Presently, I have no fun excursions to write about. That’s because it’s time for independent research! Yay!!!!!!!!!
We have three and a half weeks allotted to conduct research and write a 20-30 page paper about a subject or organization of our choice. I’m doing my research on the Museum of Sāmoa, known in Sāmoan as the Falemata’aga. My paper focuses on the challenges that the Museum of Sāmoa faces in terms of preserving and interpreting tangible and intangible aspects of Sāmoan culture. The good thing about having chosen this topic is that the museum faces many challenges, mostly relating to money and infrastructure. I’ve been volunteering at the museum periodically: both to acquire data and help them out with day-to-day tasks.
To get to the museum, I either have to take an Apia-bound bus, get off, and walk for 45 minutes, or take a bus into town, wait for up to two hours, and take a Moto’otua bound bus. The buses here alternately great (not only do the buses blast Christmas music starting in October, the fare is usually one or two tala for trips around and just outside of Apia. That’s about 38 and 75 US cents.) and my own personal hell. Concepts of personal space here are, well, different. For instance, the bus from the main bus terminal in Apia to the Savai’I ferry (Pasi o Va’a, or bus for the boat) is only supposed to fit 33 passengers, but often fits more than 60. This is because people will sit in each other’s laps (this process is affectionately called ‘stacking’) and stand in the aisles. For a cagey east-coaster like me, it’s both endlessly amusing in its absurdity and not fun at all.
But back to the museum- the Sāmoan government operates it but it relies heavily on aid, in the form of exhibits, money, and equipment from foreign governments or other museums. Unfortunately for the museum, there is a widely held attitude that, since Sāmoan culture has been able to adapt to changes brought about by European contact and subsequent globalization, that preserving aspects of Sāmoan culture in a museum is redundant and a waste of time. What I’m trying to argue is that a great museum of Sāmoan culture doesn’t have to be a room full of artifacts that have been alienated from their uses and cultural milieus- museums can be places where indigenous knowledge and experiences can be centered, where Sāmoan frameworks of knowledge can be preserved and replicated.
All that remains of my time here is writing this paper, presenting it, and spending a few days running errands before we head back to the States. It’s been a very busy and reflection-filled two weeks, and I anticipate that the next two weeks will be even more busy and reflection-filled. 16 days is not a long time at all, but by the end of it I’ll feel like I’ll have spent a whole lifetime here. Time passes very strangely here- there are weeks that fly by, as if I simply dreamt them, and days that are glacial in their passage. It doesn’t help that the rainy season is upon us. The near-daily rains, coupled with abysmal Equatorial heat and humidity, cast a veil of sleepiness over our corner of Alafua.