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February/March 2005
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Crossword


South Seas Cricket

The staid British sport gets a Polynesian makeover

story by Liza Simon
photos by Tom Haar

 
Take a drive by Honolulu?s Keehi Lagoon Park on any given Saturday, and you?re likely to spot a group of large Samoan men standing around in flower-print lava-lavas, holding carved clubs. A fire-knife dance practice? Nope. A re-enactment of Polynesian warfare? Only in a manner of speaking, because what the men are really doing is playing that jolly old British gentleman?s game?cricket?Samoan style.

The game was introduced to Samoa by English colonists sometime in the early 19th century, and one story has it that the islanders ignored the highly mannered form of recreation, until proficient practitioners from nearby Tonga boasted of their own prowess. Taking up the challenge, the Samoans set about mastering the sport on their malae, or village greens. Soon, whole towns were turning out for matches lasting days, accompanied by ceremonial feasting, oration and pageantry, as prescribed by faa Samoa (Samoan custom). It is perhaps no surprise, then, that when the islands? subsequent German colonial rulers issued a decree against the game in the late 1800s, they were summarily ignored.
 

The culture of Samoan cricket has been growing in Hawai?i since the 1960s, fueled by an influx of new arrivals who have formed clubs to recreate the rivalries of their ancestral villages. Cricket season culminates each year in an August tournament coinciding with the local celebration of Flag Day, the national holiday of American Samoa.

Samoan cricket may look a bit different from the original?with the bright, fluttering lava-lavas; the carved-club bats wrapped in colorful sennit; and two large wickets standing like tikis. But with the perimeter of the field alive with Samoan food and music, not to mention a repertoire of cheers called faaumu, the games certainly make for a smashing good time.