My tree of life

If I have to pick a real tree as my so-called “tree of life”, it would have to be the breadfruit tree - specifically the puou which is the seeded variety, that stood in front of our home in Samoa. The tree is already dead and gone, uprooted by a hurricane several years ago, but its lessons and impact in my life have been significant, impressive and indisputably positive.

Although these lessons were learned in a perfunctory way as a youngster, in hindsight, I am able, as an adult, to articulate and envision their profound significance.

Our main house was about thirty yards from the main road - unpaved at the time. Alongside the road - and the full length of the front yard of about fifty yards - ran a row of hibiscus hedges, about three feet high. They were always neatly trimmed and well-kept by my dad. There were three entrances which were the only openings in the hedges. On one side of the main entrance stood the sixty-foot breadfruit tree. Again, the real tree may have fallen and died, but its form, memories, ideal and impact have remained to this day.

First the puou breadfruit gave us life. It was a source for daily bread (pun intended), hence, sustenance for my family.

Second the tree was my playground. I used a rope to make a U-shaped swing suspended from its lower branches. A dried basket (woven from coconut fronds) was used for a padded seat. My siblings and I would swing during our break times from our chores. Sometimes our friends would also come to swing.

For more fun, we would climb the tree and hide in the branches during our hide and seek games at night. Also, at the peak of the breadfruit harvests we would have breadfruit fights using the soft overripe fruits (‘ulupe). The nature of the fights is like any other food fight - messy yet innocuous. 'Ulupe fights are among the more popular fun games especially for young boys.

The tree also measured my growth and strength, not only in the physical sense but also in maturity based on how high I could climb. The different branches - like markings for feet and inches at the doctor’s doorway - were used to track my progress and development during adolescence. The older and taller I grew, the higher I climbed; and any unreached branches and heights became new goals for the following days and months. By the time I reached my teenage years, I had already scaled the highest ascendible branches.

From the vantage point of these branches, I would stand and gaze. I was able to see farther and further. In fact I was able to see the ocean (which was not far from our house), the reef and the horizon. It was a lesson in perspective - both literal and figurative. Curiosity and adventure beckoned and I often wondered what was beyond the horizon. I was like a sailor-explorer squinting for new land with renewed sense of ambition, hope and aspiration. And all these dreams, early desires and optimism were reinforced - if not forged - on the breadfruit tree. Simply, the tree gave me vision and inspiration.

The breadfruit tree was a microcosm for life. It was my classroom; it was my haven and hideaway. To relax. To ponder. To learn. To play. To laugh. To climb. To cry. One day my mother scolded me and so I went and climbed and sat in the branches, crying.

Today, I may only cry from time to time, but all the time, I still climb ... the tree of life.


  1. You should gather together all your writings about your experiences as a Samoan and the life you have lived and continue to live and write a book (: Awesome (:

  2. Siana, thank you for the compliment. I just might ...who knows? lol