth and adults. The majority were either Samoan or Irish. I have made several trips to the Hawaii I would still like to spend more time getting to know. Pearl Harbor is one of the great national American places I hold in memory.
Tongatapu is a flat island and if I had heard of a tsunami there I would dread hearing of huge death tolls. However, Pago Pago is located with hills and Rainmaker mountain rising up in all directions reaching elevated tendrils down to villages, beaches and neighborhoods. I have not been to Western Samoa but have been told that much of Samoa has the hills which can save the most lives in the event of a tsunami. I have various versions of the two pictures above from New Zealand and these are the worst versions but they are in some ways symbolic of my fading memory.
Polynesians tend to be chubby if they are not starving (and very few are) but very muscular, fit and attentive to family if there is a hilll nearby they are likely to get the children and elderly up the hill with alacrity. Their war dances, Chrsitianity, baptised and unbaptised animism, their love of the sea and music that fills their lives is much on my mind tonight. I hope that the world can find a way to show some solidarity in this time as they recover. I am sure there will be much suffering that will find its way into their cultural coping mechanisms and scarcely be noticed. But patronizing as it may sound a few dollars well allocated would make a lasting difference in recovery and development in both Samoas. Polynesians know how to maximise limited resources on their farflung islands.