Everyone who comes to Pago Pago sooner or later (more likely sooner) hears about
Tisa and Tisa’s Barefoot Bar.
She's a formidable talent and presence.
Everyone hears about the umu they have at Tisa's on Wednesdays.
where meats and vegetables and fruits are slow cooked in hot stones covered with banana leaves, in the traditional way,
CandyMann, her partner, is originally from New Zealand. He came in his 20s to Samoa, to Sava'ii, to work on roads and drainage.
For an umu that is opened at around 7pm, he starts at around 6 am, he says making the fire to make the stones hot...and then later, putting all the meats and veggies and fruits. everything cooks sloooowly...
Barefoot, Tisa said to someone at dinner who asked about the name of the bar, because of that feeling of going barefoot as a child.
I believe she’s in her seventh decade
She grew up in the village where the bar is.
You don’t read that much about the ancient history of Samoa, Tisa says, because it’s still only spoken.
At funerals she says when the talking chiefs (who are the ones who talk for the paramount chiefs) speak about their relationship to the deceased, then you really hear the whole history again, all the relationships from time immemorial.
One morning we share a late breakfast
Beside the sea, on a day of rain and wind, I perform the opening of The good manners,,,, the part about dance being the first language, mera nam kya hai, what’s my name…
Performance is calling to her, she says, a way to manifest embody all her stories and especially her passion for the environment.
She speaks with pride of her warrior passion to keep the seas free of poachers, of the trouble it has caused, of her commitment to conserving the natural environment,
Everyone was going one way, she said pointing towards the sea and indicating civilization, things of the modern world,
"and I was going another way."
The Samoan spoken before the missionaries was peremptory, she said, full of commands.
But with the missionaries, it softened.
she speaks the difference.
The old language was soul talk.
Now that’s a title I say, Samoan Soul Talk.
Before I left, I asked her for a few words about this place in her life where she is now and she said:
(the sounds you hear in the background are the wind, the rain and the sea...)
On our last visit to Samoa in 2019, I remember we visited a tree with thousands of bats hanging upside down.
This time, CandyMann tells a story about bats and the tsunami of 2009.
He says there was a special small kind of cave bat and for some reason, before the wave hit, they flew in droves – in thousands - to underwater caves on the north side of the island. Seeking safety. But then the wave hit and not a trace of them has been seen since.
Something about the image of them, the underground caves, the force of water.
Maybe because here and there, I keep hearing stories that build on the tsunami, the scale of the loss of those bats feels operatic almost.
January is cyclone season.