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The Broken Heart of the Sacred Ocean

Without Media, Samoans Left in the Dark

New America Media, Commentary, Jean Melesaine Posted: Oct 02, 2009

Editors Note: After being ravaged by an earthquake and tsunami, Samoa -- the sacred heart of the ocean -- is broken. And with few media outlets to provide news on the island, those of us on the outside are left in the dark, writes Samoan American Jean Melesaine, a 23-year-old writer for Silicon Valley De-Bug.

"Sa" means sacred and "Moa" means center or heart.

When I found out that an earthquake had hit Samoa, where my family is from, my heart was heavy, my mind quiet. Local Samoan organizers were texting me to give me updates on family members and plan what we could do. I was on Facebook all day asking folks if they had any information about what was going on.

My mother was trying to reach "home" all night, streaming the only live radio show that was reporting updates. Listeners were calling in searching for their families, saying the names of their siblings with a crack in their voices. My family in Western Samoa only had shattered windows. My fathers village, Falealili, is gone, completely destroyed. An uncle who lives offshore is still missing.

My mother cried when I showed her albums of Tsunami photos on the web. Samoa is her only escape when the "American dream" eats at her soul. "Ota fefe, all the children are going to be hungry," she whispered.

We have been filling crates with things to take to Samoa when our family goes back to visit in November.

According to Websters dictionary, the term looting means anything taken by dishonesty, force or stealth. International media, headquartered in places like Australia and New Zealand, are calling Samoans who are simply trying to survive "looters." This, in a land that is now called American Samoa.

There are few reliable sources of media on the island. Social networking barely exists.

In Samoa, you either hear about what is happening or you dont. The island is so small that people see each other every day. They have their own style of communication that relies heavily on word of mouth.

My friend Lisa, who works for Pacific Islander media companies Pacific Wave Media and Kribat Video says, "Next to consultants, overseas media are the next biggest opportunists."

Samoa needs reliable media run by the community, and this disaster proves this. My mother has been on the phone talking to friends in Samoa all night. She has heard all the news by word of mouth and she trusts it more than what is being reported by New Zealand Television.

The death toll rises and falls with each overseas media report, playing with my mothers heart. At first 14 people are reported dead, then 40, a number drops back down to 20. She just says in her broken English, "They lie. I'll ask my sister." My aunt told her that 54 people are officially dead, but there are more than 100 still missing and unaccounted for that they know of.

The 45-second earthquake struck in the morning while kids were heading to school. The driver of the school bus carrying my younger cousins was about to drive across a bridge when he heard an alert on the radio. He turned around toward Mount Vaea in Upolu, where he met up with the other bus drivers.

People are barely surviving. The poorer villages haven't gotten as much attention as the big cities.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Oceania communities are uniting and organizing quickly. Vigils are planned for this weekend, benefit concerts are in the works and makeshift donation centers have been created.

We all have our ideas about the causes of tsunamis: they're natural, they just happen. They say climate change and global warming, colonialism and capitalism, have nothing to do with any of this. Whos to say that isnt true? But whos to say Mother Nature isn't alive either?

The sacred heart of the ocean has been beating so hard for hundreds of years.

My mother comes from a bloodline of shamans and medicine women. She says in her beautiful broken English to me, "They knew something was coming." Besides all the politics surrounding the situation, thats what I heard from my mama, and thats what I'll believe.

Related Articles:

Chinese Media Move Fast to Aid Earthquake Victims

Turning a Tsunami Into a Windfall - For Some

When the Earth Shakes Back Home

Tsunami Funds Sitting in Banks While Victims Languish in Tents

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