This is Aunu’u.
It is one of five islands and two atolls that make up American Samoa.
This is Peter.
He is one of the chiefs of Aunu’u and today’s tour guide.
Our friend, Jeanie Shuldberg, set up the tour and invited us to come with her and her husband, Brent, along with another family, Jed and Shadie Bigelow and their three kids. We took a ferry from Utumea East to Aunu’u. It took less than ten minutes and was mostly a smooth ride.
Peter met us at the boat dock. He was a very friendly, kind and knowledgeable man.
He told us a little about the history of the island and some of their points of pride.
A few things I thought were interesting:
Aunu’u has a preserve for African Ducks. When they first started the preserve a few years ago, there were only 19, now there are over 200!
There are no snakes on the island, but you do have to look out for bees. If you wander off the main road, into the bush, chances are that you will bump into a nest.
When there is a king tide, the untitled men of the village literally lift up and pull all the boats up the shore, to keep them from being damaged.
The first correctional facility of American Samoa was on Aunu’u. The inmates were put to work with planting and building projects around the island. There were some prisoners who tried to swim to Western Samoa. None of the escapees got away, they were either caught or drowned, but the damage was done and they closed it down.
After our brief intro to the island, Peter took us to his house, where he and his cousins had everything prepared to teach us how to cook umu, the traditional Samoan way of cooking, outside, using hot stones and banana leaves, but I’ll save that for another day. Let me just say that it smelled incredible!
And just look at that view from Peter’s backyard!
After the umu was prepared and cooking (mmm, I can smell it now), we headed out for the rest of the tour.
We walked through the village, where Peter showed us many of the varieties of native plants. There were at least three different types of banana trees.
There were papaya and, of course, coconut trees. There was lemon grass that can be used for tea. A root-beer plant who’s roots really smelled like root-beer.
A neosporin plant that can be used to aid in blood-clotting and as an antiseptic, by rubbing the leaves between your hands, which releases the oils.
Right in the middle of the village is a well that has clean, drinkable water. When asked how old the well is, Peter said, “Its been here for ages.” Recently, there was a young man who was caught swimming inside the well, was reprimanded, it happen two more times and after the third time, his family was kicked off the island. They had to pack up and move to Tutuila. They take their clean water very seriously, understandably.
After our tour through the village, we walked down the “road” which opened up to the wetlands. These wetlands have been turned into a tarro plantation. Tarro is a starchy root vegetable and Aunu’u is said to grow the best.
Each family has a plot in the plantation that they are expected to cultivate and make productive.
They use dried banana leaves as mulch, to help with weed control, retain moisture and break down as compost.
Along the road that leads down the middle, is a trench filled with fresh water, which is 30-40 feet deep in some places. The water is home to fish, including Tilapia and fresh water eels that Peter said can grow bigger than his thigh.
There is also wild lily cabbage that grows along the water, with leaves that can be used in salads and soups and its flowers are edible, too.
Past the plantation, we climbed higher, walking along the road, through the lush, tropical vegetation.
Peter told us more stories about the history and plenty of personal stories of bee stings and past tours he’s guided. Here we let the kids run and have more freedom to discover on their own, so I missed a lot of the stories, as I was staying closer to the kids.
Note: Bring bug spray!! The mosquitoes are vicious! I sprayed everyone before we left but once we started climbing into the heavier vegetation, they were biting right through the spray and we had to re-apply. It seemed to do the trick.
The road circled around, and as we started the downward climb, it opened to a picturesque cove with an arch called Taloa (duck) Head.
It was glorious to feel the ocean breeze again, after being deep in the humid, forest. The kids ran straight for the water and we figured it was a good time for a break. The water was shallow and calm, and Peter said this was the spot he brought families who wanted to camp overnight. Beside the road were a couple of clearings that were great for tents and the calm bay was perfect for families.
Peter had one more thing to show us and lunch was waiting, so we pulled the kids away from the water and continued on to a lake, just off the road. If you look closely at the picture you can see a stick, just ahead and to the right of the dog, under neath is quicksand. Peter made the mistake of messing with it one time and swore off quicksand shenanigans for life. You’ll have to go and listen to him tell the story to appreciate why.
We made it the rest of the way down the road, back to the village. The kids were tired and we were all hungry and ready to feast upon the umu. Peter, always the perfect host, offered to carry tired kids, and made good on the offer after a fall and a skinned knee.
Back at Peter’s house, we ate until we though we might burst. After we were all stuffed, happy and ready for some naps, we thanked our host and his helpers, promised we would return (Peter offered to let the guys use his spear guns to do some spearfishing), and headed back to the boat dock.
If you ever get the chance to come to American Samoa, promise me that you will make the trip to Aunu’u. There is so much more that I didn’t capture, in picture and in story. It was a day we won’t forget, recounting stories for years to come.
Samoan Language Study
Beach- Matafaga (in Samoan you pronounce the “g” as “ng”)