Alan Tristram reports that his day out with Samoan PM Fiame Mata’afa came during a visit to Upolu to see his film-maker brother, the late John Tristram.
John was a friend of Fiame Mata’afa, who was then a Government Minister and provided him with much background material for his films on Samoan history and culture.
On this occasion, Fiame — full-name Fiame Naomi Mata’afa — had invited us to her beachside home for Sunday lunch.
But first, of course, there was a visit to her family church.
John drove us there, but made a hurried excuse and vanished in the car.
So then we clambered up an imposing flight of steps to the front of the magnificent church, packed with Samoan extended families.
Here we encountered a stern-looking Samoan church official, seated at a desk with what looked like a huge black Bible. In fact, it was the church accounts book, in which the name of every worshipper was noted … with a record of their donation.
My wife Helen and I preceded Fiame, and were immediately faced with a diLemna.
Not having gone to church for many years, what, we wondered, was the going rate?
Ten Tala — about $10 — would be generous I thought. Wrong,
The church officer, kitted out in a sombre black lava lava suit, looked even more formidable as he wrote down our full names and the amount of our donation. He looked as though he had just sucked on a lemon.
So we stood aside while Fiame made her contribution. Immediately, the official looked as though the bitter taste had gone.
And so we proceeded in to our first full Samoan church service.
The lovely old building was packed with families in their Sunday best, and tropical flowers. There was beautiful singing, respectful children and a fiery sermon from a Pastor wearing a magnificent gleaming-white suit.
From ground level, he looked almost papal as we gazed in awe at his pulpit.
But then at the high point of the lengthening service the registry official apppeared with the large black book.
‘What’s happening,’ I asked Helen.
‘Don’t know, but it looks like he’s going to read out our names,’ she whispered.
People seemed to have given large sums, so when the name ‘Tristram’ was intoned, I thought I heard murmurs of disapproval from around us. The Palangis (whites, us) had failed to deliver.
To drive the point home, Fiame’s name came next — she’d given five hundred tala (50 times more than our pittance) .
The churchgoers smiled and nodded their approval.
We bowed our heads for several minutes and sought forgiveness from the Lord, the Minister, and the local Samoans.
But if Fiame was disapointed in us she didn’t show it. And soon afterwards she entertained us to a wonderful Sunday lunch in her home overlooking white sands, the reef and the endless blue Pacific.
Miraculously too, my absentee brother appeared in his utility vehicle with several bottles of wine … and profuse apologies for missing the service.