FUN @ FUNAFUTI
After sailing through the squally inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ) common to the low latitudes, the skies cleared and a stable smudge of palm trees rose into view on the horizon. We had sighted our clearance port, Funafuti - the capitol atoll of Tuvalu - six hundred miles north of the Fiji group. Of the nine islands in the group, only Funafuti and one other, Nukufetau, have an anchorage suitable for a boat with a two-meter draft like FellowShip.
Skirting up the western edge of the reef, we searched for the entrance into the lagoon. Foster had climbed high into the rigging to get a better perspective.
"There it is!" he hollers, pointing.
Looking up, I note the direction and my eyes follow finger-ward. The pass shows a dark blue track through the turquoise and foaming whites of the reef.
Inside the lagoon, conditions are ideal for sighting the dangerous coral heads that rise from twenty fathoms. Making our way in, we carefully zig and zag seven miles across the lagoon and anchor in front of the Vaiaku Langi Hotel, a remarkable edifice given to the government of Tuvalu by Taiwan in 1993. We have arrived at Funafuti, the heart of Tuvalu.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the Royal Society of London drilled experimental bore holes at Funafuti to test and prove Darwin's theory of atoll formation. Funafuti, therefore, holds title as "the" typical atoll. Funafuti is also very tiny. Narrow, flat coral islets (rarely reaching heights of twelve feet above sea level and measuring less than five hundred feet wide) lie curled around a large lagoon. All are centered within the deep blues of tropical sea and sky.
As one of the smallest independent nations in the world, Tuvalu's suitable pseudonym - "Tiny Island Nation" - is proudly silk-screened on local t-shirts. Funafuti itself, the seat of the national government, is less than one square mile (about 250 hectares) yet nearly half of Tuvalu's population of 9,000 live here. Rising sea levels due to global warming threaten to crowd out an already congested capital. The other modern menace, we soon discovered, was rock and roll.
Our first night in Tuvalu exposed us to contemporary traditions. Arriving on Saturday afternoon and exhausted after keeping watch for several nights at sea, we fell into a deep sleep early. But we woke with a jolt when suddenly - ROCK AND ROLL! It was Island Twist Night at the hotel and Funafuti Island Power (the local dance band) blasted across the lagoon. Guitars, synthesizers and a jammed dance floor happily and noisily celebrated the weekend.
Though the lagoon seemed to amplify the volume, the music didn't keep us awake for long. We were dead tired. I fluffed up my pillow, resettled my head, and quickly drifted back to the Land of Nod.
Next day, there was nothing to do but clean up the boat. Official entry would take place during business hours on Monday. In the meantime, we could stretch out in the cockpit and watch water-colored clouds sail slowly across the cosmos. It was hot and virtually windless, so occasionally we jumped over the side and swam in the lagoon - keeping to the shady side of the boat where there was some respite from the sun. Then, as if to herald the arrival of night - and relief from the warmth of the day - the western sky exploded into the twisted colors of sunset.
As we soon discovered, Tuvaluans love music and dancing. Friday and Saturday night dance parties attract big turnouts. During the week, too, music emanates from the many maneapas (community halls) where families with roots in the outer islands gather.
Community fund-raisers are popular, too - and fun. A young lady, Famanatu, told us that mothers are encouraged to bring their young children to these events since money is often raised through "fines" - the organizers count on children's "misbehavior" in games like "Simon Says" where, if their youngsters don't obey, they are fined $2. But it's all for a good cause.
One night, we joined Famanatu at a fund-raiser in the Talimalie Maneapa where, in lieu of walls, huge colorful sheets had been strung around the perimeter. To see inside the sheets, we paid a token entrance fee and signed in as the 60th & 61st guests, then sat on a mat and waited. At eight-thirty a solitary dancer, skin glistening with coconut oil, started the performance.
Throughout the evening, the women underwent constant costume changes as they performed short skits and danced to recorded music cassettes jammed into an on-stage boom box. In one slapstick routine, a woman's pants kept falling down as she and her friends imitated a rock and roll band. Then a young Tuvaluan woman did a farcical impression of Gilbertese dancing - a playful and not-quite-complementary routine that had everyone in stitches. Meanwhile, a stray dog ambled across the stage.
On a more sober note, the women presented a play on the danger of HIV/Aids. In it, a flashy young girl - chewing gum and sporting a snazzy purse and dark sunglasses - struts around the stage saying goodbye to her family, then flies off to Australia to work as a "hostess". During the course of her Overseas Experience (or "OE"), she drinks Johnnie Walker and generally has a good time. But when she returns home, she shows her family the gifts of perfume and a note which says "Welcome to the family of AIDS". Everyone weeps and moans as the play ends. One scene had to be explained to us afterwards, though, or we'd have missed the best bit - the "sex" on stage. "It" had happened when the young Tuvaluan girl sat back to front on the lap of another lady (her "Aussie date", I guess).
AIDS awareness and family planning programs are prominent in Tuvalu, a country with an unacceptable high population growth. Posters at the clinic read: "Condoms are roll-on responsibility"; the Post Office advised: "Be wise - condomize"; and the Red Cross urged: "Protect against AIDS - Don't bring it home."
As the finale of the evening's entertainment, with lights turned low, half a dozen young ladies performed a splendid sitting dance, their graceful movements accentuated by flickering candlelight held in each dancer's palms. The candles were set inside recycled and decapitated Fosters beer cans.
Planes touch down at Funafuti's International Airport five times a week, a siren heralding each arrival so the runway can be cleared of cars, dogs and pedestrians. The Tuvalu route is one of the most expensive per mile in the South Pacific - one reason, perhaps, why very few foreigners come as tourists. In fact, during the four weeks we roamed around Funafuti, the total number of tourists numbered less than ten - ourselves, an Italian couple, a British ex-colonial teacher and his two friends, and the crew of a Kiwi yacht. Expense, distance and lack of mainstream appeal were probably to blame. Radio Funafuti announces the arrival of outsiders as well as the off-island travel of government workers, students on subsidized study courses and remittance workers. Clandestine arrivals and departures are difficult.
In the Women's Handicraft Center near the airport, each of Tuvalu's outer islands has crafts on display - mats, baskets, fisherman's hats and boxes, hair decorations, necklaces and silk-screened "Tiny Island Nation" t-shirts. We bought a beautifully hand-carved outrigger canoe complete with miniaturized gear - paddles, a fishing pole with a tiny pearl-shell lure, a flying-fish net, an 'island torch' for night fishing and a tiny wooden bailer. The finest canoe model we have ever seen in the Pacific, it was twelve inches long and cost only twenty five Australian dollars. Although the local currency is the Aussie dollar, there are minted Tuvaluan coins.
The library was a great bargain, too, and $2 bought us a library card. The library at University of the South Pacific (Tuvalu campus) was a bit better organized than the public one - USP's books were on shelves rather than in boxes. The general disorder and mayhem meant treasures were anywhere and, in fact, we found a book titled Wild Alaska wedged between texts on accounting and Kiribati on one side, Classic Fairy Tales and Island of Fire-walkers on the other!
On an atoll a few miles north of the main settlement, Tuvalu's Amatuku Maritime School trains young Tuvaluan men to work on foreign ships. We contacted the head of the school, Captain Iefata Paeniu, for permission to visit. After anchoring in front of Amatuku wharf in thirty-five feet, sand bottom, we headed ashore. Duty officer Manutapu gave us a tour of the school - its chapel, medical facility, gardens, pig pens, Bikenibeu Park and volleyball court.
In front of the dormitory, we sat on logs and drank coconuts while some of the students rolled 'Irish Cake' tobacco in pandanus 'papers'. Others smoked and joked around. One young man busily polished a ring for his girlfriend. Another sported a classic sailor's tattoo - Love is as powerful as death.
At Amatuku, students receive training in boat handling, maintenance, engineering and safety. The school is run like a ship, with plenty of discipline (round-the-clock watch keeping, no drinking, mandatory dawn swim), limited "shore leave" and ship's bells struck on the half hour. You could set your watch to the sound of the bells, usually, but one afternoon we heard six bells struck at 3:10 PM. Oops, island time!
During the war, American troops extracted material for the airfield by blasting holes in the reef, then threw their garbage into them. Not very environmental minded, that's for sure, but an enterprising instructor at the school, Wolfgang, had amassed an impressive collection of collectable Coca-Cola bottles. He surprised us with a knock-on-the-hull one afternoon. He'd swum out to FellowShip for a drink and a chat!
On a tiny islet north of Amatuku, three young women introduced us to wild ferns (locally known as laulu) - the only edible greens that grow on Funafuti. They taste a little like peas and we used laulu to "green up" our diet which was getting thin in the fresh department. An ex-pat told us he sometimes craves fresh vegetables so bad that when cabbages finally arrive from overseas he eats one whole, just like an apple. The unavailability of fresh fruits and vegetables on Funafuti is a recurring reality due to its remoteness. Yellowfin tuna, though, as well as lagoon fish, were available.
Snorkeling in the lagoon and passes at Funafuti was excellent, with schools of tiny psychedelic fish, no bigger than my little finger, darting in and out of extensive underwater forests of purply-blue staghorn corals. At eight degrees south of the equator, the water was warm enough to free me from neoprene dependence. Unfortunately, it was easy to become complacent floating over top of the reefs, watching the underwater displays. I drifted over the coral at Te Akau Pukeu too long and consequently sunburned the backsides of my legs. The power of the tropical sun had taken me by surprise!
Tuvaluans are well aware of the sun's negative effects. Many voiced fears that rising sea levels would engulf their low-lying islands - affecting water tables and making fresh water shortages worse than they already are. During February 2000, when spring tides threatened to flood out the island, only calm weather conditions prevented a complete disaster.
The danger of becoming environmental refugees (not victims of political or economic persecution but casualties of the excesses of modern civilization) is a real threat as atmospheric pollution and global warming lead to rising sea levels. Former Prime Minister Bikenibeu Paeniu has long maintained that continued emission of greenhouse gases will threaten Tuvalu and her sister nation of Kiribati with physical and cultural extinction - perhaps during his children's lifetime. Meanwhile, the current Prime Minister is exploring options regarding the resettlement of his people, should it become necessary.
Tuvaluans are equally conscious of the sun's benefits and value electrification as much as education. Solar energy fills a basic need in the outer islands where one of the Pacific's largest photo-voltaic lighting systems has been installed, thanks to a government aid-funded program. In Tuvalu it seemed that island power was manifest in its embrace of solar energy and in the people's ability to thrive and have fun despite the economic and physical hardships of an atoll environment.
Late one morning, a foreign warship entered Funafuti lagoon and tied to the wharf. As a lark, I hailed the vessel on VHF, said "G'day!" to the radio officer and extended an invitation to the Captain to visit our humble ship.
During our siesta that afternoon, Channel 16 sprung to life. "FellowShip, this is the Australian Warship Ipswich, Captain Kraus speaking. Please join us for cocktails at 1800 hours."
Like a lunatic, I disemboweled the boat and tore apart my clothes lockers looking for something suitably unwrinkled to wear. Running late, we were grateful when the local policeman gave us a lift to the party. On the way, he remarked on the anticipated weekend workload, mostly for minor infractions like drunk & disorderly behavior. I hoped we wouldn't become a statistic.
On a goodwill tour of the South Pacific, the Ipswich had invited the who's who of Tuvalu - government and bank officials and other VIP's - plus us two itinerant sailors. Hospitality was flowing, as were the drinks, and we mixed with the crowd. But like Bridget Jones in Helen Fielding's novel, I was hopeless at party talk - not knowing anyone made it doubly hard. We did our best and the VB Bitter did its best, too.
"I work for the government" said one fellow as he shook Foster's hand. "I hope you write something nice about Tuvalu" said another who continued by extolling the virtues of Tuvalu's outer island photo voltaic electrical systems, adding: "The last thing we need is more people moving from the outer islands to the bright lights of overcrowded Funafuti." Finally, after listening to the bank manager explain the importance of tiny loans in the tiny island nation, we accepted the Captain's invitation to tour the forty-two meter warship.
The evening was warm and the roll of the deck gentle. We marveled at the ship's air conditioning system and the generous amount of refrigerated storage space, much of it dedicated to chilling cases of Australian beer. As the duty officer descended into the tinier holds, he looked like Victor Hugo's misshapen bell-ringer Quasimodo. In the engine room, an impressive array of computers monitored all ship's systems.
After the reception wound down, a group of us headed to the hotel where the local rock band, Funafuti Island Power, was surging once again. The admission price included a fragrant floral headdress and, crowned with colorful flowers, I was quickly whisked off to dance with a Tuvaluan chap and then an Aussie sailor. I had been in Tuvalu only a week and I wasn't sure I could maintain the lifestyle. Foster disappeared into the woodwork, chuckling. He preferred to admire the ladies from a distance. As I whirled around, I caught his eyes, which instantly creased in laughter.
Tuvalu certainly seemed to be "Party Capital of the Pacific" and there were endless reasons to party - to herald the weekend, to raise funds, to celebrate birthdays and weddings. But, after seeing the south end of the atoll, perhaps "Land of the Blue Tin Road" was a more suitable pseudonym. Lacking yellow bricks and a functioning can crusher, a veritable highway of empty Fosters beer tins had appeared.
The disposal of glass, plastic and metal refuse has become a major environmental problem at Tuvalu where most Tuvaluans have had to switch from subsistence farming to consuming imported products. There is simply not enough land to grow food on. The airstrip, built by U.S. troops during World War II, takes up most of the once-arable area. In addition, the last thirty years has seen a tenfold increase in the number of people living in the capital.
Tuvalu didn't need our garbage, so we stuck with our policy of minimal impact cruising - incinerating our burnables in a hot fire, recycling our plastics, dumping our dumpables. Food scraps of interest to fish or birds are tossed overboard - preferably at night or on an outgoing tide - or fed to the pigs. We sink certain items (but never plastic) far offshore when we go to sea but, in port, try to manage the amount of garbage produced. It is then bagged and hung off the stern. Garbage smells are eliminated by washing empty tins, bottles and stinky plastic bags in salt water.
Garbage maintenance on board any cruising yacht should include recycling when possible. Bottles (plastic or glass) and clean jars with lids are often useful to village people for storing foodstuffs. Large bottles, in particular, can be recycled for water or kerosene storage on board or ashore. Treading gently on the planet and considering one's impact is not difficult - it just requires a little forethought. The result is a satisfying sense of self-sufficiency.
By sheer luck, we discovered Foster had an old friend living in Funafuti. While admiring some vintage Gilbert and Ellice Island stamps (see Note 2), Diana - a clerk at Tuvalu's busy Philatelic Bureau, and now a local radio personality - mentioned that she had once lived at Fanning in Kiribati's Line Islands. Foster had sailed to Fanning in the mid-seventies and had met a woman named Marina who, Diana said, was now, twenty years later, living in Funafuti. It seemed an extraordinary coincidence!
Marina owned Funafuti's Happy Face Store and specialized in selling locally-made garments and silk-screened souvenir t-shirts, as well as assorted haberdashery. When we rambled down to introduce ourselves, we were lucky enough to catch the local girls practicing dance routines under Marina's maternal eye. With a cassette tape of an I-Kiribati band playing, I tried to follow young Luta's movements but was defeated... my feet couldn't follow, my hips couldn't hack it and worse, I couldn't get up from the deep-knee bends!
When she lived in the Line Islands, Marina and her late-husband, Burns Philp plantation manager Bill Frew, had welcomed yachties who stopped at Fanning. She had even saved the logbook where Foster (and many others) had scribbled thank-you's and poems and pasted in photos and memorabilia. She hadn't changed, though perhaps she seemed caught between two cultures - a happy-sad expression often filled her face. Her grown children lived in Australia, yet her heart was in Tuvalu.
A thoughtful and reflective woman, Marina had started an export business on Funafuti in 1984 which grew from an initial production of four-thousand shirts annually to ten, then twenty-thousand. She had employed twenty-two people once - though now it was hard to keep two or three employed. Unreliable transport and lack of government support made it impossible to continue with her entrepreneurial aspirations.
Marina had strong opinions about the over-population of Funafuti - basically, she felt the "migrants" should go back to their home islands. Here, there was no work and nothing for them to do, not enough land for gardens, no space to live in. According to Marina, in 1966 four hundred people lived in the capitol, in 1972 eight hundred people, in 1993 nearly four thousand!
Amiable as always, she invited us to a birthday party at the Nukulaelae Maneapa. As we approached the building in the dark, the guests inside were singing praises. All foot traffic on the road stopped - you could feel the anticipation in the air.
Under a quarter moon and millions of glittering stars, the marvelous aroma of food intermingled with the perfume of Plumeria headdresses. We entered during a lull in the singing and found a seat around the perimeter where chairs on loan from Funafuti High School had been lined up. The guests were elegantly dressed and speeches, dancing and eating seemed to flow into one another. Mountains of food on long banquet tables mirrored the mix of influence - with imported orange Fanta and red apples alongside green drinking coconuts and fish from the lagoon.
What a spread! Two whole pigs roasted; fish grilled and salad'ed; birds fried with beaks and feet intact; lobsters boiled. Plus oranges, bananas, carrot salad, pulaka (wet taro), cassava, plantains - the number of dishes was bewildering. Using biodegradable plaited palm frond plates lined with breadfruit leaves, we lined up and served ourselves.
This was the night that I made the embarrassing discovery that although I think wearing a lavalava (sarong) is exotic and makes me feel dressed up, it is, in fact, more suitable for bush and garden. The ladies inside the maneapa wore proper European-styled dresses, only the uninvited onlookers outside the maneapa wore lavalavas. A few days later I noticed a sign in the hotel "No lavalavas or sandals allowed". Blue jeans, however, were considered stylish enough for the bar.
After everyone finished eating, an absolutely gi-normous birthday cake with white and blue icing was cautiously carried in with great ceremony by attendants who seemed afraid they might drop it at any moment. It was set down unsteadily, and the candles carefully re-counted before the make-a-wish moment.
Brownie's mom then handed him the "key of life". Having reached the grand age of twenty-one, she was giving her son a symbol of his new freedom. With tears in her eyes, she reassured him: "I've spent my life raising and loving you, so please don't forget that we still love you!"
With guests and family all choked up, Brownie's Grandfather got up to make a speech which, judging by the giggles and guffaws, was on the light side. He may have asked Brownie if he thought he was getting married because, in fact, his outfit resembled a traditional wedding costume. I got the impression that young men do not normally get quite so dolled up for their twenty-first birthday celebration feast.
Finally finished with his pronouncements, Grandfather ordered the music to begin and, while it played, all the guests went over - one by one - to shake Brownie's hand and give him a gift. Then two beautiful young girls danced with fluid hand motions while mouthing the words to the song "Hold me, kiss you" which boomed out of a stereo-blaster. The Grandfather did an outrageous and saucy dance with the young girls as a backdrop, and the guests snickered and snorted. Finally, Island Power set up to play and the dancing began in earnest.
At the end of the evening, I made arrangements to get together with another guest, a young Tuvaluan lady I'd met at the reception on board the Australian warship. Malama had invited us to tea at her home the following afternoon.
Malama's genealogy and her husband's were intriguing. Born on Funafuti, she was part Samoan on her father's side with ancestors going back to the royal Pomare family in Tahiti. Her mother's family went back to the last chief on Nukulaelae (long before the Samoan pastors took over) and had a black whaler or sailor's blood somewhere along the line, which meant a dark child arrived in each generation. Malama, herself, had been "adopted out" as a baby, a common practice in the South Pacific, so had the advantage of two moms.
Seve Paeniu, her husband, had an O'Brien in his past, she said. "Irish blood from Nukulaelae Island!" The Paeniu family are prominent in Tuvaluan politics. Seve, himself, was named after the retired pastor from Nukulaelae who had given the speech and blessing at the 21st birthday party.
Malama's life was not easy. Like Marina's, it straddled the traditional and the modern. She was an intelligent, loving young lady, but caring for a family - and the attendant chores of laundry, cooking, etc. - as well as breast-feeding her own baby plus a three-month-old baby girl whose mother had died, AND pursuing an anthropology degree via distance-education, was a lot of work. Foster and I tried to help with her school assignment - an essay on the "Beaver People" of North America. But after taking the textbook back to the boat and then reading the essay subjects, it seemed impossible! Words of encouragement were all we could offer. While discussing her homework, Seve came in briefly and apologized for not staying. He arrived in government office clothes and departed in touch rugby togs. Secret men's business, no doubt.
For a change of scenery and a quiet weekend, we sailed to Funafala in the southwestern lagoon and dropped our hook in an anchorage surrounded by ultramarine and sapphire blues. "A nice place for a picnic," said the Pastor - and it was. . . . Absolutely fabulous. Under his watchful eyes, the local Girls and Boys Brigade were camped out, studying the Bible and learning traditional skills.
Pastor Semisi (James) Nimo was an interesting man, well-versed in Tuvalu's history and opinionated. He felt there had been too much Samoan influence in Tuvalu which, for a hundred years, had been virtually dominated by Samoan pastors and Samoan language and schooling. Although most Pastors went to Samoa for training, Semisi had gone to Fiji for his training. He'd also served in the Fijian Navy for two years. His present assignment to Funafuti was for four years, and he had brought his attractive wife and two young daughters.
When we asked Semisi which island he was from, he said Vaitupu and added, "But I am a Fijian citizen." We countered with the supposition "Oh, so you are from Kioa?" "Yes," he said "I was born there, my uncle was Neli Lifuka."
Coincidentally, we had just finished reading Neli Lifuka's Logs in the Current of the Sea, his story of the resettlement of three hundred Tuvaluan colonists who managed to purchase a new island home to ameliorate over-crowding in Vaitupu Island. In his book, Neli Lifuka speaks frankly of the trials and triumphs of his eventful life and of the transition and settlement of Kioa (Fiji) in 1946. (See Note 3.)
In our travels, we had visited Kioa and I told Semisi that we had met the council secretary, a guy named Alfred Kaisamy, at the main village of Salia. "We went to school together," he said. From his tone, I got the impression that Semisi disagreed with Alfred's militant attitude re: forcing the voice of Kioa into Fiji politics.
The Pastor shared Tuvalu's history with us, seemingly a series of aggressions by blackbirders, whalers, beachcombers, Tongan and Kiribati warriors, Samoan pastors, British colonialism, American troops. After years of foreign domination, Semisi felt that Tuvaluans were finally shaking free from the influence of the past and discovering and redefining their own culture.
As we spoke, the young girls wove mats and plates out of palm fronds while the boys collected and husked coconuts. The plan was to live off the land 'like the ancestors' for a couple of days, catching fish and harvesting pulaka (taro), coconuts, pandanus and bananas. At breakfast, though, the poor kids had looked so unhappy. No bread, no crackers. So the Pastor caved in, he told us, and had zoomed by boat back to the mainland to buy two boxes of Lees cabin biscuits! At the end of their "camping adventure", the kids sang and danced and laughed as they crossed the lagoon headed back to Funafuti, their voices carrying a long way across the water.
It seemed a shame that children no longer learned the traditional skills of their ancestors at home, that they had to rely on extra-curricular activities like a weekend church camp. But since independence in 1978, Tuvalu has had to adapt to modern life including dependence on income from remittances; the sale of stamps at the Philatelic Bureau; Fish Licensing fees for access to Tuvalu's Exclusive Economic Zone; the sale of licensing for the Internet 'dot-tv' suffix; and aid money.
Unfortunately, the influx of aid money creates paradoxes like fishing fleets, freezers and gear but no one goes fishing because there is no infrastructure to keep it running: no mechanics, no fuel, no market because there's no room on the plane. Or an Australian-funded phone system said to have the latest features like call-waiting and call-forwarding but only two satellite lines to the outside world. Fortunately, it's no problem - the only phones are in Government offices so they're waiting on company time.
Despite Tuvalu's perpetual need to adapt to contemporary environmental and economic concerns, we found the lagoon and the people who lived on its edge warm and welcoming - an unbeatable combination. Our first impression - that Funafuti was crowded, junky, dusty - proved valid but irrelevant. Funafuti was a fun place to visit. The fact that it was off the traditional milk run, on the far edge of the South Pacific Eddy, made it extra-special.
CHAPTER NOTES :
Note 1 - Before the advent of global positioning satellites (GPS), finding a low-lying atoll was a satisfying if risky business. Navigating solely by sun, stars and sextant, sailors were at the mercy of weather conditions which could obscure the sky for days. Caution, luck and skill played equal parts in a safe landfall. GPS makes a navigator's life easier, though you still need eyeballs and commonsense. At Tuvalu, our charts and global positioning disagreed by nearly a mile.
Note 2 - The GEIC - Gilbert and Ellice Island Colony, as the former British protectorate was once named - is now the independent nations of Kiribati and Tuvalu.
Note 3 - An example of 'only in the islands': Neli Lifuka's birth parents went to Samoa with a part-European name Neli - leaving their 3-month old baby (who they had named Neli) behind. Small Neli's father had helped build Vaitupu's church and hoped to learn carpentry and build more churches in Samoa. Perhaps because of this, Neli Lifuka was not fond of Samoan pastors, maintaining that their new island home of Kioa was too undeveloped and poor to support an "unproductive" family, i.e. a pastor and his wife. He felt increased church activity and responsibilities would interfere with the island's "intensive development program" - i.e. successful settlement of Kioa. He also knew that, traditionally, Tuvaluan's treated their Pastor like a King, regardless of expense. In return, Neli wrote, the Pastor was expected to contribute no more to society than a few pious utterances and oracular pronouncements. Bringing a pastor to Kioa would have been economically and psychologically undesirable - Semisi's Uncle Neli fought the idea.
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