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Both bars and churches full for the holiday

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Jan. 1, 2011) - American Samoa ushered into the New Year in a low-key manner, through church services, family get-togethers and parties where patrons mingled at local night clubs and restaurants, including Rubble Tavern where it was the famous watering hole's last New Year's bash before the doors officially close at the end of February.

Island-wide, police were out on the road by 6 p.m. local time for the holiday enforcement program. At the same time (which was 12 midnight on the East coast of the U.S.) thousands of revelers at Times Square witnessed the traditional dazzling ball drop in New York to welcome 2011. Local residents were able to watch the annual celebration live on CNN.

Police report that during the enforcement on Thursday night, two individuals were taken into custody for public peace disturbance and another pair was arrested for Driving under the Influence of alcohol.

The enforcement program continued New Year's Eve and included a road block in front of CBT Hardware store in Nu'uuli.

Taxi operators in the airport area reported by about 7 p.m. on Friday that they were already very busy with a lot of requests from the public for taxis. Samoa News received calls from a handful of residents saying that police were all over the island, some police cars actually followed motorists not only on Thursday night but Friday.

In neighboring Samoa, all bars and night clubs opened for 12 hours from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday, for New Year's celebration only and then returned to regular operations where these establishments close at 12 midnight. No bars were opened on Sunday.

Apia-based Ata News Service reports that due to the 12 hours where these establishments were open, police in Samoa also beefed up patrols to ensure peace and harmony in the Independent State.

By late Friday, the Prime Minister's Office released the official New Year's message by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who spoke on state run media, saying that a "new day is dawning on the horizon. Plans are in the offing for our journey that is set to begin" in the New Year. As a fellow traveler, may I caution you do not become too pre-occupied with the misfortunes of yesterday. Let us strive forward to re-align our strategies and plans for a new tomorrow as the Year is also new," he said.

The Prime Minister says Samoa has abundant arable lands that have yet to be properly cultivated and better utilized.

"Government as part of its ongoing development plans continues to create new initiatives for both within and outside of Samoa, he said. These efforts are for the benefit of the younger generations that come of age each passing year. This remains a top priority for Government in its development program for the entire nation."

Tuilaepa, whose ruling Human Rights Protection Party has been in power for many years, hinted about the government's plans over the next decade.

"Over the next 10 years, Government will put in place major public works for the protection of our environment. Special attention will be accorded to low-lying Coastal areas that are most vulnerable to rising sea levels," he said.

Despite parties and celebrations at bars in both Samoa and American Samoa, many residents of the two Samoas went to church services, which ended at the stroke of midnight.

There is an old New Year's Eve traditional for the Methodist Church in the two Samoas, which began when this religious faith first came to the Samoan islands in 1835, before American Samoa became a U.S. territory in 1900.

"While the tradition remains strong throughout all these years, it has gone through changes as the lives of people improved and living standards changed along with economic conditions of 20th and 21st century," said a Methodist deacon in American Samoa, who couldn't immediately recall when the Methodist Synod was established in the territory.

The tradition is not part of the church's history but it's an old custom that began when the Methodist faith entered the shores of the Samoan islands and the church set up a service of offering or thanksgiving at the end of the year through the service called "po o moli", or night of lights.

As explained by the church deacon to Samoa News on Friday afternoon, the 'po o moli' custom is where Samoan coconut lanterns surrounded by Samoan fragrant flowers were set out as an offering of thanks to God, as one year ends and the next one begins.

But with the change of time, so were changes made through out the years where flowers, at times made into a flower garland, were later replaced with ‘Ula Lole" or candy lei or candy garlands.

Changes continue and although the ceremony is still called 'po o moli', now man-made trees about 10 feet or so, are decorated with a variety of items, including candy lei, fabric some as much as 5 yards chips, cookies and traditional fans.

And there are times where the tree is all decorated with dollar bills some totaling up to US$100 or more a tree, making it the money tree.

Instead of coconut lantern, sometimes families add on a few Christmas lights for the trees. Beside the trees, are the huge baskets of goodies, which are also part of the ceremony and still considered offerings to God.

At the Methodist Church at Fagaima, Samoa News saw baskets that included homemade fruit pies, Samoan pudding, boxes of crackers, boxes of cookies and a small bag of rice.

As part of this end of the year offerings, the church service usually lasts for two hours and the ending prayer is timed to end exactly when at 12-midnight. Once the service comes to an end the first of these offerings are then given to the church minister and if there is a tree decorated in cash that also goes to the minister.

Visitors to the church service get some of the offerings as well before the rest is distributed to other members of the church. It's such a popular tradition, that church members actually invite friends and relatives who are not Methodist to attend their service.

By 11 p.m. on 31 December, the church services were already underway throughout the territory, while partygoers were celebrating and the sounds of fire crackers and the Samoan style bamboo cannon could be heard on several parts of the main island of Tutuila.

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