In The Back Waters Of Western Samoa

Apia, the squalid harbor town of Western Samoa (but it was also squalid a hundred years ago in the heyday of its most famous resident, Robert Louis Stevenson), seemed to me mournfully rundown, with broken roads and faded and peeling paint on its ill-assorted wooden buildings, and Samoans rather gloatingly rude and light-fingered, quoting the bible as they picked your pocket. There were hardly any beaches here, too. But no matter how misbegotten and wayward an island in Oceania happened to be, it always had stars in its sky.
On the nights without rain I sprayed myself with insect repellent, and went out to the shore to look at the stars.
Even in Africa I had never seen such a profusion of stars as I saw on these clear nights on Pacific isles - not only big beaming planets and small single pinpricks (plenty of fat blinking stars and masses of little peepers), but also glittering clouds of them - the whole dome of the sky crowded with thick shapes formed from stars, overlaid with more shapes, a brilliant density, like a storm of light over a black depthless sea, made brighter still by twisting auroras composed of tiny star grains - points of light so fine and numerous they seemed like luminous vapor, the entire sky hung with veils of light like dazzling smoke. Even on a moonless night you could read or write by these stars, and they made night in Oceania as vast and dramatic as day. that was how people had migrated here to Samoa, from Vava'u in Tonga, culturally its nearest neighbor: the old Polynesian voyagers had made complex charts of these stars - star maps - and travelled great distances with them in their canoes, star-gazing and navigating. this was accomplished 1,000 years before the Europeans - Portuguese in this case - ventured out and discovered the Azores 900 miles into the Atlantic. The Polynesians would have guffawed at such timidity, though these days they are a seasick-prone people.
With daybreak the starry enchantment vanished from Apia, and once more it looked rusted and neglected. And it was much starker on Sundays, a day observed as fanatically in Samoa as in Tonga, for on Sundays the town was deserted. Elsewhere on Upolu, Samoans with big brown chins and fleshy noses, carrying Bibles, and dressed all in white - white dresses, white shirts - headed for church. In Samoa, as in other Polynesian places, I found myself muttering against missionaries and generally rooting for heathens. Pacific Christians were neither pacific nor Christian, nor were they particularly virtuous as a result of all their Bible-thumping. Religion only made them more sententious and hypocritical, and it seemed the aim of most Samoan preachers to devise new ways for emptying people's pockets. I had arrived on a Sunday - day of obstacles. It was impossible to rent a car or do much else on a Samoan Sunday - the Sabbath had to be kept holy. somehow, taxis circumvented this restriction, even if buses could not. I took a taxi and I looked around the island for a place to launch my boat. I was eager to paddle to a smaller island or even a village. I could not blame Apia for being awful. Apia was miserably typical. Except for bright little Port Vila in Vanuatu, no city or town in the whole of Oceania was pleasant. Islanders were not urbanized at all - they became antsy and deracinated in anything larger than a village and, without the means to be self-sufficient, they generally made a mess of their towns. They were habituated to their own fruit trees and to crapping on the beach and flinging their garbage into the shallow lagoon. Disorderly towns were not so surprising. apart from Melanesia, where immigrant islanders were considered a nuisance and a social problem, no island in Oceania was industrialized and, except for tourist hotels, few buildings on Pacific islands were higher than three storeys.
Pacific islanders of the traditional sort, as Samoans were, seemed to function best in families, and in order to thrive they needed a hut or a bungalow with a little vegetable patch by the sea. Samoan towns were worse than most, and included Carson, a suburb  of Los Angeles, where there were more Samoans than in the whole of the Samoan islands and obnoxious poses (there were also branches in New Zealand) of the violent street gang, SOS - the Sons of Samoa. In America, the Samoans' large physical size served them well in football (nearly every professional football team in the NFL had its Samoan tackles), and some had succeeded as sumo wrestlers or musicians - the Boo-Ya Tribe, a quintet of shaven-headed fatties, had made a fortune in Los Angeles imitating black rappers. Samoans were whispered about in the Pacific for being big and bull-like and, though placid by nature, were said to be capable of extreme violence.
Samoan stories are retailed throughout the Pacific - the Samoan who casually snapped someone's arm in two, the Samoan who ripped off a man's ear, the Samoans who sat in front of a house and then mooned the occupants when they were told to push off, the Samoan who bit off an assailant's fingers, the Samoan who went haywire in the disco, crushing a hairdresser's skull ("Because she touched my plastic toy," the Samoan explained in his defense, in court). In the "Samoans Too Big to Fit" category, there are endless tales of airlines having to unbolt seats or remove armrests in order to accommodate Samoans, too big for telephone booths, too big to fit through doorways, too big for bar stools, for bicycles, for toilet seats. A truthful friend of mine travelling on Hawaiian Airways out of Pago Pago witnessed the mounting terror of flight attendants when a Samoan man, urgently wishing to relieve himself, could not fit through the lavatory door. The employees' desperate remedy was to hold up blankets to create a wall of privacy for the Samoan, who stood just outside the lavatory and pissed in a great slashing arc through the door and into the hopper.
The sympathetic Robert Louis Stevenson liked the Samoans for being unpretentious family people, and he managed them by cozying ui to the chiefs and patronizing his hired help. the islanders liked being taken seriously by this raffish and yet respectable palagi, who said "Some of the whites are degraded beyond description," but it is clear that Stevenson kept his distance. "he says that the Tahitians are by far finer men than the Samoans," the bumptious New Englander Henry Adams wrote, after he had visited Stevenson in Apia in 1891; "and that he does not regard the Samoans as an especially fine race, or the islands here as specially beautiful," yet Stevenson had done more than put Samoa on them. He was the magician that some writers are - people who, by using a specific location as a setting, lend it enchantment. A place that is finely described in a novel by such a person is given a power of bewitchment that it never really loses, no matter how much its reality changes. Not only Samoa, but other islands and, in a sense, the whole of the South Pacific, is a clear example of this sort of transformation because it has been used so effectively as a setting b y writers as various as Melville, Stevenson, Somerset Maugham, Rupert Brooke, Mark Twin, Jack London, Pierre Loti, Michener, and even Gauguin in his only book, Noa-Noa. Fiction has the capacity to make even an ordinary place seem special. the simple mention of the name of a place can make that place become singular, never mind what it looks like. 
I sometimes felt as though I was part of that process of improvement or transformation, too - in spite of my natural skepticism - because I felt such relief, such happiness, paddling my boat through a lagoon under sunny skies. And I suspected that when I came to write about having come to the Pacific in such distress, needing the consolation of blue lagoons, my subsequent relief would perhaps transform a buggy drowsing island into a happy isle. But Robert Louis Stevenson had the whole world to choose from. He had traipsed through Europe and Britain, he had bummed across America, he had said throughout the Pacific, from California to Australia and back. The King of Hawaii, Kalakaua, personally urged him to settle on Oahu. Instead, Stevenson chartered a schooner and sailed to scores of islands, seeking the perfect place, which he had depicted long before, as a young man, in a verse he had written in Edinburgh:
I should like to rise and go
Where the golden apples grow;
Where below another sky
Parrot islands anchored lie.
No golden apples in Samoa, and no parrots. There were quarrelling islanders and drunken palangis. The Stevenson family arrived in the rainy season, when Apia is at its most dismal - hot, clammy, humid, muddy, with gray skies. Yet Stevenson homed in on it, knowing that he had few years left to live (in the event, only four). So what was the attraction of Samoa?
In a word, the postal service. Other islands were prettier - the high islands in the Marquesas overwhelmed Stevenson with their rugged beauty, and the atoll of Fakarava in the Tuomotus was bliss - the Stevenson family rented a cottage on the lagoon. But on these islands it could be many months between mail-boats. In Samoa the mail came regularly, at least once a month, via New Zealand, or else from ships in the Sydney to San Francisco run. Stevenson was a zestful letter-writer and, as a novelist who depended on serializing his books in magazines, he needed a reliable postal service in order to make a living. That settled it, because the mail was his lifeline. Afterwards, when he became acquainted with the island, he found ways of fitting in and even becoming predominant. The Samoan social structure of clan chiefs and drones and hangers-one and peasants and pot-wallopers was familiar enough to an upper-middle-class Scotsman. Partly through insinuation and partly through recruitment, Stevenson became important in Samoan society. This allowed him to live like a Scottish laird among obsequious chieftains - and that suited him best of all. he was not a snob, though he had the Scottish love of stern affectation and obscure formality, and especially the Highland proclivity for fancy-dress at ceremonials: all the household staff at the house Vailima wore a Royal Stuart tartan lavalava - the nearest thing in Oceania to a kilt.
An early image of Robert Louis Stevenson's house in Samoa
The power and the dignity of lairdship Stevenson found very handy. He made the most of his four years in Samoa - the late 1880s and early 1890s were years of disruption on the islands. (Britain and Germany vying with America for control of the archipelago), and Stevenson - who was partisan, on the Samoan side - recorded it all in his A Footnote to History. The Samoans were masters of manipulation - they had made a fine art of obligating outsiders as part of the family and then taking them for all they were worth, while at the same time making these suckers feel important. blending Samoan traits with those of the Scottish Highlands, Stevenson returned the favor and bamboozled them into believing they were part of his big tangled family - his elderly widowed mother had joined them, his wife's two children by her first marriage, his stepdaughter's drunken husband - it was all fa'a Samoa. he was Laird of the Manor as well as their historian and tusitala, "write of stories." Stevenson in Samoa is a tremendous success story, a masterful example of forward planning - and everyone profited by his perfect choice of island: his family, his readers, the Samoans, and Stevenson himself. As Byron had done in Greece, he had found a great place to die. 
I stopped by Vailima, Stevenson's house, but was sent on my way by an officious sentry who told me it was occupied by a paramount chief and not open to the public.
"You can visit his grave," the man said.
"Gravestones depress me," I said. They were for pilgrims and hagiographers. I wanted an inkling of his spirit. It was the house he had built, and where he had lived, that I wanted to see - there were always vibrations of past tenants in houses. Why should I want to climb all morning up Mount Vaea to see the little plot which contained his moldering bones? After a tour of the north coast, the taxi-driver dropped me back on Beach Road, the empty main street of Apia, and demanded extra money.
"Because I waited for you."
He meant he had waited while I had walked fifty feet to a possible launching place on the coast.
I said, "Don't be silly," and gave him only the taxi fare.
"You not paying me," he said, muttering darkly. "I going to the police station."
"What are you going to do at the police station?"
"Tell them. I waited."
"How long did you wait?"
"A long time," he said, and looked away. finally he said, "Fifteen minutes."
"What is your name?" I asked.
"Is fifteen minutes a long time in Apia, Simi? I would have thought it was a very short time."
Simi said nothing.
"How much more money do you want?"
"Two tala."
I handed it over.
The next day, I drove to the ferry landing on the northwest corner of the island, Mulifanua Wharf, but there was no ferry to Savaii that morning and no one knew when it might leave. I went farther west and at a little bay was set upon by five fierce guard dogs - German shepherds, the sort that, spitted and grilled, would be considered the high point of a Tongan feast. A German in an expedition hat appeared and called them off. His name was Stefan. the company he worked for had been granted a lease on this neck of land by the owner, the head of state for life, Malietoa Tanumafili II, who lived in Stevenson's grand house, Vailima. Stefan was supervising the building of ten traditional huts, called fales.
"I saw this beach from the road yesterday," I said, "when everyone was at church. They pray a lot here, eh?"
"If you steal a lot, you pray a lot," Stefan said.
He confirmed my impression that there were very few beaches on Upolu. There were more on Savaii, he said. I told him that it was my intention to paddle there, across the Apolima Strait.
"That's very dangerous," he said.
It seemed to me that people on Pacific islands were inclined to say a thing was dangerous when they knew very little about it, but I intended to ask a local fisherman just the same. Stefan showed me around the thatched-roof huts at the edge of the lagoon. He said the huts were not finished but that I could stay, for a fee. The sky was gray and the lagoon was dark and muddy, but it was a pleasant enough place to stay - quiet, remote from Apia - and a good spot to launch from.
I moved in and assembled my boat, and that became m base for a time. My first paddling objective was an island, Manono, how it was not a fixed island at all, but rather a piece of land, a sort of floating fortress owned by Chief Lautala of Fiji. The chief had sailed it to Samoa in the year dot in order to fight and conquer the Samoans. It was a bloody battle, and though he lot it he inflicted so many fatalities on the Samoan side that the numerous dead gave an identity to the floating piece of land - Manono means "numerous." I drank beer that night in my hut and listened on my short-wave radio to what turned out to be the collapse of Iraqi resistance in Kuwait - an all-out rout of a raggle-taggle, underfed and demoralized army of cowards and persecutors. And after that, when the clouds passed in the sky, I looked at the stars - ignorant star-gazing providing for me one of the most vivid experiences I had, travelling through Oceania. And I was reminded that such stars were the best part of being in a wilderness or an ocean - and could take the curse off even so sorry a place as Apia.
It was windy when I slipped into my boat the next morning, preparing for Manono. Stefan repeat4ed that my real problem was the current in the middle of the channel - because of an incoming tide I might be swept onto the reef to the southeast. At such times in Oceania, I always reflected on my paddling between Falmouth and Martha's Vineyard in the summer - a greater distance, stronger wind, less predictable current, and much more irascible and inhospitable natives. With that thought in mind I set off and paddled hard for an hour or so until I was within half a mile of Manono - I had passed through a strong but not obnoxious current. Beyond it I could see the tilted volcano cone which was Apolima Island. In the distance, about nine miles away, was the island of Savaii - another good paddling trip and a place I wished to see. All that was visible on Manono from my kayak were a profusion of outhouses on stone jetties - some of them hanging over the sea, others poised above the shoreline. They were called by various names - fale ki'o, "shit house," or fale sami, "sea house," fale laititi, "little house," or the more euphemistic fale uila, "lightning house."
Closer to the island, the Samoan houses that were visible were traditionally made and as symmetrical as on Upolu, with open sides, but the whole thing had the general shape and contours of a Spanish conquistador's helmet. A breeze wafted through the hut in the day, and at night the rolled-up woven blinds were let down, and served as walls. the huts of Western Samoa were attractive and comfortable structures, and were stronger than any huts I saw elsewhere in the Pacific. It has been said - by Margaret Mead, among others - that the Samoan extended family, the aiga, is a closely knit and effectively interdependent household; and I wondered to what extent this well-made hut played a part. Certainly it was able to house many people - and with these open sides it was always possible to see children playing inside, or women weaving, or people talking or napping - an atmosphere of activity or repose, seemingly at times almost idyllic. I heard roosters crowing and children screeching, but - unusually for a Pacific island - no barking dogs. About eight or ten children met me on the rocky shore as I paddled to the edge and got out, below the village of Faleu. there were chanting "Palangi! Palangi!" and they quarrelled among each other as they vied to help me put my boat on the village canoe rack. 
Foreigners walking, cycling or riding motorbikes through (Samoan) villages will frequently be considered moving targets by village children, and stones will fly, a current guidebook to Samoa advised. They will often surround you mockingly and demand money or sweets and will make great sport of trying to upset you. This gratuitous hostility I found to be generally the case, from that day onwards, and throughout my time in whatever island in Samoa. Samoans could be merciless to outsiders. It was bad for a man and worse for women. A stranger was persecuted precisely because he or she was a stranger - alone, unprotected, unfamiliar with the language, uncomprehending, easy to confuse, not part of any family, unconnected, weak, an alien, the perfect victim. You were mocked if you became angry with your persecutors (who always outnumbered you), and if you attempted to be conciliatory they took this as a sign of weakness and were worse. the conflict - a wicked game - was unwinable. these children pestered me from the moment I stepped ashore on Manono, but I thought it was probably better not to warn them about stealing or damaging my boat, because I didn't want to give them any ideas - knowing that I was concerned, I guessed it might be the very thing they would do.
I walked east, counter-clockwise, around the island, ignoring the screeching kids and making a point of talking to older people. the teenage boys I passed were fairly monotonous in their mockery, but I walked on, leaving these Christians behind. In spite of their ill-nature, the island seemed traditional - and very likely there was something in their ill-nature that was traditional, too. All explorers in the Pacific, from Abel Tasman in 1642 onward, had to confront thievery, silliness, aggression, greed, and rapacity. Perhaps Samoan mockery was nothing new, but it was rather boring to have to endure this and then have to listen to either a travel writer or someone at the Samoan Visitors' Bureau extolling the virtues of Samoan hospitality. Of all the places I had travelled in my life, Samoa was one in which one needed letters of introduction or the names of natives. Otherwise, you were condemned to being alienated. But alienation was my natural condition. As for their hostility, I kept strolling and watched my back.
"We are traditional here on Manono," a man told me, when I asked him to characterize the island. "We relate the stories of our ancestors."
This sounded fine, but when I asked him to tell me a few, he went blank - I suspected he meant family histories rather than island legends or myths. Another said, "Manono is a good place, because we have no air pollution,." We were looking in the direction of Upolu. I said, "Is there air pollution on Upolu?"
"No," he said.
The fact was that the nearest air pollution was perhaps five thousand miles away in Los Angeles.
"And we have no buses."
"Is that good or bad?"
"Good. Buses have fumes. They cause dust."
It would have been something of a miracle to find a bus on an island with no roads. the path around the island was at its widest not more than twelve inches. A man I met on this circumambulation said he was a minister of the church. But his necktie - ties were required among the clergy - was lettered Malua Theological College. he admitted that he was still a divinity student and that he had come to Manono to practice his preaching. While the younger people were almost uniformly mocking (Palangi! Palangi!) the older ones were correct - neither friendly nor distant.
There are complex rules governing greetings in Samoa, as well as extensive aspects of etiquette, including many prohibitions. A stranger, unfamiliar with the Samoan way, is therefore a sitting duck. the Samoans had not seen many tourists, and their attitude seemed to be that if you were part of the family you were left alone, and if you were a stranger you were fair game. I was followed by more kids, and always I heard the word palangi in their muttering. I usually turned to face them.
"yes, I am a palangi. Do you have a problem?"
In a shouting, jeering way one would say, "Where are you coming from?"
"I think Japan," one would say.
This they regarded as very funny.
"Do I look Japanese?"
A woman sidled up to me at the edge of a village and said, "What you religion? You a Cafflick?"
'I said, "Yes, in a way."
"Come with me," she said, and brought me to her house and showed me little shrines and holy pictures tucked into the caves of her fale. She was like an early Christian in the furtive way she revealed these items to me.  
"I am the only Cafflick in Salua," she said. "Please stay with me."
This seemed rather awkward, but she said that her husband was on his way back home and that he would be pleased. Her name was Rosa, she was twenty-five, and had five children. Her husband returned soon after, and though I half expected him to be angry over finding me alone with his wife - it is very bad form in most societies - he did not take it amiss. He repeated the invitation to stay.
I said I had other plans, and when he told me he had just been fishing, I asked him whether he ever went to Apolima, the island beyond the reef, two or three miles from Manono.
"We don't fish at Apolima. It is too deep."
They poled their canoes through the shallow reef and never ventured into water deeper than the length of their poles.
Continuing my walk, I was accosted half a dozen times and asked, "You have a wife?" and "What is her name?" and "Where is she?" - questions that always presented difficulties to me.
But I could see that the island had a pleasant side. It was backward-looking, with its coconut palms and its mango trees, its well-tended gardens and its tidy huts set on well-made house platforms, all of black boulders, the sort of stonework that is found in the most traditional parts of Polynesia. The wood-carvings in Polynesia did not interest me. The music I found ineffectual - though the drumming could be attractive, when it was strong and syncopated. The cannibalism was just a story of goblins, meant to give you the willies - very few people could vouch for it, and little of it had been documented. But two aspects of Polynesian culture always impressed me - the old navigational skills of the sailors (and canoe-building in general_); and the magnificent stonework - altars, dancing platforms, house foundations, plinths for statues, and the statues themselves (though there were no statues in Samoa; there had ever have been). In Samoa, both of these skills had vanished - there were no more navigators nor any stonemasons. These boulders had survived from an earlier time. 
After two hours of circling the island, I swat on a stone near the shore and began scribbling notes, when I was approached by a woman - I took her to be in her twenties. She was friendly. We talked in general about Manono. then she said her fale was nearby and did I wish to see it? I equivocated until she said, "I want you to see something very important."
"Show me the way," I said.
Her name was Teresa, and although she was twenty-seven, she was not married. The kids fooling around the hut were her brothers and sisters and more distant affines. Was I hungry? Was I thirsty? Was I tired? Teresa galvanized the household and I was given a cup of tea and, when I said I had liked the palusami I had had in Tonga, I was served what I was told was the real Samoan thing - taro leaves mix3ed with coconut cream, then wrapped and steamed in banana and breadfruit leaves. With this was a disk of hard gray taro.  
"In Tonga they put corned beef inside," I said. "But I prefer this."
"Sometimes we make with pisupo," Teresa said, using he Samoan word for corned beef, an adaptation of "pea soup," which was also shipped to the islands in cans. While I was eating, Teresa changed her clothes, from a dress to a T-shirt and shorts. The light was failing, too - it was certainly too late to paddle back to Upolu - and rain was softly falling, whispering against the triangular leaves of the taro plants and making them nod. 
So far there had been no further mention of the thing she wished me to see. but after a while Teresa removed it from the pocket of her shorts. It was an American Express traveler's check for a hundred dollars - quite a lot of money in Manono Tai.
"Where did you get this, Teresa?"
"A man gave it to me. But the bank refuses to cash it."
Of course: the check lacked the necessary second signature. As for the first, even holding the check near the bright pressure lamp I could not read the name.
"Who was the man?"
"He was staying here. For a week."
"Yes. From Germany."
We talked about the check. I explained the niceties of traverler's checks - the need for another signature - and that she would have to send the check back to the man so that it could be cashed.
"He said he wanted to marry me," Teresa said, in a tone of complaint.
"Maybe that's why he gave you the money."
"No. he was here more than a week. He did not give us anything," Teresa said.
"What about this check? You said he gave it to you."
"Yes. But I did not want to marry him," she grumbled.
That was another trait of the Samoans - evasion that expressed itself as tetchiness.
"Why not?"
"He was too old. Born in 1946, something like that."
It was now very dark beyond the reach of the lamp, but in that darkness children were seated with older people, all of them watching me with bright eyes.
"How old is too old?"
Teresa gnawed her lower lip, and then said, "He was too old for games."
"What kind of games?" I asked. Though I knew.
The lantern hissed, leaking light everywhere.
"Night games," she said softly, her voice just a whisper more than the sound of the lantern.
After that, again and again, I remember the way she lowered her head, but still watched me closely, and spoke those words deep in her throat. I asked her again about the man. His name was Kurt, she said. He was a teacher, and he did his teaching in various countries (Cheechah, she said, and cheeching. I was trying to get used to the Samoan accent.) He love her, she said, but she disliked him.
I said, "He might be too old for some night games but not for others."
This observation interested her greatly.
"Which ones do you mean?"
But at this point her father interrupted me and asked where my boat was.
I told him it was in Faleu.
"The children will destroy it," he said, without much concern.
"Why would they do that?"
"Because you don't have a family."
I heard that explanation many times in Samoa: having a local family gave you status and protection. Samoans quite freely co-opted strangers and made them part of the family - and you didn't need to be dusky, with webbed feet and a big belly - palangis qualified, as long as they were endlessly generous, but if you were alone on the islands and did not know anyone you would be victimized.
"And because they are stupid in that village," the father went on. It was a Samoan trait for them to speak off of each other, so I was not convinced that my boat was in danger. But it was too dark to go looking for it, in any case. That would have to wait for the morning.
"Everything is no espensive here," Teresa said, appropos of nothing - or perhaps apropos of the check.
She was looking at the lantern.
"The fuel. so espensive."
I said, "There is a Chinese proverb that says, 'It's no use going to bed to save candles. The result will be more children . Get it?"
Then, seeing the others drifting away, she asked me again about the other games that the man might or might not play.
In the end, the sleeping arrangement was modest, though all night the fale purred with the snores of her large family. I slept beside the small boy Sefulu, whose name meant Ten.
In the dark I worked it out. The man, Kurt, had stayed for a week or ten days. he pestered Teresa to marry him, though he had come empty-handed and had not given them any money for his stay. At some stage, Teresa had boosted the traveler's check - extracting it from his rucksack - but it had been in vain: the bank would not cash it without the other signature. She now realized that she needed a signature. Was she asking me to do that?    
Yet I was more concerned about my boat than her possible thievery, and so at darn I hurried back to Faleu to look at it. Children were playing near it, as though waiting to pound, but the boat was undisturbed.
over breakfast - more taro, mashed this time - Teresa took out the check and frowned at it.
I said, "Do you want me to sign it?"
"If you don't mind."
There was no date, and the man's own signature was no more than a squiggle.
What to do? They had been kind to me, even if they had had an ulterior motive. And though the money had been thieved, it had in a sense been owned by a tight-fisted palangi who had lived with them. Indeed, I had accepted their hospitality too. So perhaps I owed? Forgery seemed a small matter, and yet it interested me. Without the signature, the check was worthless. And there was always the chance that the forgery would be detected, in which case Teresa would be in trouble - and was that my affair?
I could be a totally disinterested forger, a sort of philanthropic felon. I sat there on the steps of the fale practising the squiggly signature in my notebook, and then I placed the check on my lap and, watched by her family and the neighbor kids - I executed the signature on the traveler's check - very well, I felt.
"It's perfect," I said.
"It is close." She squinted critically at it.
Everyone crowded close to have a look.
"Put the date," Teresa said.
I wrote the date, as Kurt might have.
"Will it get stale?"
"Did you say 'stale'?
She said yes, she had, and so I explained the nature of traveler's checks, how they never went stale, how she could wait a while before cashing it - thinking that I could be safe and out of the way on another island by then. 
The fishermen said a strong current ran through the "Apolima Strait, which separated Upolu and Savaii, the two largest islands of Western Samoa. I I had not been alone I would have risked the trip - I was almost halfway across when I had been at the far side of Manono: I didn't see a problem. The fishermen did not cross the strait in their canoes, and yet they warned me. Did they know something? I heeded the warning, and with regret took the rusty ferry across to Savaii, with my packed-up boat among my other bags. "The worse Samoans and the worst palangis come to Apia," a schoolteacher named Palola told me. "All the failures. but they never get together."
His description made the place sound more interesting than it was. In Third World dereliction made it look simply unsightly, neglected, abused, and even the sea was hidden from it. From the harbor's edge, where water lapped feebly at the shore, the reef was a great distance and the lagoon was gray and turbid, the water the ghostly gray color of dead coral.
"It is worse in Pago," Palola said. he was polite and well-spoken, on the ferry to visit his folks in Papalaulelei. No sooner had I made my mind up that these people were brutes than I met a person who was decent and restrained, dignified and helpful, among the most hospitable I had ever met in my life.
"The main difference is in the attitude of people," he said, trying to answer my question comparing Western Samoa, an independent republic, with American Samoa - a territory belonging to the United States. "Take the attitude towards money. If we get money we spent it on our family, on our house, or food and necessities. In American Samoa they use it to buy a car, or for entertainment. They spend it on themselves. They care less about the family."
"Why is the family so important?" I asked, pressing him.
"Because it helps you - it looks after you. It is your life," Palola said.
"Is the house part of your life?"
"Yes. If you go to Pago and see a fine house you will probably discover that the people in that house came from Western Samoa. We are still following our old ways."
"But why is Apia in such bad repair? And the rest of the island isn't much better."
"It is getting worse. We had a hurricane last February -"
Everyone spoke of this three-day gale which wrecked houses and uprooted palms and destroyed roads with high tides and floods. but that was over a year ago and the wreckage remained.
"- we have not rebuilt it," Palola was saying. "We have no money. And the government is also to blame."
The family looked after itself but was indifferent to the plight of other families, and it was no concern of a family if there were tree trunks and splintered houses up the road. The breakdown of the family in American Samoa (the main island of Tutuila was only forty miles east of here) was said to be the cause of the strife there. Depending on who I was talking to, Samoans either said they were one people, or else as different as they could possibly be. "We have a different language!" one man insisted. "Sapelu means bush knife in Western Samoa and shovel in American Samoa. Ogaumu mans an oven here but it means a pot over there. We have different words for east and west!" Great stress was laid on the fact that money mattered more in American Samoa than here, its poor cousin. I had a standard island question, which I tried to remember to ask everywhere I went. Why are islands different from the mainland?
Palola said, "Because you are free on an island, and you can control your own affairs."
He went on to say that he had visited his brother in Auckland and that he had been too frightened to drive his brother's car. "Everything was so fast there," he said, meaning the traffic, the marching people on the sidewalk, the way they spoke and did business. He had feared it unendurable. No one was seasick on the ferry ... I had assumed that, being Polynesians, they would be puking their guts out, even on this half-hour run. On the other hand, they were none too healthy, and they made their way onto the jetty with a side-to-side duckwalk that was characteristic of these obese people. They valued fatness, and to make themselves physically emphatic they ate massive amounts of bananas, taro, breadfruit and such snacks as were on the menu of the eateries in Apia. Toasted spaghetti sandwich, was one I noted. (The New Zealanders have a lot to answer for.) They ate the cuts of mutton that were whitest with fat. Meat that the Kiwis and Aussies refused to eat, unsaleable parts of dead animals - chicken backs, parson's noses, trotters, withers and whatever - were frozen and exported here. A scrap of meat on a chunk of fat attached to a big bone they found toothsome. The imported canned corned beef they called pisupo was up to ninety percent fat. It was not the solid meat thing that we diced with a knife in the United States and made into hash, this Pacific corned beef was often like pudding it was so loaded with fat, and it could easily be eaten with a spoon. Not only was beef tallow added to it, but some brands contained hippo fat.
Heart disease was endemic and people died young, but still there were only two doctors on the island of Savaii (population 46,000) - one was Italian, the other Burmese. I met the Italian doctor, Peter Caffarelli, in a roundabout way. He lived just outside the village of Tuasivi where my younger brother Joseph had been a Peace Corps volunteer. Tuasivi was a member of fales on both sides of the coast road, near a headland occupied by a college, where my brother had taught English. The settlement - a large village - had none of the raddled rundown look of the comparable places on Upolu that I had seen. The fales were well made and there was a busy air to the place, people gardening, feeding their chickens, and a profusion of lava-lavas flapping on clotheslines. the wreckage of last year's hurricane lay farther down the coast - tipped-over trees, broken culverts, washed-away roads. Tavita Tuilagi, one of Joe's former colleagues, was building a new fale, not only in a traditional style but by a traditional method: some of the men working on the house were paid. They were relatives, part of the extended family, and friends. In theory this was all a labor of love, in practice it could be expensive, since Tavita - Samoan for David - was obliged to supply all the men at all times during the construction with food and drink - and the better the food the harder the men would work. Indeed, if the food and drink ran out, the men might decide to work elsewhere. 
"This man Tavita has just been given a title," said the Samoan who had shown me the way to Tuasivi. "He is now Oloipola."
It is not much," Tavita said, sounding suitably modest, and hardly looking titled and chiefly in his LA Lakers T-shirt.
But saying it was nothing was not modesty. It was the truth. This title, which meant "matai chief" - head of the family - had once b3en a powerful position. but lately such titles had been handed out willy-willy by chiefs as a way of getting themselves re-elected to positions of power.
"Sio was a good boy," Tavita said, giving Joe his Samoan name. "He was a good teacher too. I want him to come back."
"Why don't you write him a note and say so?" I asked. And I found a blank page in my notebook and gave him a pen. "You could invite him back, and I will make sure he gets it."
"That is a good idea," Tavita said, and began scribbling.
"I doubt whether I'll get a chance to read it." I said, when he had finished. I put the notebook into my pocket and walked up the road.
The note said: Dear Joe Theroux, I'm so happy to meet your father (crossed out) brother. remembering you for the past years since you were here. I am building a new fale. If you could give me a donation through finance I would like to accept it. May God blesss you. thank you. Tavita Tuilagi.
On my way back through the village I gave Tavita thirty Samoan tala, which he accepted without ceremony.
The Italian doctor, Caffarelli, lived up the road, near the beach in a straggling village beyhond 'Tuasivi. He was skinny, burned dark by the sun, wearing a lava-lava patterned in red flowers. I took him to be in his late sixties. His wife was Samoan. Children seemed to be scattered everywhere around his house, and we were outside, strolling around his tussocky grass, among lanky pawpaw trees. The house was badly mildewed stucco in the European style and (so he said) it stood on one of the few plots of freehold land in the whole of Samoa. It had apparently been doled out by a chief on the understanding that as long as the doctor lived on that land he would look after the chief's health.
When I asked the doctor direct questions about himself he became unhelpful and vague - vague even about the number of his children. "Ten," he said in a tone of uncertainty, and then, "Eleven." Answering my qu3stions about Samoan life he spoke with greater confidence.
"The family is very important here, yes," the doctor said. "But when we say 'family' we are talking about a very large number of people. times have changed and that has made it all more complicated. there are obligations, but that is not so bad when you are in a non-money economy. When someone offers to work, or gives you fruit, you offer food at a later time."
"I noticed. There are always gifts in circulation here," I said.
"But when money comes into the picture" - the doctor made the Italian hand-weighing gesture which signifies tribulation - "it can be expensive. Money for this, money for that. And the rule is that you don't refuse."
"Does that mean you give it every time it's asked for?"
"You look after children," the doctor said. "But how far does your obligation extend if the father of those children is out chasing a bar-girl in Apia? Do you go on pretending that he's just doing his duty and turn a blind eye?"
"Does this happen often?"
"All the time," the doctor said. "And there's a moral dimension. Why should I give money to someone if all he plans to do with it is waste it on prostitutes? The rule is that you give, if someone asks. But it raised moral questions sometimes."
I asked about stealing, since it was mentioned by many other travellers I had met, and all the guidebooks contain warnings. I had not lost anything, but the fact was that so much had been pinched from me in Tonga I had little else of value that could be stolen.
"When this was truly a non-money economy, when cash didn't come into it at all, everything was shared," the doctor said. "So my bush knife was also yours. A person would come and take it. There was no concept of private property. There was perhaps a little pleasure in a person's taking something. Nothing was privately owned, there was no idea of personal property."
He went on to say that money had complicat3ed this traditional arrangement - everyone in Samoa blamed money for their problems: the lack of it, the greed for it, the power that wealthy people had.
"People steal all the time now," the doctor said. "Yes, it is the old habit, but it is stealing. Yet no stigma is attached to it. they even admire trickery."
"What if you steal from them?"
"In theory, that is what you are supposed to do. But they are not always so tolerant, eh? They are communal-minded when it suits them, but there are plenty of instances when a person gets something and never shares it."
I told him that it wasn't the stealing, but the inconsistency and the hypocrisy that caused the problems.
"Yes, I will give you an example," he said. "A man I know had a very big mango tree. He noticed that everyone was stealing his mangoes as soon as they were ripe. by the way, he was an Australian, but he had lived here for some years. He didn't say anything to the people, but he thought, 'Ah, so that is what they do.' Thus he began packing bananas from the trees of these people And they didn't like it!"
"What did they do about it?"
"There was a hell of a fuss."
"How bad?"
He shrugged and made the Italian fishmouth that signified a paradox was in the air.
"They wanted to kill him."
We talked about the birth-rate. It was very high - but although sixty percent of the births were illegitimate, the children were well looked after and always part of a larger family. Still, the government authorized the use of birth-control remedies - Depoprovera.
"Isn't that a dangerous drug?"
"yes, it is bad, but who is sentimental here? You might be sterilized for life, you might die - but isn't that the motive of the people who give out contraceptives? They want to bring down the birth-rate, at any cost. They are not sentimental." After a moment he said, "I don't have anything to do with contraceptives."
He walked me to the road, his lava-lava flapping, his numerous children frolicking around us.
"You must like it here to have lived here so long." Twenty-five years he had spent in Samoa.
"A doctor here is a despised person," he said, smiling. "The great thing is to be a minister in the church. People give you food and money. You have status. You can be rich. But they regard me as ridiculous, because I am a doctor. When my surgery building blew down and as demolished in the hurricane everyone stood near it and laughed. 'Look at what happened! The doctor's house is down!' The Samoans thought it was very funny."
There are not many wild creatures in Samoa, and most are near the road, so just walking home I saw nearly every one of them - the black rats, the endangered bats, the pigs, the rails, sw3iftlets, reef herons and crazed limping dogs.
I was staying in a fale myself, at Lalomaleva. It often rained in the dark early morning, three or four o'clock, the downpour drumming on the thatch and tin roof - a lovely sound, half roar, half whisper, and it made a tremendous slapping of the big broad leaves just outside the blinds. Then dawn broke, the gray sky lightened, and the rain still fell, finally, when the sun's rim appeared against the palm trees at six or so, the rain pattered to a stop.
I lived among a farrago of aging expatriates and more youthful Samoans. In the near distance there was always the full-throated sound of mocking laughter - always children. This sudden explosive laughter I found unaccountably jarring and demoralizing, but it only seemed to bother me - no one else. The expatriates more or less assumed that they would be buried here eventually, though the Samoans all expressed great homesickness for places like Auckland and San Francisco.
Loimata was typical.
"Mata means 'eye' in Malay," I said.
"And also in Samoan," she said. "Loimata means tears."
She had relatives in Hawaii, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Ze4aland and Australia. Visiting some of them she had lingered to work, and for a while lived in the Samoan enclave outside Honolulu, called Wahaiwa. She had been t5ravelling with her mother, who missed Samoa, and so mother and dutiful daughter had returned to Savaii. 
I miss the work," she said.
Her friend twitted her and said, "You don't miss the work. You miss the money."
"Yes, I miss the money."
Warren Jopling, a New Zealander in his mid-sixties, had simply come to Samoa and become so entangled in his newly acquired Samoan family that he had stayed. He said he liked Samoa. And of course the family had adopted him - but two or three Samoans were attached to twenty more, and in the end they took possession of him and moved wholesale into his house to Apia, occupying it so fully that he moved out and came here to Savaii.
I had wanted to see an ancient stone mound, called Pulemelei - a great stepped pyramidal structure, the largest mound of its kind in the whole of Polynesia. I asked a number of Samoans about it. Most knew nothing of its existence. The two that had heard of it had never seen it. I asked Warren whether he knew about it - and of course he, a palangi living on the fringes, had visited it many times and knew this obscure ruin in the jungle intimately.
No one has any idea what this enormous ruin was used for - whether it was a tomb, a fortress, or a so-called bird-snarling mound. It is all the more intriguing for that - for its size and its mystery. It lies in the depths of the Samoan jungle behind the village of Vailoa and it is so seldom visited that there are no paths around it. Even Warren Jopling, who knew it well, became a trifle confused on our approach through the bush.
Built against the brow of a hill it was covered in jungle greenery - vines and bushes - and yet its architectonic shape in two great steps was vivid: with the contours of a titanic wedding cake it had the look of a ceremonial mound, but it offered a wonderful prospect of the sea. In its day, before any of the palms had been plant4d, it must have had the grandeur of the great Mayan pyramid at Chichen Itza, the so-called Castillo, a structure it somewhat resembled in size and complexity. Some archeologists have conjectured that there was a large dwelling on the top of it, which would truly have given it the look of a castle. It was forty feet high, about a hundred and eighty feet wide and over two hundred feet long, with battlements and parapets and flights of stone stairs.
"You know the oddest thing about this place?" Warren said. "This is an island that is rich in legends. They have stories about the blow-holes and the waterfalls and the caves. They have stories about things that don't even exist. Giants, dwarfs, ghosts, spirits. How this volcano appeared, where that island came from. But there are no stories about this, not even fanciful ones. Don't you think that's strange?"
He showed me a number of other rock mounds - graves, house platforms, altars, all covered with jungle, buried in ferns and vines, all unknown, none of them excavated.
"A great civilization lived here," he said. "It must have been here, because there was a great deal of available water - two rivers, the only real year-rounds rivers on Savaii."
The volcanic native of the soil helped all water to percolate through very quickly, Warren said - he had spent a career as a geologist. Rain fell and then it disappeared, he said. There were few pools, but no lakes. Yet just here th4re were springs and rivers.
One of these rivers, the Faleala, ran over a high ledge farther into the jungle and turned into Olemoe Falls. Warren had brought along two Samoan boys in case we should have an emergency - a blow-out, a wreck, whatever. They would come in handy. They were frisky and willing - one named Afasene ("Half a Cent"), the other Siaki (Jack). We sat by the pool and they wove crowns of fern for me and put them on my head, making me feel like the Unbearable Bassington in the Saki novel.
And then they splashed and dived.
"Look at me, Paul!"
"I will get a stone from the bottom!"
"I will jump!"
"Don't look at him - look at me!"
Into the falls, down the sluice, diving backwards, fooling and living it. They were fourteen and sixteen, but seemed much younger.
So this was what it was all about. You came here and frisked with brown boys, and slept with their sisters, and gave money to their parents, and lived and died. You slept and ate and laughed.
Savaii was a maddening place from the paddling point of view - either surf crashing on rocks and nowhere to launch from, or else a lagoon so shallow that my paddle blade struck bottom with each stroke. the Samoans were not boat people themselves - only the oldest ones could remember ever crossing from island to island paddling in a canoe or sailing an outrigger. This skill of using small craft, by which I tended to judge Pacific islands, had just about vanished in Samoa.
The Taga blow-holes were not far from the mysterious stone mound of Pulemelei. The blowholes, locally know as pupu, were volcanic fissures in the cliffs of black lava that made this part of the coast of Savaii so dangerous. he swell crashing into the cliffs travelled through the sea-caves and the hollows and shot into the vertical holes, producing a geyser or waterspout that made a plume of water eighty feet in the air.
We stood by one of the dozen or so blow-holes and chucked coconuts into the hole just as the swell hi8t the cliff, and within a few seconds the coconut was shot into the air like a cannonball. The kids did the same with palm fronds and watched them flung upward, twisting and turning in the spray.
The whole place was deserted. It was one of the great natural phenomena of the Pacific. We stood under sunny skies and big pully clouds, by the lovely sea, the boys fooling, the coconuts shooting skyward, and I thought, My God, this is stupid.
But it was a feeble protest. by then a lazy sort of boredom had taken possession of my soul, the Oceanic malaise. I never saw anyone reading anything more d4emanding than a comic book. I never heard any youth express an interest in science or art. No one eve4n talked politics. It was all idleness, and whenever I asked someone a question, no matter how simple, no matter how well the person spoke English, there was always a long pause before I got a reply, and I found these Pacific pauses maddening.
And there was giggling but no humour - no wit. It was just foolery. The palangis were no better. Warren got up a picnic with an American named John, who had started his own farm in the Mid-West, and with Friedrich, who told me, "I am studying the smell of roast beef." He meant just that: he roasted a chunk of beef every day in his laboratory in Munich and then distilled its essence and tried breaking the flavor down into its chemical components. "This has many applications," he explained. In our party there were also the usual contingent of Samoan youths, clambering and laughing.
We were sitting under the palms at Asuisui, and when Warren passed out the sandwiches, I said, "I can't eat Spam. Hey, that reminds me. Ever read Descartes - Rene Descartes?"
Silence from John, silence from Friedrich, silence from Warren, giggles from the Samoans.
"As in 'Don't put Descartes before the horse?"
In the ensuring silence, Warren cleared his throat. "I've read him," he said, "but it was years ago, and I don't have a retentive memory."
"I was just going to make a joke."
They stared at me.
"Descartes - didn't he say, 'I'm pink, therefore I'm Spam'?
A look of aopprehension settled over them, and only Manu broke the silence.
"What you tink?"
"What do I think about what?"
"Da wedda."
So we discussed the wind and clouds.
Later in his car Manu said, "I got a wife."
We were driving towards Lalomalava. His car was a jalopy which contained an expensive cassette-player, and reggae music was blasting from his stereo speakers, mounted with some stuffed toys on the back shelf.
"Any kids?"
"I got a kid in here," he said, and banged the glove compartment. He was having trouble opening it, until he thumped it very hard. "Kid - in here - somewhere."
finally he took out a crinkl3d photograph of a fat brown baby wrapped in a clean blue blanket. The picture had not been snapped in Samoa.  
"My son, Manu said proudly.
"What's his name?"
"I dunno."
"Where was this picture taken?"
"You want to go to Auckland?"
"No," Manu said, and tossed the picture back into the love compartment and hammered it shut with his fist.
What exactly was the story here?
I travelled to the northwest of Savaii, to Asau Bay, to paddle, and there I met Fat Frank, who had rec4ntly arrived from California and was scouting the island. He was an alcoholic, and had taken up residence at a motel at Vaisala. Apart from Fat Frank there was only one other guest at the place, a Finn from a freighter in Apia, who complained bitterly about Frank. His habit was to rise at eleven, drink a bottle of Vailima Beer for breakfast, follow it with a half-bottle of tequila and then paw Samoan waitresses until he passed out. He was a chain-smoker and his huge pendulous belly hung over his belt. He sat hunched over, breathing hard. I met6 him in the late afternoon, after his second snooze, when he was wheezing and on whisky.
He grumbled about his feet swelling up. He hated the heat. He said he didn't sleep well. He was one of those fat people who when they are horizontal begin to breathe irregularly and more in a choking, strangling manner all night, Aaarrrghh!
"I'll be here six weeks or so," he said.
"That seems such a long time for such a small island."
"Thing is, I'm thinking of relocating."
"Moving here to Samoa?"
"Yeah. Changing my whole life-style. Why wait until you retire? Why not do it now?"
He was only in his thirties, but had a certain swollen look that made him seem much older, like a fat elde4rly baby.
"Ever been here before?"
"No, but I think I could fit in. The people here are very friendly - very warm. Not like Pago. That's dump. I was supposed to stay there a week and stayed one night. but these people take you into their family."
"I think they expect something in return. I mean, wouldn't you have obligations?"
"We could work something out. I'll look around. Look for a house. Look for a village. hen find the chief and talk it over."
He was looking for a life and he made finding it seem simple. A Somerset Maugham character, people say, but in the flesh Somerset Maugham characters could be such slobs and bores.
"And I might do some business."
He had a very furtive way of lighting a cigarette, palming it, turning his lighter on it, sucking it hard, then spitting the smoke out. He was from Mile City, somewhere north of San Francisco.
"Want to know the trouble with business here? You can't make any money in a country where the people have no money."
Deliver4ed of this wisdom he took a long pull on his bottle of hooch.
"But I figure a dive shop might make it. The Japs will come here eventually."
"Why would they come here? They want golf. Beaches. Luxury. Mickey Mouse logo shops. They like to shop. god, you can't even swim here. I'm just managing because I have my own sea kayak."
"I can make out."
"You might be a teeny bit bored."
"Go back" - he wasn't listening to me, he had a slow wheezing way of talking, and this sentence had begun long before - "get my toys. Motorcycle. Hi-fi. Diving equipment. Scuba gear."
Heavy people are often divers. Was it the sense of weightlessness that attracted them - the expreience of being light and buoyant, as they chubbily made their way among the coral and the flitting fish?
"What do you do?" he asked me, wiping his mouth.
"I do a little writing."
"That's why you got all the questions!"
He looked around and laughed. He was laughing at the blazing sun, the palms, the wrecked beach - the worst of the hurricane4 had come here. His laughter showed in the rolls of flesh on his gut.
"I knew I was going to meet a writer here. As soon as I saw this fucked-up place I said to myself, 'I'm going to meet a writer.' And a painter. Where's the painter? there must be a painter here."
So he was thinking of leaving the vastness of northern California, and the friendliness of this small American town, and settle here in a jumbled family, taking up residence in a fale in a Samoan village, with all its Christians. I said this to him in so many words. 
"It's a trade-off, isn't it?"
He wanted a new life. He wanted the pleasure of retirement now not when he was arthritic and unhealthy. That in itself was sensible: at this rate he wouldn't last - fat and tanked up and chain-smoking. 
"I got the answer. People will buy anything from someone they like."
"Meaning you?"
"Yeah. Like me. A real character," he said. He rested the bottle on his belly. "An interesting guy."
And then I understood, and I saw him in America, on his Harley-
Davidson. He was one of those terrifyingly fat fellows in a Nazi crash helmet that are seen roaring down the highway, sitting behind the immensity of his belly, that shoot out in front of sober motorists who say, "Look at him, Doris. Hogging the road!"
"Don't make him mad," Doris says. "Please don't honk the horn."
And you don't.
Fat Frank was looking for an indulgent family, and it was possible that he would find one in Samoa, where you could devgelop a relationship with a family that had strong ties. I was not worried about Frank taking advantage of them; in the end, they would take him for all he was worth. But it was a paradoxical society. Outside the family there seemed to be no driving force, no loyalties, and the interdependency that was limited strictly to the family made it seem less like a society than like a simple organism, a certain type of jelly fish, perhaps the hydrozoan that sways and bloops along the surface of the sea.
Whenever I attempted to do something in Samoa - buy a ticket, rent a car, obtain information - the Samoan I asked looked a bit surprised and seemed totally unprepared to help. In their own lives, Samoans managed to scrape along with a little farming and a lot of remittances. It was the most cohesive society that I saw in the Pacific, but the least individualistic - perhaps the most tradional in Polynesia. but apart from the immediate needs of the family, nothing was achieved - where were the doctors, the dentists, pilots, engineers, architects and skilled people? Many Samoan teachers fled to better-paying jobs elsewhere, and their positions were filled by Peace Corps volunteers. Even the grubbiest road supervisors and heavy-machinery operators, driving bulldozers and augering holes for power lines - were from New Zealand and Australia.
Or was I taking the whole business too seriously? Perhaps it was all a comedy. but if you weren't in the mood for that sort of low hilarity it was the wrong place to visit.
"I tone like Tonga," a Samoan said to me.
"Why not?"
"Too sandy?"
"yes. And theyh tone like Samoan people."
"What a pity."
"Because a Samoan kai cut off da head of a Tonga kai."
"Is that all?"
"And cut off his leck."
"I see. he Samoan guy cut off his head and his leg."
An ancient quarrel shrouded in myth? No. It happened in Auckland, he explained, just a few months ago.
Some of these wild cannibal-looking youths were very sweet. The surliest-seeming ones, obstinate one minute, could be unexpectedly helpful the next. The policemen were ineffectual but in their white helmets and epaulets they were at least picturesque. Was it because I was in Samoan backwaters? But in Samoa it was all backwaters. And at those moments when I was most exasperated I would look up; and see the odde4st thing - a man holding a pig in his la, or a man standing u to his neck in the lagoon, smoking a cigarette - and I would laugh the witless Samoan laugh and think: Take this seriously and you're dead.

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An extract of the text from THE HAPPY ISLES OF OCEANIA by Paul Theroux, published in London by Hamish Hamilton, 1992. 

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