During the last week of July, the fourth-ranked Mililani Trojans football team flew to American Samoa to face Fagaitua and Tafuna in scrimmages, and more importantly, got to experience first-hand what life is like in a distant land.
“It was an eye-opener and a big wake-up call to see what they deal with every day and the disadvantages they live with compared to our Mililani kids,” Trojans coach Rod York said. “The trip was great for our team because our players, Samoan and non-Samoan, truly enjoyed the culture, food, and first-class hospitality we were shown. The entire week it rained, which was good because we didn’t get to experience the uncomfortable humidity they usually endure. We stayed in a facility called DYWA. It is a government gym where they hold many youth activities.”
Activities abounded for the Trojans, and York recounted many of those experiences.
“We made an umu (underground oven) with players and coaches,” York said. “In Hawaii we call it imu. With some of the Fagaitua kids, we peeled bananas, unhusked and scraped the coconuts for the milk and made food like palusami, taro and breadfruit. We went to practice for two hours and came back for dinner and ate the food the boys made in the umu.
“We went on a tour and experienced an abridged version of an ava ceremony (awa in Hawaiian) in the Samoan fale (hut). We got to ride a fishing boat and sail out of Pago Pago to the island of Manua. My grandmother lives in American Samoa and she and my uncles greeted us on the first morning and we experienced a Samoan si’i. It’s a gift offering out of respect. We also got to swim at the beach in the village of Amouli. We spent Sunday in the village of Leone and ate afterwards (at a) toonai. Imagine a Vegas buffet, but it had every Samoan dish you can think of and included American food such as chicken and ham. We got to swim and eat hot bread and masi (cookies) at a resort. One of our players has a family member who owns the bakery. We also got to meet the governor of American Samoa, Lolo Matalasi Moliga, and he gave us 100 cases of wahoo tuna, polo shirts and lavalavas. But, most importantly, he spoke to our kids with many great life lessons included in his speech. We also went to the village of Vaitogi, my family village, and got to experience the legend of the turtle and shark. We saw the turtle but no shark.”
The Trojans learned about some other American Samoan customs.
“The powerful message of the trip was the American Samoan culture,” York said. “They live simple lives. Yes, they are at a disadvantage, but we couldn’t tell. Everyone is always happy. Their culture is about sharing and being happy. You do not have to pay a mortgage. Get permission from the chief of the village and you can go build your house. Electricity is about $40 per month, average. When we wanted to walk to a park and practice, we had to seek approval from the chief. We couldn’t just go and practice as we do in the U.S. Their practice field had gravel, cement strips, some broken glass, sand, and many small frogs. Fagaitua has to travel five miles every day to practice at their field. A Poly Tech high practices at a park near the airport and the grass was so high with big holes in spots.
“We are fortunate at Mililani with fieldturf. There is a bell that rings every day around 6:30 p.m. which signals everyone to stay indoors and pray. People were forbidden to come out of the houses until the next bell at 7. You see many stray dogs roaming the streets as people do. They are in their own world and very territorial. At our place, DYWA, we had about four to five dogs that slept outside our doors and were very chill with people. As soon as another dog walked on the sidewalk in front of our gym, they would go crazy, bark, and chase the dog away. Many of the kids make an umu at 4 or 5 in the morning before doing anything else. Because it was summer, the high schools practiced from 6 to 9 a.m. After practice, they sing and pray together for about a half-hour. Then, most would go to work for their summer jobs and go home and do chores. The kids all look like linebackers and D-linemen at every position. A lot of tall kids, but built muscularly. Great for football.”
The learning never subsided for the Trojans.
“We learned that the faaumu “chee-hoo” has been misused today,” the coach said. “In Hawaii, we faaumu for any reason. In American Samoa, the faaumu is used out of respect before you give an offering. That’s the only time you would hear a “chee-hoo.” So before the game, our players never did a faaumu because it was disrespectful to our opponents.”
York said transportation is a lot different there.
“Everyone has to drive 25 miles per hour or slower,” he said. “There is basically one main road with branches of roads off the main road. No freeways. No highways. That was an eye-opener for our kids right away. The bus system (uses) pickup trucks with bus-like seats on the bed of the truck. It costs a quarter for kids and a dollar for adults.”
And fast food?
“One Carl’s Jr. and one McDonald’s,” York said.
As expected, lots of bonding went on between the local players and the Trojans.
“Fagaitua High School brought us in their village on their school campus,” York said. “Our kids loved their hospitality. They made a feast for us and gave us lavalavas. We got to experience the most heartfelt (wishes) from their coaches, players, and village. It was the best day because it was touching. By the end of the trip, the kids from Tafuna and Fagaitua befriended our players and came over to our sleeping quarters. On their own, I witnessed some of our kids exchanging lavalavas and school shirts. Some of our kids gave the Tafuna players their football cleats. That was awesome.
“The American Samoa culture is similar but very different. People of American Samoa are very simple, giving and happy.”
York said lot of people helped make the trip a successful one, including Lydia Nomura Faleafine, Robert Faleafine and Jill Faleafine of Junior Prep Sports, the coaches at Fagaitua and Tafuna, the Mililani administration and Governor Moliga.
“Thanks to the people of American Samoa and thank you to our families for making it possible with their support,” York said.
Having returned home and rested up during last week’s bye, the Trojans visit No. 3 Campbell on Friday in the OIA Open Division season opener for both teams.
Here are a few photos courtesy of York.