Dr. Efford continues her account of recent sabbatical research trips to New Zealand and Samoa. Here she reminds of us the importance of serendipity when doing history.
My first research trip to Samoa had its frustrations. Internet access was unpredictable. I usually turned up to appointments damp with sweat despite being scantily clad by local standards. My contact at the main university had left for New Zealand a week before I arrived, and the archives of the Catholic archdiocese were unavailable after being hastily relocated twice since the 2009 tsunami.
While the challenges of working in a small and tropical developing nation (when “Samoa” is unqualified, it refers to the islands that are not American territory) were rather predictable, the rewards were quite unexpected. I had not counted on Samoans being so willing to help out a sweaty palagi (white) woman who turned up asking odd questions about events long ago. Fa’afetai lava (thank you very much) to Amela Silipa and Vaveao Toa at the Ministry of Education, Sports, and Culture, to Rev. Father Kolio Kelekolio, the Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Samoa-Apia, to Lalotoa Mulitalo, a legislative drafter and doctoral student at Australia’s University of Queensland, and to Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea, a distinguished historian who now serves as a judge.
Ordinary Samoans were also prepared to talk history. Taxi drivers, waiters, and school children were eager to discuss the fiftieth anniversary of Samoan independence from New Zealand. Apia, the capital, is preparing for celebrations in June with a rash of construction and beautification.
When I wondered aloud whether all this activity was mostly for the benefit of foreign dignitaries, everyone assured me how much the anniversary mattered to them—and not just because it will be marked by a week-long public holiday! Samoans are very proud to have shaken off colonial rule before their Pacific neighbors.