“Dateline: Samoa,” Ensign, Dec. 1974, 25
When President Uso Mata‘utia and his family close their family home evenings, they are probably the last to sing and pray in the world, for they live in the most western island of Samoa, just east of the International Date Line, at the end of the world. Though they are the last to see the sun set each day, this generation of Samoans is seeing a new dawn of the technological progress of the twentieth century.
Village life is mostly peaceful for President Mata‘utia, second counselor in the Savai‘i Samoa West Stake, and his wife Aki. Electricity is unknown in most parts of the islands; there are only a few hard-surfaced roads, and a crude running-water system. Samoa’s especially progressive men like President Mata‘utia are willing to change cultural patterns and even some traditions to a degree, but Samoans are proud of their heritage.
However, it isn’t likely that they will tamper with the matai (chief) system. Like many other members of the Church who are matais, President Mata‘utia works through the system to exert wholesome influence in his village government. Samoan fathers direct their families much as the patriarchs of old, seeing that the children eat well, go to school, learn to obey village rules, and respect old people.
The matai (patriarchal) role may expand over others in an extended family, and because of a matai’s power, many couples and their children may be in his charge. Everyone must be clothed and fed; everyone works together, each doing his share.
President Mata‘utia and his family are content. They have all the food they need—fish, coconuts, taro. They are rich by their own standards. They have the steadying roar of the surf in their ears and the rain from the heavens. They recognize that they are especially rich because they have the priesthood, the Church, and their testimonies.
In contrast to this peacefulness are the signs of the twentieth century. President Mata‘utia shakes his head over a recent three-month trip to New Zealand, a trip made possible by modern transportation, where he learned what it’s like to stand in lines and dodge traffic.
Another importation is the giant American Potlatch Company, which is in Asau on the island of Savai‘i near President Mata‘utia’s village. Potlatch has opened a timber mill and is exporting valuable hardwoods. Motivated by investment, the government has hurried to complete a nearby harbor, building a deep-sea-vessel wharf, and blowing away the harbor’s coral entrance.
With Potlatch have come two small air companies, one of which flies directly from the country’s capital of Apia on the island of Upolu to the Potlatch works in 30 minutes. There is also a high-speed boat connecting the major islands; there is talk of improved roads and utilities.
In the life President Mata‘utia has known, only an occasional game of cricket, the national sport, has broken the quiet; in the future, more of today’s hustle and bustle will likely invade Samoa.