The plantation is vital to the health and well-being of Samoa’s social structure.
Samoa’s biggest export was once its produce: bananas, papaya, coconut, cocoa and taro. You just have to look up to see miles and miles of plantation covering volcanic ranges. Each village has its own plantation. Their plantation still sustains them and offers them local business.
On a trip to Hawaii, my friend Donovan (native Hawaiian) took me to a point that over looked vast flat lands. Below us was the Western highway, a busy six lane passage to the other side of Wakiki. He told me, sarcastically that this was his plantation (or where it once was). We stood there for a long time having the noise of traffic rumble down below and I realized, seeing the lack of a plantation was important and key to understanding his village. This is the new Hawaii. With sugar cane export down and tourism well up, the highway came in to cater for tourists’ needs. His people lobbied against the move, the government over ruled. I could sense the great void of not having a plantation and understand the importance to a people that worked and cared for the sugar cane for generations.
The flip side of this is experiencing the richness of a people that still have autonomy over their plantation. The village of Uafato grow coconut and banana. I saw the steep slope on which it grows – miles of coconut trees. It is a wonder how they stay so rooted! Men go in to the plantations in teams for several days, I can see on the hillside a makeshift shelter made from tarpaulin and a bit of rope. They fell what they need and what they will take to Apia to sell locally.
The men had recently come back from a trip up the mountain and there was a pile of coconut back at the village. They will use the husk for kindling. The coconut itself will be used for a host of other purposes: to extract oil; to drink; to dessicate for coconut cream; to eat fresh; and for pig fodder. What’s left of the shell is often kept to make craft. I have seen earrings, bowls and ornaments made from the shells.
I watched a local girl peel the husk on a stick buried in the ground and crack a coconut with a machete in a minute flat. I fumbled the act, leaving chunks of husk on the shell and half cracked, half crushed the coconut in the process. In spite of my foiled efforts the coconut flesh was sooooo fresh, the best I’ve ever had!
It is deeply satisfying to eat food that your own hands have bought about. To live off something you have grown. I had a rather successful tomato plant once. The tomatoes went into so much of my cooking. The fact I knew where they came from and what I was eating made eating them so great.
A plantation is as much an important part of a village as their Matai or their family fale. It sustains them; offers income and gives purpose to their work.