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APIA, Samoa (December 20, 1999 – Orientation Oceania)---A flood of tourists expected to descend on the remote Samoan village of Falealopu on December 31 to witness the last sunset of the millennium will be unaware that they will be in the wrong place.

In the scramble for a piece of the millennium tourist action, Samoa has marketed itself as the place to watch the sun set on the 20th century.

However, the place to be, according to Samoa's Ministry of Tourism or the Samoa Visitors Bureau, is Falealopu on the western-most tip of Savai'i island.

A traditional wedding, tattooing and ceremony bestow chiefly status will occur at Falealopu as part of its sunset celebrations. But tourists heading for Falealopu will be heading to the wrong village. The last place on earth to watch the sunset is the smaller village of Tufutafoe, three kilometers south of Falealopu on the coastline, but crucially, one kilometer west.

And yet for reasons not entirely clear, Tufutafoe has not received a single mention in the Samoan government's program of millennium celebrations.

Many believe that Falealupo's rich cultural heritage has given it an advantage over its lesser-known neighbor. Situated near the village is a coastal landmark called Fafa O Saualii, which according to Samoan mythology represents the entrance to the underworld.

A short distance out to sea is a brownish arch of rock where, according to ancient beliefs, the spirits of the dead go and then vanish. That outcrop of rock is called Mulinuu (end of the village) and is the closest solid object in Samoa to the sun as it sets -- and to the international dateline just over the horizon.

Visitors sit along the elongated outcrop to watch the sun. For decades almost everybody visiting the area believed they were on Mulinuu in Fafa o Saualii -- in Falealupo village.

A 1996 court case established the border between Falealupo and Tufutafoe, which clearly put Fafa o Saualii in Tufutafoe. But the border was not posted with signs.

Falealupo villagers rushing to cash in on the millennium bonanza allowed the mistake to go uncorrected for decades. In fact, families who own part of their beachfront are hurriedly building traditional huts and weeding grass to uncover the white sand underneath to welcome visitors.

"The only way to correct it is for people to come and look straight at it," said Taumaloto Silialaeititi, who manages a group of beach huts that face the setting sun.

As a well-defined border between the two villages shows, Taumalotos huts are at least 200 yards inside Tufutafoe.

"Now that you are here, is it (Fafa o Saualii) in Tufutafoe or is it in Falealupo?" asked Taumaloto rhetorically.

Behind her huts at Fafa o Saualii, one of seven groups of huts established along Tufutafoe’s beach, are black volcanic rocks stacked to form a high mound. On top of the mound is a square flat area which features two granite triangular rocks with smooth indentations on their surfaces.

One rock is said to be the container where the chiefly drink of kava was mixed. The other is where the kava was stored and served while the spirits of the dead held meetings or festive gatherings before vanishing out to sea to Mulinuu.

For additional reports from Orientation Oceania, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Other News Sources/Orientation Oceania.

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