By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (January 1, 2001- PIDP/CPIS)---The last piece of American soil to welcome the first year of the new millennium ushered in 2001 with prayers and religious singing, unlike other parts of the U.S., where fireworks were the highlight.

Because New Year's Eve fell on a Sunday, its taboo in the Samoan culture to party instead of attending religious activities, so the majority of territorial residents attend numerous church services up to midnight, where traditional handholding and religious singing ushered in the New Year.

Sunday prohibits the sale of alcohol in stores and nightclubs so all night clubs were closed except for four restaurants and the government owned Rainmaker Hotel that held New Year's Eve parties, but on a smaller scale.

Gov. Tauese Sunia and his wife attended an afternoon church service and then the New Year's Eve service at the Congregation Christian Church of American Samoa (CCCAS). The CCCAS is the largest religious denomination in the territory and Tauese is the CCCAS chairman.

On the territory's Manu‘a Island Group, coastal villagers gathered on the shoreline after midnight church services, to hold a traditional Samoan welcome of the New Year, with the beating of Polynesian drums, ringing of church bells and beating large tin cans. This was followed by large groups visiting villages and singing until dawn.

"It’s old traditions that the Manu‘a Island residents are trying to upkeep and hopefully it will not fade away in the future," said House Speaker Aina Sao Nua, who is also a lawmaker from Manu‘a.

The rain, however, did not help matters throughout Sunday. Forecasters issued a severe flood warning territory-wide.

Despite local laws that prohibits fireworks in the territory, there were sporadic sounds of fireworks on the territory's main island of Tutuila.

Like American Samoa, residents of neighboring independent Samoa also focus attention on church services to usher in the New Year. Many elders believe that a New Year that starts with New Year's Eve on Sunday will bring better prosperity in the future.

The site of last year's more than 4,000 people celebrating, Samoa's capital of Apia was very quiet this year. A handful of restaurants and hotels opened for New Year’s Eve dinners but only Aggie Grey’s Hotel offered its guests a holiday celebration.

"It is very low-key this year. A lot of church services to usher in the New Years because it’s a Sunday," said Sails' Restaurant owner, Olivia Black, in a telephone interview from Apia.

Authorities also credited the quietness in welcoming 2001 due to New Year’s Even falling on a Sunday.

Samoa authorities issued a warning last week to bars, nightclubs and stores, that they would enforce a no sale of alcohol policy on Sunday, except at restaurants and hotels.

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