For Samoans, living in this developing country means doing without many things, and new quality clothes like those in the developed world wear are among one of those things sacrificed. Many children get hand me downs that have clearly been worn before as they are frayed, stained and faded. Nonetheless, Samoans do seem to always keep the clothes washed and smelling as nice as possible, given the hot humid climate.
Men and women alike, where what is called an ie (pronounced “ea”) This is a piece of printed fabric which they tie around their waist and wear over their shorts. You can buy these in Apia, the capitol, for about 10 tala, or about $5 US dollars. In fact, many times you have to fend of the persistent salesmen and women who try to show you all their different designs and colors.
The ie is typically worn with a t-shirt or maybe a polo shirt by men. This combination is for everyday life in the village, such as working in the plantation, visiting a neighbor or playing volleyball in. It is not a formal dress attire. As a Peace Corps Volunteers, we are encouraged to conform to some of the local customs, and clothing is among one of the ways we can help do that. Therefore when I visit with neighbors or go for walks within the village, I often wear an ie to show respect to the locals and their way of life. But yes, technically, I guess you could say I am wearing a skirt.
Now that we’ve acknowledged that elephant, we need to discuss formal dress. Formal dress is worn to church, school and of course weddings and funerals. For men this would mean an ie fai Tonga, which is made of a cotton polyester and is a solid color. A button down shirt is worn with this and can be worn un-tucked or tucked into the lava lava (un-tucked is much cooler).
But not very cool is what the women have to wear for formal attire. Essentially it is fabric from the shoulders to the ankles. Usually a colorful printed pattern with a bottom skirt and long top, it is known as a pulatasi. When my sister Jenny visited last month, I gave her one which I had had made for her. Teachers wear these to my school everyday and I always feel sympathetic for them as they must be so hot to wear in this climate.
As mentioned before, Samoans don’t have a lot of money to spend on clothes and often times it is second hand or given from relatives over seas. It’s not uncommon to see the “I love L.A.” t-shirts or a Spider Man t-shirt on a child. It always reminds me how global this world has become.
Back in June, my neighbor, who makes hand carved crafts for a living, had an opportunity for work in American Samoa, some 60 miles to the east of Samoa. He was there for about a month and when he returned he didn’t come empty handed. For the past couple of months I’ve been able to see all the clothes he was able to pick up (second hand) while he was working there. It is the most thoughtful thing he could have done, to have brought clothes back for his family of four children and his wife. Each of them has been wearing the new shirts and pants that he bought there.
Milo, my 12 year old neighbor and a best friend here in Samoa, has been enjoying all his new clothes, almost as much as I have. As the weeks go on, he keeps wearing things that make me laugh to myself a little bit harder each time I see him. The first thing I saw him wear was a long sleeved zip-up hooded jacket. When he first brought it out I told him how much his older sister Iva must like it, not knowing that it was for him, although he didn’t know that it was a girl’s jacket. It has fir around the hood and is plaid. He only wears it on the nights when it gets chilly, which means 75 degrees!
And then there are the red pants. Milo is a little plump and the pants are a bit too small for him. So the first time I saw him trying to get the button done, I was reminded of my chubbier days when I had the same problem on different occasions. But these were new pants to him, and ones his dad brought back, so they were special—as they should be.
And just last weekend I found out there is a red jacket that matches those red pants. He came over to my house after church and knocked on the door. When I opened it up and saw him there, I thought he was getting ready to audition for a ringmaster’s position in a circus. His smile was the brightest as he was waiting for a reaction—that was really dressed up for him, considering he usually goes without a t-shirt most the day. I told him how much I liked his dress coat and asked if I could have a picture (with the idea of this blog suddenly blatant). Off we walked to his house for the Sunday meal as he wore his red pants, red coat and flip flops! I just smiled as I walked behind him wearing my ie and un-matching button down shirt.
Milo was bundling up for the 70 degree weather one night, so I went along with it and dug out the long pants and long shirt! BRRRR!