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The three islands of Manono, Apolima and Nuulopa are situated between the two main large islands of Upolu and Savaii. The largest of the islands is Manono with an area of 3 sq km, is a low-lying island with four villages (Apai, Salua, Lepuiai and Faleu), connected by a narrow path along the coast. Other paths lead up the hill through the plantations and to a star mound on the highest point of the island. The plantations cover much of Manono Island and there is only a small amount of remaining native vegetation. Manono Island is a lava cone which is seen with its highest point of 80m above sea level and locates on the main barrier reef closer to the Upolu Island. The total land mass of Manono island is 288.5 hectares.
Apolima which is smaller than Manono is surrounded by rugged cliffs and access to the interior is through a single opening in the cliff navigable only with extreme care. Access is always very difficult since there is about 50m wide gate channel blocked off by a cliff called Papaloto, leaving only a narrow serpentine passage on the east side. Since the ocean surges directly into the entrance opening, at the first bend to the left a whirlpool (vili) is created which is often quite dangerous for ingoing boats. In front of the whirlpool is a small cliffy headland Paugaluga and in front of its seaward the rock Tautulioso. There is one village on the island, and is located within the crater amongst gardens and native bush. Apolima is accessible by a 35 minute aluminium boat ride from Manono-uta (on Upolu island) across the lagoon. It is about 2 km from Nuulopa and 9 km from Savaii. The total land mass of the island is approximately 101.5 hectares.
In between Manono and Apolima, there lies a smaller island called Nuulopa which is about some 50 metres high. Creepers and coconut palms abound on the island, which is generally used as a cemetery for the high chiefs of Manono, particularly of the Tuilaepa family. It is also a small forested rock outcrop and a conservation area for flying foxes. The surrounding sea is also a conservation area for turtles.
Geologically these islands lie on an underwater ridge which connects the Upolu and Savaii Islands. Native forest vegetation of these islands are completely altered by years of human settlements with a small exception of remaining native ridge forests on Apolima - understandably most of these areas are inaccessible to humans. Several sea birds were observed nesting the seaward cliffs of Apolima mountain ridges. A small wetland area with an active stream exists in the middle of Apolima but its ecology has not been studied.
The fringing coral reefs system around these islands are intact and rich in fish and shell fish species though swaths of damaged reefs are recovering from recent cyclones and past destructive fishing and over-fishing practices. Some good diving grounds have been located in the area by diving operators which regularly take scuba diving and snorkelling tours there. Recent cetacean studies have sighted whales and dolphins in the seas around these islands mostly close to Apolima. The beaches of Nu'ulopa is a potential turtle nesting ground though it has not been studied for some time.
A tropical maritime climate characterise by high and uniform temperatures and high humidity. The daily mean temperature varies little from the annual average of 26.6 C and the mean humidity averages over 80% throughout the year. The conservation area is found in one of the wettest parts of Upolu, with rainfall approaching 6000 mm in the upland areas, although approximately hals this at the coast. Most of the rain falls in the west season from November to April.
The Manono island plays a crucial role in Samoa's history in the late precontact and contact period of the later 18th-19th centuries. Around this time, Manono's power rested greatly on its network of kin and political alliances throughout the Samoan archipelago. It had powerful allies in Savaii, among the Sa Tonumaipea clan, for instance, and in Upolu, among the Satunumafono clan, to mention only a few. In times of war, Manono mobilised these allies and posed a powerful war machine few could match. Thus until the advent of European firearms and cannon, Manono's forces were usually victorious. Manono occupied a central geographical position between Savaii and Upolu. It was able to monitor movements between the two big islands, to intercept enemy movements and to attack any part of the islands at will during times of war. When under pressure, it was able to use the island of Apolima as a fortress because this island can only be accessed with much difficulty through a single passage into a small bay. The rest of the island is virtual cliff.
Manono island is one of the smallest islands in the Samoan archipelago but throughout its long history has been one of the most important political districts in Samoa. In fact, for much of the nineteenth century (circa 1820 to 1870), it was the seat of government (malo) in the group. It was for this reason that when the first five London Missionary Society missionaries arrived in 1836, it was decided that the headquarters of the mission would be based there, under the care of the group's leader, Rev. Thomas Heath.
According to the national faalupega (honorifics) of Independent Samoa, Manono (and Apolima) is referred to as Aiga i le Tai or the Family in the Sea. Thus, afio Pule ma Tumua, ltuau ma Alataua, Aiga i le Tai ma le Vaa o Fonoti The inclusion of Manono in the national faalupega demonstrates its political significance in national affairs.
When Pili, the organiser of the traditional form of Samoan government in the western isles, allocated the functions of government to his children, he allocated to Tolufale, his youngest son a specific task. He was to be the arbitrator in the disputes between his other brothers, such as Tua, Ana and Saga. He was to use his military might, if necessary, to maintain a balance of power between the brothers.
But whether Tolufale and his descendants used this power wisely remains a moot question because by the 1820s, Manono had seized control of government from the other political centres, such as Pule and Tumua, under the aegis of its war leaders, Leiataua and his son, Tamafaiga (cf Gilson, 1970).
Manono's political clout comes from several sources. Firstly, as descendants of Pili, the Manono chiefs were highly respected. As the feagaiga, descendants of a sacred child of a high-born female ancestor (some say Tolufale was the high-born female ancestor but this has been strongly denied by the matai of Manono even today), they were accorded a special status, special treatment, special favours.
These traditions whereby Aiga i le tai is the arbitrator still continue today. In the event of a prolonged debate as to who to speak in an occasion where dignitaries of Samoa are involved, Manono and Apolirna are expected to exercise their peace keeping role. It was their duty during war times, to keep the peace. Today they are carrying on their traditonal roles as arbitrator.
The unique social system in the villages has greatly contributed to the traditional uses of the forest and traditional farming practices. The continuation of traditional lifestyle (fa'a Samoa) in relation to traditional conservation practices along with the cultural heritage values of the area further complements the significance of the landscape as being of outstanding natural beauty. Myths and legends associated with the landscape provide deeperappreciation of the significance and the value of the area to the beliefs of the communities.
The Manono, Apolima and Nuulopa cultural landscape bears a unique testimony to the living culture of fa'a Samoa, Samoa's social system that governs relationships between Samoan people and their environment. The rainforests provide a rare habitat for Samoa's endemic wildlife, protected through customary land use and the traditional governing system.
Manono and Apolima are traditional villages governed by strong social system of the faa-Samoa or Samoan way of life. An essential element of the faa-Samoa is the faa-matai, or chiefly system which facilitates and ensures achievements of group activities benefits the whole community. The matais roles are highly recognized within the village council (fono) which has legal, judicial and executive powers. The council also has substantial influence on village life, in terms of regulating village activities and mediating disputes.
The aiga (extended family) stay close and loyal within their village and the matais are well respected and honoured. In addition the matai has responsibility for directing the use of family land and other assets belonging to the aiga, such as their labour.
Equally important is the role of churches on providing security and remains the focus of many social and economic activities in the village and the village pastor yields considerable influence on village life. In addition religion practices and offerings remains as essential components of family activities. There are customary practices such as village curfews enforced by the council for evening prayers and for security. Furthermore, Sundays are strictly observed by the whole community for everyone to attend church and no other activities are allowed.
Also noted are the supporting role of other relevant village groups such as Women's Committee, the Untitled men and Youths. Women play a very strong role as advisors in village affairs, especially in community activities such as village hygiene, sanitation and beautification. Traditionally, women are regarded as sacred covenant within the families (va tapui'a) and at present this covenant is now recognized by the whole community.
The untitled men perform tasks directed by chiefs such as ensuring plantation plots provide sufficient food as well as maintaining the integrity of the environment. The practice of wood carving and handicrafts is common activity for both women and men. There are numerous other traditions that are still practised in Manono and Apolima.
For instance, traditonal ways of fishing using long line (afaafaloloa), shark snaring, group fishing, night fishing, and collecting shellfish. There are inevitable changes in fishing practices given the availability of modern technology like outboard motors in place of traditonal outrigger. This has enable fishing practises easier.
The inhabitants of Manono and Apolima continue to retain a very traditional and basic lifestyle. Most houses in Manono and Apolima are traditonal open fales with either thatch roofs or a mixture of thatch and corrugated iron roofs, There are no tar sealed roads and no cars in both islands, instead the usual means of transportation within each islands is by foot. The small number of households recorded in Apolima is 11 with a population of 88. The number of households in Manono is 79 and a population of 81 1 people.
Due to the isolation and the limited access to both islands, many families have migrated to the Upolu island and settled on the parallel land areas called Manono-Uta and Apolima-Uta. However those remained on the Manono-Tai and Apolima-Tai islands continue to retain a traditional and basic way of living, thus making them also primitvely unique as their surrounding environment. The people of Manono and Apolima have emphasised on the importance of the environment for the wellbeing of the people. They believe that families were created by God to look after the environment for the future generations. The protection of the environment lies solely on the concensus of Alii and Faipule.
The settlement found in Apolima is a good example of how the Samoan people live and work with limited resources available in their environment. The isolation of the islands has given people no choice of options but to utilise all available resources effectively. Both men and women have their own designation of chores in regards to the use of land and the sea for subsistence daily living. Men usually work on farming livestocks, growing plantations as well as fishing. Women work on maintaining and keeping residential land areas clean, gardening including collecting seashells or shellfish from the shallow parts of the sea.
Both Manono and Apolima have undergone very little infrastructure development since the early settlement, except for a couple of beach fale establishments offering accommodation for tourists in Manono. Such evidence reflects the authenticity of the unique traditional way of life still practiced in Samoa.
The authenticity of the islands of Manono, Apolima and Nuulopa is demonstrated through the retainment of a very traditional lifestyle coupled with the sustainable management and effective use of natural resources. The importance of the central isolation of this cultural landscape was inevitable in the past as it became the seat of government during Manono's national politics. It later became the headquarter of the London Missionary Society when it first arrived in 1836. Furthermore, historical sites and landmarks bears evidence of the origin of myths and legends which have presents interesting picture of a genetic mixture of Tongan, Fijian and Samoa heritage.
This site has been proposed as a cultural landscape, a special category of sites which has been recognized for the first time by the World Heritage Convention in 1995. In that sense, the sites that we can compare with Manono, Apolima and Nu'ulopa are the cultural landscapes recognized by the UNESCO. To date, 50 properties on World heritage List have been included in this category.
This Samoan proposed site could be considered as an "organically evolved landscape" (second category) because it's the result from a social imperative by association with and in response to the natural environment. The subcategory would be "continuing landscape" since it retains an active society with a traditional way of life which the evolutionary process is still in progress.
Manono, Apolima and Nu'ulopa case is especially peculiar because there's only a small amount of remaining native vegetation without infrastructure development. There are no roads and no cars and communities living in the islands are self-sufficient having everything they need to survive.