If the recent winter months have you wishing for some time on an island in the South Pacific, here's a unique approach: the Home Stay Program at National Park of American Samoa lets you sample some beautiful scenery while living like a local in a Samoan village setting.
How does the Home Stay program work? According to the park staff, "Residents of villages associated with the National Park offer accommodations and the opportunity to learn local customs, crafts and the south Pacific lifestyle. Imagine staying in a village with the sights and sounds of the rainforest around you. Sleep in a Samoan house (fale), live with a Samoan family and start the day participating with village activities."
Some of those activities may be familiar, but many, like cutting the Pandanus (laufala) tree leaves and drying them to weave mats, are unique to island life. "Samoans also tend plantations and gardens by clearing brush, planting taro and bananas and tending mango and papaya trees."
"Some villagers may climb coconut and breadfruit trees to gather food, and visitors may even have a chance to fish, Samoan style. Samoans use poles and nets to fish, or walk along the reef to collect giant clams and spear octopus. At certain times of the year, villagers catch fish with palm leaves."
Those descriptions make it pretty clear the program isn't just a South Pacific version of a stateside Bed and Breakfast, but rather a chance to experience and share life in a unique culture. That means participants should be willing to learn, and respect, local customs. You'll find a sampling of those customs, and home stay etiquette, at this link.
Why a home stay program in this location?
A park spokesman notes, "The concept of a National Park—particularly a park encompassing both natural and cultural aspects—fits well with the traditional Samoan way of life, the fa'asamoa. Samoans consider this island world to be sacred. Lands, waters, and food sources are managed in order to sustain them for the future. Samoan culture, customs, and traditions emphasize the importance of the extended family, the aiga (ah-ING-ah). Each aiga's lands are managed by its chief, or matai (mah-TIE), for the common good. The Samoan people welcome visitors; in fact, a stay with a family can be an important part of your island experience."
Each host has set the fee for accommodations and cultural activities for a Home Stay visit. The cost per accommodation varies with the type of accommodation, activities, and the village where you will be staying. If you're interested in more information about the program, you'll find an e-mail link and instructions here.
Anyone fortunate enough to make a trip to these beautiful islands will likely want to send a few "wish you were here" cards. The park and its non-profit organization, the Hawaii Natural History Association, have recently released a set of four, high-quality color postcards. The first such cards approved for sale by the national park, the features images include Samoan culture, fruit bats, coral, fish, and Pola Island. They're available for purchase at the park visitor center.
If you're considering a visit to National Park of American Samoa—home stay or otherwise—allow some time for advance planning. This is a special place, but it isn't a destination for a last-second impulse getaway. You'll find details to help plan a trip on the park website.