3/22/11

Vini and Tapaga

Lalomanu Beach
The distance between Vini and Tapaga is much closer in real life than it seems in the picture

These two seascape features in my village (Lalomanu) have etched a place in the social lore, traditional oratory and music of Samoa.  Recently, they have been featured in the lyrics of one of the soundtracks of the movie Tautoga Gausia.

Vini is the name of the capsized canoe-shaped island. Compared to its nearby counterpart and "sidekick" - Tapaga - Vini is more visible and more popular especially after Lalomanu Beach became a famed tourist attraction.  In fact, Vini has become a distinctive feature of the beach in photos and promotional material. Vini, I think, is to Samoa what Diamond Head is to Hawaii. It has risen to the level of a national symbol, at least in the tourism context. It has therefore garnered a unique distinction like most remarkable and conspicuous landforms elsewhere.

Tapaga - better known as Cape Tapaga - on the other hand, is the promontory opposite Vini. It is smaller and not as popular though quite significant in advancing Vini’s traditional, cultural and oratorical nuance. Tapaga  used to be the location of the only hospital in this eastern part of the island (Upolu). The hospital has since been moved inland.

When I was a young boy, my uncle Dr. Hanipale was the primary physician at the hospital. His house was at the top of the promontory; so we would always walk out to the farthest point or tip of Tapaga and sit enjoying the spectacular view. I was in awe of the enormity of my immediate surroundings. If memory serves me correctly, it was my first lesson, impression - visual intellectual and psychological - and reminder of the reality of the diminutive presence of man within the totality of his natural environment, even despite his pervasive and profound influence and impact.

Tapaga’s cool and soothing sea breeze can even lull one into some island enchantment. This highest point at the tip is close to a hundred feet - if not higher - from the sea below. Being there is like standing at the bow of a cruise ship looking down to the sinuous ocean surface. From our bare rock seats, Vini  rises precipitously in front of us. It occupies our whole and immediate gaze. The experience is similar to sitting inside an IMAX theater with Vini taking up the whole screen - the island blocks any further or farther view of the vast open ocean. It is so close that you can literally see the landscape details and different tiers of the island flora. Also, on a clear calm day, you can see schools of fishes, notably of the large ones, and even sharks in the ocean below.

So the familiar expression “Ua feagai Vini ma Tapaga” (“Vini and Tapaga face each other”), that is often heard in chiefly oratory, is used mostly in speeches of welcome celebrating safe arrival and a joyous coming together of two or more parties.

For more information on using the Vini and Tapaga idiom in its usual traditional context, check the Motuga’afa section/tab.

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