Posted by: monsonmadness | June 9, 2011

A few local secrets

Okay, I am starting to learn a few of the local tricks of living in American Samoa. First money. The money here is very flimsy and soft — feels like tissue paper. I guess it just never gets retired, so the same bills from the sixties are still in circulation. I was next to a guy at McDonalds the other day and his dollar bill actually ripped in half when he pulled it out of his wallet. The fibers just came apart. Also, if you want to be like the locals, you hand your dollar bills over all wadded and crinkled up, not flat and smooth. Maybe it’s because they’re trying to disguise that the bill has come apart and is in three pieces. Finally, most places accept credit cards, but the cashier usually has to dissapear into a back office to run it.

Second, the Sa. Okay, all you BYU alumni out there, remember when they would play the national anthem over the loud speakers and if you didn’t stop and salute, you would get dirty looks. Okay, now imagine that only enforced by Goliath-sized samoan men in red skirts — that’s the Sa. Every day in most villages, a village official will come out at 5:55 and start banging on an old gas canister (like ones used to fill balloons at the grocery store). This is the five minute warning. At 6:00 more banging and the Goliaths come out — they are called “aumaga” and are the non-deputized village police. Now, if you are driving on a main road, you can continue during the “sa” but if you stop — there’s no starting again. If you’re walking, you stop and try to get inside somewhere or at least fold your arms and look somber, avoing eye contact with the aumaga. If you’re driving on a side street, you stop the car. Most people go inside, except the aumaga. Seven minutes of reverence are observed then more banging and you can go on your way. Presumably, people are praying in their houses during the sa. One of my friends who has lived here a long time said that once in his village when someone flagrently violated the sa, folding chairs, rocks, and coconuts where thrown at his car. He was lucky that one of the aumaga didn’t pick up his car and throw that too. So, the sa, apparently serious business. Sounds like kind of a cool tradition, actually. I applauded the commitment to religious devotion even if it does run somewhat afoul of certain fundamental principals, such as agency. However, when I learned that the reason this tradition is continued today — village chiefs get money from the cultural preservation department to keep it going — it became a little less cool. Wonder if they get a bonus for vandalizing the cars of violators.


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