60th Anniversary of Samoan Independence

Dance contests, bands, food and craft booths, what a lucky time to arrive in Samoa! The country had just reopened after Covid, and long awaited festivals could finally happen. This is the first time the new stage in front of the government building was used, and the first festival in almost three years. We think we even saw another tourist, or two. But mostly it was locals, celebrating and soberly (no alcohol sold, and not much of a drinking culture from what we could tell) blowing off steam after years of Covid restrictions.

The first night after we checked in was the big dance contest night. After the female-focused, hip shaking dancing of French Polynesia, the demure, full coverage costumes and mostly arm movements from standing and sitting woman in the dance company was quite a change. The guys, on the other hand, held center stage with energetic stomping, slapping, kicks and jumps. One cruising friend of ours laughingly called the body slapping part of the dance the mosquito dance. As the mosquitoes were also visiting us in the audience, we danced along a little ourselves.

On the second night, we went back to the government building stage to see a Variety Show, with Lucinda and Al from SV Ten Gauge. (After sundowners, graciously hosted on their boat.) We noticed a procession heading through the crowd, stopping for photos, and we waved them over as they passed. As, very obviously, the only tourists in the crowd, we were noticed quickly and had no trouble getting ourselves one of these photos. We laughed and enjoyed the photo, with no idea what was going on, until a member of the honor guard sidled over to tell us that this was the Womens Rugby World Cup, and that she (a member of the team) was escorting it on a tour of the islands before it passed on to the next winning team. Her tone indicated that we should be more awed, and we showed the appropriate contrition and appreciation. “Do you know what you’re looking at?” “Uhh…” “I bled and sweat for that.” “Ah… It is very shiny. Well done.”

On our way back from the show we passed through the other half of the event, which was a miniature outdoor market slash carnival. Here’s the kids section, including a very homemade train ride, and a hand-turned ferris wheel. As the week wound on, both the crowd and the entertainments became denser; by Friday, there were several bouncy houses and it was difficult to walk from this camera angle.

The festival also featured a traditional, wood-needle tattoo tent. They seemed to be mostly applying the same traditional tattoos, on the womens’ upper thighs and up the mens legs to above their hip bones. Across from the tattoo shop, we found our favorite thing from the whole event: a Samoan who had lived in Southern California for years was running a mexican stall, and they had real, fresh, delicious churros. This became a nightly pilgrimage for us. (After all, we weren’t going to cut through any red tape after five, so we might as well enjoy the shows!)

On our way back to the boats after the variety show, we passed by a restaurant that clearly had entertainment inside. We poked our heads inside, and Jazz negotiated us a standing room view of the last couple of acts. We had read about this show, but assumed that it wasn’t happening, both because the normal host location was closed, and because the festival was on. But it seems that this is where all the tourists were that night. Maybe we should start checking with the big area hotels to find out where they’re sending their guests. Tips for future travel.

The next night we assembled an even bigger crowd, all the English-speaking boats in the harbor. Especially notable, to Andrew’s left, are Mike and Terri from Revision II! Regular readers may remember the boat that was stuck behind us during our crossing to French Polynesia, taking 74 days to reach Nuku Hiva. We finally ran into them, docked here in Apia! The other boat, Kiki, we didn’t have as much interaction with. The whole group went out for a pre-show drink at the marina bar, pictured, and then headed out to see much of the same acts as before at the evening’s performance, once again at the government stage.

The next day Acushnet showed up! And we headed out for another variety show.

There was singing and dancing; USO is, yes, in the middle of a Backstreet segment of their medley. Note also the traditional tattoos poking over the guys’ sarongs in the last picture.

This was our favorite act, one of only a few all-female groups. Their dancing was still Samoa-conservative, but with distinct sharp movements, and well-coordinated.

But the most entertaining was probably these two, who did a full Whitney Houston song, in Samoan and in drag.

Then they announced the winners from Tuesday/Thursday’s dance competition, and they came up on stage and danced. Then they came down into the audience and elicited “crowd participation”; Jazz was only too happy to oblige. Note the bow, and Jazz doing her best to dance conservatively. She was also presented ear-flowers by two different members of this group.

Other notables from the night: this pooping-baby statue in front of a (closed) restroom, and our brilliant innovation that while beer was not sold at the show, you could buy it at the pizza shop next door and nobody seemed to object.

The final night was a big concert, and we started the evening in style with a dinner that required actual reservations. Actual Italian food! Truly, Samoa is culinary paradise after French Polynesia.

The concert was from a locally-huge group called PunaaXXX, and the crowd was packed in and absolutely thrilled to be there. We, however, did not grow up singing these songs, did not much care for them, and left after only a couple of songs. We felt a little bad about this, especially since Al and Lucinda had graciously saved some ground space for us, but ultimately it’s just not our genre.

This was the last night of the festival, the big night for the locals but a bit of a bust for us. Doubly so because when we passed the churro stand, we found them sold out. So we had to walk back to our boats under-sugared. Happy 60th independence day, Samoa! Despite the lackluster finish, the party was a blast, and we felt lucky to have accidentally timed our arrival so well.

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