But Harrington also notes, "Many Samoans are now moving up through scholastic scholarships—in law, history, accounting and political science." If the past were the only guide to the future, it might be safe to assume that as more and more immigrant Samoans go into the professions or business, the domestic pool of athletic talent will shrink. Consequently, college and professional scouts who are just awakening to the potential of Samoan high school players are likely to be taking even longer trips in the future—to Pago Pago itself. A lot will depend on the performance of the University of Hawaii's prize recruit, a 280-pound, 6'4" defensive tackle named Nofo Tipoti. This giant is not quite direct from American Samoa, but almost—he came to San Francisco in 1973 after his graduation from Faga'itua High School near Pago Pago and spent two warmup years at San Francisco City College. A number of universities that had overlooked the more accessible Samoan talent were attracted by this exotic import. "The competition for Tipoti was ferocious," says Hawaii Coach Larry Price, "and so is Nofo when he takes aim at a ballcarrier."
Tipoti's presence on a U.S. college roster is a tribute to the efforts of three men—one an Idaho Mormon, another an educator from Hawaii, and the third a native Samoan, Al Lolotai, the erstwhile "Sweet Leilani" (who has a son, Tiloi, on a football scholarship at the University of Colorado). The man from Idaho is Rex Lee, appointed governor of American Samoa by President Kennedy in 1961. Lee rebuilt the schools, instituted educational TV, arranged for the opening of two fish canneries to replace the lost Navy payroll and persuaded Samoans to learn English. Moreover, he managed these changes without interfering with fa'a Samoa or trying to replace it. As they have in the past, the Samoans welcomed these "reforms" as additions to their culture, not substitutes for it. (They became nominal Christians—mostly Congregationalists, Catholics, Mormons and Methodists—in the 1800s because one chief noted that the missionaries sailed ships "while we paddle canoes—so they must have something.")
In 1968 the five high schools Lee had established and expanded on Tutuila, the largest island in the American group, were organized into an athletic league, and training films in American-style football were broadcast on the territory-wide TV station. The Samoans took to the game with all the enthusiasm medieval knights brought to the Crusades, but sometimes with ludicrous results. In the first two years both Samoan exuberance and the spirit of fa'a Samoa were on display. In one game, before the rules were understood, a ballcarrier was tackled by 21 players—the members of both teams. In another, the supporters of a losing team attacked the winners with cricket bats. (Cricket is another inheritance from the missionaries.)
Order was established in 1970 when Milton DeMello, deputy superintendent of schools in Honolulu, was made director of the Samoan educational system. An ardent football fan, DeMello brought Al Lolotai back to his homeland to take charge of sports. Now all the high schools have teams and the televised NFL Game of the Week holds Samoa spellbound. Lee's language and educational reforms have in no way weakened the physical power of Samoan youth—Tipoti is no bigger or tougher than a lot of kids a year or so younger than he is. They still grow up in the tradition of fa'a Samoa, and one of its mainstays is child labor—for the family, not for an exploiting employer.
Along with natural selection and racial purity (unlike the Hawaiians, few Samoans married missionaries, traders, sailors or marines, and no intruders ever got possession of Samoan land), hard work accounts for the Samoans' extraordinary size and strength. "A Samoan boy starts hard physical labor even before he reaches school age," says Famika Anae, who conducts a football clinic every summer in Pago Pago. "He must climb a coconut tree 100 feet tall, barefoot and carrying a machete, tear the coconuts loose and even cut away the fronds. These kids do this every day and, after school starts, every night. We have high school athletes in Hawaii who can climb only four or five trees a day. Little kids in Samoa climb 20, and they also hike into the mountains to help with the banana harvest, packing out loads that weigh 75 to 80 pounds. By the time a boy is ready for high school football, his muscles often are as defined as those of a weight lifter." Even in football season Samoan boys don't get clear away from coconut palms. "The sight of the Samoana High squad practicing is something to remember," says DeMello, who is now back in Hawaii as headmaster of Mid-Pacific Institute. "They learn blocking by hitting padded coconut trees."
Last summer Dan Stavely, freshman coach at the University of Colorado, assisted Anae in his Pago Pago clinic. "We timed kids down there in the 40-yard dash," Anae says. "Two ran it in 4.5 seconds, and five others in 4.6—and two of them weighed 215 and 220 pounds. A lot did it in 4.8 or 4.9, which is faster than many college players."
Contrary to Lee's hopes, the canneries have not provided sufficient employment opportunities to support the still-expanding population of American Samoa, and there just aren't enough coconut trees (or enough demand for copra) to fulfill job needs. In consequence, U.S. football looks like the rainbow's end for many Samoan teen-agers. But if Nofo Tipoti does as well as Price expects, the entire Samoan economy may benefit—from the new hotel that will have to be built in Pago Pago to house the scouts.