Imagine this- You close your eyes. You’re laying back in a hammock, under the shade of towering palms. There’s a gentle breeze blowing a subtle, salty fragrance across your face.
You open your eyes to the enchanting view of crystal clear water. Tiny shadows dart between coral heads, previewing the forms of tropical fish, contrasted against the white sand. It’s just a matter of time before you don your mask, snorkel and fins to get a closer look. In the meantime, you bask in the view of two more emerald islands rising out of the South Pacific Ocean.
Is this just a dream or an actual, physical place you can experience for yourself?
The Manu’a Islands
Just a 30 minute plane ride away from Tutuila (the main island of American Samoa), the Manu’a Islands are a group of three volcanic islands: Ofu, Olosega, and Ta’u. As part of American Samoa, they enjoy the protection and support of the US government, while being distant enough to have retained much of their customs and way of life.
Ofu is the closest to Tutuila and most visited by tourists, due to it’s unparalleled Ofu Beach and coral reef just off-shore. Olosega is connected to Ofu by a single-lane bridge that spans Asaga Straight. Further east, Ta’u is the largest of the Manu’a Islands. It has the tallest point in all of American Samoa, reaching 3,159 feet (963 km), at the summit of Lata Mountain, .
History of the Manu’a Islands
Samoan legend claims that all life began on Ta’u. Tagaloa (the highest god of the ancient Samoan religion) wanted a place to rest his feet. So, he pulled dry land from the bottom of the ocean and made Ta’u. From there he pulled more land up, forming the other islands of Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji for stepping stones. He then formed man and woman from the worms that lived on the land and scattered them across the islands.
There’s no written record of life on the Manu’a Islands before European contact, but stories are full of fierce toa (warriors) and powerful tui (kings). There are stories from all over Polynesia of the sacred Tui Manu’a (King of Manu’a), said to have been descended directly from the gods.
Modern-Day Manu’a Islands
There are no more kings today. The last Tui Manu’a signed the deed of cession in 1921, declaring allegiance to the US, ending the Tui Manu’a title. There’s also little sign of their historic battles. However, the strength and pride of the people are a strong indication of their noble and valiant warrior heritage.
The Manu’an people have always taken great care in protecting their islands. Today, they pride themselves in keeping their islands and surrounding waters clean and healthy. They keep their culture and traditions alive, while still embracing some comforts of the modern world.
Here is a place where balance is exemplified. There’s balance between traditional and modern cultures, between work and play. Manu’ans find balance between caring for the Earth and mankind, between development and sustainability.
Whether or not Tagaloa pulled the islands from the ocean, they certainly look like they were carefully and specially made.
The natural beauty is difficult to capture by word or on film. An overwhelming sense of awe fills you when standing on a high mountain ridge, looking out over the three flora covered islands. Standing on a white-sand beach takes your breath away, as it sparkles in the blinding sun one minute and cools by the shadow of a passing cloud the next. When you dive into the ocean, the waves gently caress your skin, while Threadfin Butterflyfish play peek-a-boo behind textured Smooth Star Coral heads, that can grow to the size of cars.
If you haven’t already added the Manu’a Islands to your travel bucket-list, what are you waiting for? Did I mention Ta’u also has the largest land area of the National Park of American Samoa of any of the islands of the territory. Ta’u also has the oldest discovered settlement anywhere within the Samoan Archipelago. Need more? Possibly the oldest and biggest Porite Coral colony in the whole world is found just off Ofu’s shore.
With so much natural beauty, rich history, and authentic culture, Manu’a Islands guarantee relaxation, adventure, and cultural enrichment. And really, what more could you ask for?
Stay tuned for more Manu’a Islands posts coming soon.
Additional resource: Manu’a Islands- American Samoa Visitor’s Bureau