Water is everything



Water is everything



VAASILIIFITI MOELAGI JACKSON





family at sunset

The Pacific zone is the largest in the world, but almost all of it is water. Samoa is a group of islands in the middle of the South Pacific, inhabited by Polynesian people, with a total land area of just over 28,500 square kilometres. So water is everywhere and everything about us is water.

People from countries with large land masses may find it difficult to understand how we of the Pacific Islands are bound in heart and spirit to the water. I was born and brought up on a beach where I awakened to hear the waves. I was lucky that there was also a river nearby. The sea and that river became my very close friends. As a girl I ran to the beach to write and draw pictures in the sand, or throw pebbles at the waves and count how many times they skipped on the water.

It was exciting to go walking on the reef at low tide looking for shellfish and the many edible weeds, and collecting shells to make my own necklaces or containers and tools to use at home. The sea around us is so rich and easy to reach to find food, to have fun or to paddle across in your canoe - at any time.

Our language is full of words and expressions pertaining to water. Vaisa - sacred water, vaitele - big water, vailoa - many waters, vaiola - living water, vailele - flying water, vaipuna - spring water, vaipisia - sprinkling water and vailili - shaking water are just a few: the list could go on and on.



Water is life

Water is life - and it is guarded with one's life. Water cleanses the spirit and gives blessing and good omen to completed work. A new canoe may have only a short life if the owner fails to dip the entire boat into the water and dry it properly before it is put into use. To dip - fufui in Samoan - a newly completed piece of work often calls for special ceremonies, feasting and, of course, drinking in thanksgiving.

Water is joy, and water is fun. In the United States, parents take their children to Disneyland to celebrate. In Samoa to be joyful is to take one's children for a swim in the pools or the sea. The feeling of being enveloped by water is refreshing and satisfying. We refer to it as 'dancing with nature'.

Most of our thinking is governed by water. We have a saying: 'Moe i le vai, ae ala i le ai' - 'Sleep in water and wake up to eat'. It means that as long as you get water you can sleep without food until you awaken. We also say: 'E inu Malie ae ou te le malie' - 'I drink at the village of Malie, though my thirst is not quenched'. It means that though I have drunk, I will be thirsty for more: it is a warning of the value of water even after enough has been taken for the present.



Water is healing

Water is often used by our people for spiritual healing. Our traditional herbal healers believe that they can communicate with the Spirit that gives them their healing power through water perfumed with flowers and leaves from the forest. Water and the environment is so integrated in our culture.

Many islands in the Pacific are not as blessed with water as we are, even though water surrounds them. Historically islanders travelled the Pacific Ocean, sailing from island to island looking for sweet, clean water as medicine for their kings, queens, high chiefs - and their peoples. Pacific Islanders have lots of faith in good, clean and blessed water.

I totally believe that water is a heritage from God for the Pacific. It is our only means of survival. Our resources and lives are locked in to the availability of good clean water and we must do everything possible to protect and guard it.

Our beloved Pacific is our food. It is our life. It is our everything. We guard our land and our rainforest because they hold water. If there is no water, there will be no forest and, of course there will be no life: and we must guard our Pacific

High Chief Vaasiliifiti Moelagi Jackson is President of the Faasao Savaii Society, Western Samoa's first cultural conservation organization, and Vice-President of the Western Samoan Umbrella for Women's NGOs.


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