Aunu’u is a quiet little island just 15 minutes away by ‘alia (Samoan water taxi). I have visited many times before and for being barely 0.6 square miles, I thought I’d just about explored everything…
But this time is different, it is rediscovery with context.
It is Saturday morning and I am just going to bed at 6:00am after an all-nighter hanging out with Gabby. Probably a bad idea, but we had so much fun painting and watching videos that we didn’t even feel tired until we saw the sun rising outside. I fall asleep unsure if I will be able to wake up early enough for the day’s adventures. By 9:30 am, I’m wide awake, sipping coffee on my way to the car, and sing along unashamedly to the top 40’s on the radio to get my endorphins going.
Let’s go to Aunu’u
We had some visitors in town, Julia and Dana, so my good friend Mareike got in contact with Aunu’u resident Peter Taliva’a. He just started up a tour company called Sam’s Aunu’u Island Getaway, and we thought it would be a good way to show our friends some of the best parts of our home and culture.
Upon arrival into Aunu’u, we are immediately greeted by a dozen little kids swimming in the crystal clear waters of the harbor. We walk over to Peter’s light blue house and admire the amazing view of the ocean towards Tutuila. The sun has made its debut after a couple of weeks of rain, and we can clearly see Mt. Matafao, the tallest peak of Tutuila.
Peter welcomes us to his slice of paradise, and gives each of us sun hats–woven just minutes before we arrived–“from the coconut tree right here,” he points to a line of coconut trees on the property. And on cue, one of Peter’s guys climbs the lau niu faster than you can say lavalava five times. He uses a machete to cut clean a few fronds.
The taufusi demonstration begins and we all join in to prepare an umu (Samoan earth oven) with guidance from Peter and his cohort of tan boys–Daryl, Mike, Adam and Panapa. We take turns husking coconuts, scraping taro and breadfruit, and assembling leaves for palusami. We also learn how to weave our own sun hats from palm fronds, a skill I’ve always wanted to learn and am now so frond of… terrible joke.
After everything gets put on the fire, we take a short walk to see one of the 12 natural water wells. Along with rain catchments, these water wells are the only source of natural drinking water on the island.
Next, Peter leads the way through fields of taro plantations grown atop wetlands. This is taufusi, this is special Aunu’u taro; the best in all of American Samoa they say. Most taro plantations are surrounded by coral rocks but Peter’s taro plantation is a little different. It is surrounded by tall vetiver grass, strategically placed to prevent erosion. His trick to getting the rich and tasty taro flavor Aunu’u is known for: composting. He places dry coconut leaves and the shavings of the vetiver grass to keep the wetland soils rich.
From here, our friends start their hike to explore the tide pools, quick sands, and the birthplace of the fabled legend of Sina and Tinilau. I barely slept a wink the night before so instead opted to relax by the water and snorkel around the mouth of the wharf. The water is so calm, I feel I can swim back to Tutuila, but I get the shivers seeing the ocean floor drop off into the unknown somewhere far away. My mask is fogging up and Ian holds my hand and we swim back to the wharf.
We stroll back to Peter’s and munch on warm breadfruit while he regales us in stories of life in Aunu’u and having grown up in Leloaloa.
As soon as our friends return from their hike, we are ready to feast. Peter and his cohort have prepared woven plates and we get in line buffet style and drool over the basic umu spread of breadfruit, taufusi, palusami, faiai i’a cooked in coconut shell, roast chicken, and an extra large fresh ice cold niu. As is customary before we eat, we say prayer and exchange words of thanks to Peter and his team, then dig in ravenously, and quietly with mouths too stuffed with satisfaction to say much else.
Peter is a fellow environmentalist, and true to form, he ensures us that all our food waste will go to feed the stray dogs and our leaf plates will be used as compost for his taro plantation.
I eat until I’m full. I am welled up with gratitude to be here–under a tree on a tiny island looking at my own home island, and sharing a table with a great group of friends. This is my home, American Samoa made me who I am today and there’s nothing that I love more than to rediscover myself through these islands.
We thank our hosts profusely for spending the entire day with us, and jump on the Blue Angel `alia boat back home to Tutuila.
Got home and headed straight for the beach to hang out with more friends and watch the skies change colors.