The fun and follies of youth

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 Papaloa (circled - pic1), literally “long rock” (papa means rock; loa means long), is a promontory in my village that serves - at least during my boyhood years - as a marine recreational spot for the children, especially boys. Actually, to most boys, it is more than a place for recreational fun. It is also a place where a young boy’s strength, courage and marine skills are honed, tested and tried, and growth monitored and fostered. For the most part, it is a place of initiation into young adulthood. The initiation course is normally an individual and personal quest. How do I know that? Been there done that!

The crowning part of the course is when a young boy is finally able to stand at the end of Papaloa, and dares a jump into the water, especially during high tide. A jump at low tide is a step closer to completing the course. Initial stages consist of jumping off from either side, as you work your way towards the tip of the rock, then swimming to shore against the current of the receding tide. Sometimes if you’re not strong, and/or get a timely and firm grip of part of the promontory, the current can take you out to deeper parts of the lagoon. The more advanced stages of the course happen as you jump off closer to the tip of the rock. From the root to the apex of the rock, the entire initiation progress can take days, months and even years for some boys, mainly the timid and the fainthearted.

By the time a boy reaches the end and jumps off, the challenge is not so much in swimming back to shore but in fighting the occasional whirlpool  (created by converging currents), as well as the resulting centrifugal current that carries you farther out to sea towards the reef channel several yards away where the rapids are stronger and more treacherous. (The centrifugal current is indicated clearly by the lighter stretch in this picture (circled red). The clear color is from the precipitated sand that the current sucks off from the sandy base of Papaloa, and from the shallow parts closer to shore.)

For the older and initiated boys, Papaloa becomes a setting and set for their faiga-kaupoe (movie re-enactments), especially on Sundays, hence in direct defiance of village Sabbath rules. Western and war movies are the favorites. And the Papaloa set makes death and injury a pleasure for the actors as the victims feign their fates with prearranged falls into the warm water. In other words, boys enjoy being shot at and so they would intentionally abandon their cover and stand on the rock to invite enemy fire - all for the thrill and enjoyment of a thunderous splash in the water. Like in the “real” movies, there’s always a safety net below for the fallen. Boys become immortal too during these re-enactments because they revive themselves in the water and live to fight again in another scene or another "movie".

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Right next to Papaloa, is another rock (circled-pic 2) which sometimes served as an additional stage for an extended initiation - and fun. During much of my adolescent years, a long coconut trunk was hoisted up on this rock and placed so that the narrower (foliage) end hangs and suspends over the water. This suspended end is about eight to ten feet long and about the same height from the tip to the water. A lone victor stands at the end of the log to await his challengers and would try to outwrestle his opponent. The one that falls into the water loses while the winner stays on as the defender. There were undisputed - and sometimes notorious - winners and were often named “king of the coconut trunk”. I had a fair share of these duels but it was always the older boys that got dubbed.

...leai, pei a ua fai si uli kele o le auali'i ia ..hahaa!
And when the rocks were not enough, there was always the now famous beach - few yards away - where we would strut our ruggers’ stuff and where we turned all black (pun intended) from sea and sun.  Pei o le auali'i ia e i le aka.

Next time you visit Lalomanu Beach, take a minute to check these rocks out, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see some cowboys, Indians, SEALs and marines. If not, at least you now know the name of the conspicuous “long rock” - Papaloa - which is, essentially, part of Samoa’s most famous beach, but also part of my life growing up as a little boy. 

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