TThe longish drive from Faleolo Airport to downtown Apia is always a great opportunity for a grassroots view of the goings on in Samoa – especially when your driver, even if loquacious, is eloquently so. Views from the street are more often than not strongly biased toward the hoi polloi but they’re straight from the heart and valid nonetheless. The cabbie barometer is one of the best tipping tools a scribe can have anywhere in the world. It’s always perceptive, even philosophical. “From New Zealand?” asks chatty cabbie. Before I even utter ‘yes’, he continues: “Lived there a few years ago. Very nice place, nice people, nice roads, nice houses, but I came back in a year.”
“Too cold?” I ask. “No. Cold is okay. Too expensive – you pay for everything, for eating, drinking, you need money for everything. Not like here. In New Zealand, no money, no life, no good.” No need for money in Samoa? Not so much, he says. He lives in a nice ancestral home. There’s plenty of family, extended family and friends for support. There’s a patch to cultivate vegetables and fruit. There’s lots of fish. And it’s free. No money needed for day-to-day living. “Then how do you pay your bills?” I persist. “Sell the extra veggies and fruit by the side of the road, work a few hours, don’t work when you don’t need to, no pressure. See? Not like New Zealand.”
Come to think of it, all island societies – just like indigenous peoples elsewhere in the world – have not just survived but thrived without a monetary economy for millennia. And they’ve done so sustainably, without polluting, without taking more than what they need. They’ve grown food naturally and organically, without making a fuss of it or clamouring for some sort of expensive certification. They’ve treated ailments with traditional remedies and dealt with day-to-day problems with collective wisdom. We first world slickers call that ‘subsistence living’ as though it were some lower form of existence. We desperately want to bring ‘up’ those living standards with ‘development.’ Paid for by aid and cheap loans so that they may better participate in the modern global economy.
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