TODAY IS NOT JUST ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE

beach

My relationship with beautiful Samoa is so intimate and passionate that it is not uncommon that in my dreams I find myself transformed to Samoa at one of my favorite spots, having a conversation with any one of many of my favorite people.  Last night was one of those significant events.  When I awakened my thoughts continued and I couldn’t get on with the normal business of the day.  There was something nagging at me that demanded more action than just a casual brush-off.  I finally realized that it was November and getting close to a major annual milestone that commands my attention.  On 13 November 2013 it will be 163 years since Robert Louis Stevenson, our beloved Tusitala, made his debut into the world.  Without giving a recant of his life and times, I couldn’t resist the temptation to fantasize about what it must have been like in Samoa during the mid-1800’s.

Somewhat obsessed, I collected my thoughts and called Lealamanua’a Rob Shaffer, my personal Samoan historian, noted author of several authoritative books, i.e. SAMOA-a historical novel, and former US Peace Corps executive, but best of  all –  friend.  I posed the question to him that had developed as a result of my vivid dream just hours ago.  Without hesitation, he turned to page 322 of his wonderfully compelling comprehensive novel and began to advise me of just a few of the conditions that existed in Samoa.  He told me about the foreign powers that were beginning to show interest in this remote location.  They had their eyes on expanding trade in the Pacific area and to exploit the vast resources of copra, coconut oil, tortoise shell, pearls, to name a few.  The Germans seemed to be the most interested at the time.  They were aggressive and competent and highly organized.  They had already won the hearts and minds of others in the area and knew how to exercise their power and influence.  This tiny, but lovely area had not yet been claimed by the other colonial powers of the world; and the time seemed right to move in.  Again, no need to recount where it went from there.  We all know about the major events from that point on.

On the other side of the world, in Edinburgh, Scotland, a little lad blessed the lives of a well-connected middle class couple, Thomas and Margaret Isabella Balfour Stevenson.  They were so proud.  They named him Robert Lewis (which he later changed to the French ‘Louis’) Stevenson.  His life and events from that point on are a matter of multiple records and opinions. The connection between Stevenson and SAMOA doesn’t begin until 39 years later.  Then, from late 1889 to late 1894, the Stevenson ‘SAMOA YEARS’ deserve our utmost respect and attention.  And, that is the point of my open letter on his natal day.

You Samoans named him Tusitala because of his professional reputation and abilities to command attention through his writings and his dynamic and compelling persona.  He immediately fell in love with Samoa.  He, like many of us palagis, was not immune to its magnetic attractions.  He was smitten by the beautiful people.  He called you one of “God’s sweetest creations.”  He loved the language and studied hard to be able to converse in it.  He loved the land and did what he could, with the help of his family, to make his plantation be self-sustaining while adding to the expanding varieties of things which could grow and add to the already rich quality of life for the Samoans.  Almost best, however, was that his fragile health seemed to thrive in the tropical air of Vailima, some 600 feet above the seacoast.  His own quality of life was richer than it had ever been in the world – and he had been in many of its parts.  He had around him those who loved him and cared for him.  To that circle, he added countless others who immediately recognized that this man had something to contribute to their society that went well beyond social status and a splendid show of wealth and power.  He did not come to exploit and show power.  He came to love and be loved and use his power of persuasion to set a course of independence for this people he loved.  The rest, too, is history.

On this very day, take a moment, and in your own way, REMEMBER TUSITALA.  Today, as you drive by the R.L.S. Museum at Vailima, you will see wreaths hanging on the gate posts.  They are but very small remembrances to a man whose love and influences were almost larger than life.  As the years have passed and his predictions and actions have come to pass, we should do no less than respectfully let one of the most oft repeated Samoan phrases pass through our minds – IA MANUIA LOU ASO FANAU.

Simi

Vailima

For further information, contact     Jim Winegar  rlsmuseum@gmail.com            801.830.0893

(This is a letter to the editor written by Jim Winegar, R.L.S. Museum President,  to the local newspaper, SAMOA OBSERVER, that was published to commemorate the birthday of R.L.S. – 15 November 2013)