Photo Diary: Aunu’u Getaway

Photo Diary: Aunu’u Getaway

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.

2016 Samoana Jazz and Arts Festival

2016 Samoana Jazz and Arts Festival


DEC 2016

I love jazz, not in the way that fancy people love jazz, but in such a way that I have a jazz playlist on my iPod and I listen to it a bunch (especially when I’m making brunch—two very exceptional things on one playlist, score!) yet I don’t know any of the artists.

Last year when I was working for the Department of Commerce, the Samoana Jazz and Arts Festival organizer came by asking for assistance with the jazz festival. My boss volunteered me to be the official photographer and that’s a whole other story altogether.

This year, now that I am working at Bluesky as the social media and sponsorship coordinator, I met with the organizer again and this time volunteered myself to be the official photographer for the festival again. I went much more prepared, compared to last year when I almost cried over my insecurities as a photographer next to a cocky official looking guy with a ginormous camera. But that’s beside the point. It also helped to know the musicians this time around because it’s a lot more fun taking photos of people you’re comfortable with.

This is the 3rd Annual Jazz Festival. Every year it opens in American Samoa in the first weekend of November, and then travels over to Samoa for the following weekend. The musicians are mostly local to American Samoa and Samoa, and the style of jazz is localized and includes much more than just jazz music. There are more young bands participating and they have added their twist on jazz (think Valerie by Amy Winehouse, but more jazzy).

The first day of the festival started off with an ethnomusicology forum held at the American Samoa Community College, and then was followed by a corporate event in the evening. The second day is themed “Young, Gifted, and Jazz” for young musicians and artists to share in the spotlight. And the last day is jazz on the beach at Tisa’s Barefoot Bar for a roundup of music, fresh food and drinks.




NOV 2016


Palolo harvest was good this year! Ian brought back a medium sized tupperware full and we sold it the very next day for $50.

Animal weekend

Animal weekend


OCT 2016

I never really considered myself an “animal person”. I eat meat and fish and don’t often feel bad about it, but this weekend I worked with animals in a different way.

Saturday evening was spent in the Olovalu Crater, where my bat biologist friend, Adam, and his wildlife research team were tagging bats for science. The Olovalu Crater is a natural rainforest that is home to thousands–and I mean thousands–of fruit bats, as well as many other native bird species. It was special to me because growing up, I’ve always seen the bats from the main road on my way home during dusk. The sky turns from blue to orange to pink and purple on clear days, and the unmistakable squealing sounds fill the airwaves for miles on the west side as the bats descend into the crater. A large soft net was rigged up between a couple of trees and the bird nerds (that’s not offensive, is it?) crouched low and waited. That night, they caught two bats, one of which would be tagged and the other was let go because it was too small, and they also caught a beautiful white barn owl, which they took data on and checked for molt on its wings before releasing.

I put a video together on this here…

On Sunday I spent most of the day volunteering for the non-profit group Alofa Mo Meaola (Love for Animals). AMM brought down a group of vets from off-island in concerted efforts with the local Vet Clinic to spay and neuter cats and dogs, which if you’ve been to American Samoa, you would know that uncontrolled populations of cats and dogs are a problem here. My job was really easy. At first I was helping folks check their animals in and taking them over to the Prep station, and then I moved over to the Recovery station where my job was literally holding little kittens rolled up in blanket burritos while they were still knocked out post-surgery and monitor their temperatures and heart rates to make sure they recovered without issues. I basically cuddled kittens all day, then fed them and got them ready to be picked up by their owners if they had any. By the way, there were 37 stray cats that are open for adoption, so if you would like to adopt a cat, please do! They are adorable.

Alofa Mo Meaola
Phone: 684.252.5366

Coastweeks entertainment: Utulei Taupou Manaia

Coastweeks entertainment: Utulei Taupou Manaia

This last weekend was the Coastweeks Family Fun Beach Day.

It’s a huge annual event put on by the Department of Commerce Coastal Management Program and supported by various agencies and businesses. There are outrigger canoe races, kayak races, food booths, jumping castles, water slides, stand up paddling, game booths, prizes, and live entertainment – and they are all going on at the same time. As the name suggests, it’s a beach day plus a lot of fun.

Utulei Taupou at Coastweeks 2016

“The Siva Samoa is an essential part of the culture.”

Samoan Feet at Coastweeks 2016

I was busy running around coordinating two paddling teams, a game booth, and a photo booth, and was lucky to have caught a break right in time to watch the Utulei youth group hit the stage. Their performance included a sāsā, aufaipese, traditional siva, and the taualuga.

The Siva Samoa is an essential part of the culture. Song and dance to tell a story, retell old legends, and give praises to God. It’s one of the many beautiful parts of growing up in American Samoa. Though I don’t usually dance, my heart still swells a little with pride when I see the smiling faces and the bright and colorful puletasi.

It makes me wanna scream CHEEEEHOOOO!

Miss American Samoa 2016

Miss American Samoa 2016

The Miss American Samoa pageant has been an annual spectacle for as long as I can remember.

In its heyday, the Miss American Samoa pageant was something that everyone looked forward to seeing–who was in it, what was she wearing, how would she answer the interview, what was her talent, etc… And while people do still look forward to the event, the mismanagement of recent pageants–and maybe the rise of feminism–has devolved the usual enthusiasm for the pageant into a hyped up fashion and entertainment show. This is of course just my opinion. I also do think that the platform that the crowned Miss takes up is an important one, and that her duties and responsibilities have only become more important with time. She becomes a representative of youth and women issues in American Samoa and is able to propel these issues in the local community and share it with the world.

Antonina Keka Lilomaiava

“She becomes a representative of youth and women issues in American Samoa”

This year, the Miss American Samoa Inc. wanted to bring back the basics in an attempt to restore the old glory of the pageant. The theme of this year’s pageant was “Samoa, Muamua Le Atua”, meaning “Samoa, put God first”. It is the official motto of American Samoa and is prominently featured on the seal and coin of American Samoa.  With that in mind, majority of the contestants focused on the historical and religious aspects of the Samoan culture in their talents and traditional wear, and made the audience laugh and hoot with their different interpretations of dance and history. Overall, the pageant was well executed–short, sweet and simple–in comparison to previous years.

Antonina Keka Lilomaiava
Age: 19
Village: Aua & Fagatogo
Sponsored by: SSAB Pago Inc.

Janet Peleiupu Fa’afo’i
Age: 25
Village: Aoloau
Sponsored by: SM Sewing Shop, CCCAS Aoloau Youth, 5 Star Inc, Family & Friends.

Fellen Kelemete
Age: 24
Village: Mesepa
Sponsored by: Pacific Independent Distributors Inc.

Luava’asi’itia Aprilynn Esera
Age: 19
Village: Vailoatai
Sponsored by: Sliding Rock Inc.

Taisamasama Toatelegese
Age: 21
Village: Nu’uuli, Aua, Malaeloa & Fitiuta
Sponsored by: Tess Sewing Shop.

Antonina Keka Lilomaiava
Janet Peleiupu Fa’afo’i
Fellen Kelemete
Luava’asi’itia Aprilynn Esera
Taisamasama Toatelegese

Breakdown of awards:

  • Miss Personality: Taisamasama Toatelegese
  • Miss MASI: Antonina Lilomaiava
  • Miss Photogenic: Janet Fa’afo’i
  • Miss Bluesky Internet: Antonina Lilomaiava
  • Best Sarong: Antonina Lilomaiava
  • Best Talent: Fellen Kelemete
  • Best Traditional Wear: Antonina Lilomaiava
  • Best Siva Samoa: Taisamasama Toatelegese
  • Best Interview: Antonina Lilomaiava
  • Best Pre-Pageant Interview: Fellen Kelemete

And the final standings:

  • 4th Runner Up: Janet Fa’afo’i
  • 3rd Runner Up: Taisamasama Toatelegese
  • 2nd Runner Up: Aprilynn Esera
  • 1st Runner Up: Fellen Kelemete
  • Crowned Miss American Samoa 2016-2017: Antonina Lilomaiava


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