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What could be more exciting than a sporting event that bonds the whole community together? How about a race that gives the winner bragging rights for an entire year?!?! And this is exactly what you get with the fautasi races in American Samoa! Keep reading to find out why these races are so amazing!
What are fautasi races?
A fautasi (pronounced fa-ta-see) is a traditional Samoan boat that looks like a super long canoe. It is powered by approximately 50 rowers.
In American Samoa, fautasi races are the highlight of the annual Flag Day celebration, which is the biggest holiday of the year for this U.S. territory.
The fautasis race in preliminary and final heats just off shore along the middle part of the island. Each heat takes approximately 30-45 minutes to complete.
Each boat represents a village. Most of the villages in American Samoa have a fautasi participate in the annual race. The rowers of each boat are, typcially, men from the village the fautasi represents. There is a lot of village pride and bragging rights that come with winning these races.
Because winning is so important to these villages, the rowers commit a lot of time to preparing for the races. In many cases, they work out and practice both before and after work or school each day.
The rowers start training a month or two in advance of the race. In addition to practicing their rowing skills, these men go through strength and conditioning training, runs, and other bonding activities to prepare for the races.
A committee, made up of members of each village, as well as the captains of all the boats, determines the rules, dates and times of the races, and other details concerning the races.
While the dates and times are set a few days before the race, these are always subject to change depending on the weather and ocean conditions.
The fautasi races are a great source of pride for the villages that participate, especially for the winning village.
The atmosphere during race days is electric. It reminds me of what you would see during a big-time football game in the United States.
The local radio and television television stations broadcast coverage of the race. People who can’t attend the race in person sit gathered around the television or radio following along.
Productivity on the island comes to a screeching halt during the race. It is the only thing anyone can think about. For days leading up to the race, it is the major topic of conversation wherever you go.
On race day, you will commonly see people wearing tee shirts and other clothing with their village name and colors, as well as their boat’s name, on them. They also carry flags and banners proclaiming their team loyalty. Additionally, you will also see houses, shops, and vehicles decorated for the races.
The cheering of fans starts long before the race begins. And the winning village celebrates long after the race is over.
The Drama and Unpredictability of the Fautasi Races
The 2017 edition of the fautasi races was a perfect example of the drama, unpredictability, excitement, and passion that can come with these races. The race that year featured 13 boats, challenging ocean conditions, and a little controversy.
Due to the large number of boats entered, there were two preliminary heats held on Wednesday, April 12. Afterwards, the committee met and officially determined the seven boats with the fastest times who would move forward to the final round.
These seven boats were scheduled to compete in the championship race on Thursday, April 13. However, the final race had to be postponed until Saturday, April 15 due to high waves.
During an exhibition race, which was to be held prior to the finals, at least one fautasi took on water and was damaged due to the ocean conditions.
The final race was scheduled to start at 8 am, but it actually started almost an hour earlier, in order to get it in before the waves got too high.
Controversy and Champions
When all was said and done, the Manulele Tausala I fautasi from the village of Nu’uuli was declared the 2017 champion.
However, there was a little controversy before the official results were released. The committee considered disqualifying the fautasi from the village of Fagatogo, which came in second place, due to it starting before the horn sounded.
The members of this team protested and claimed that the Manulele Tausala boat should also be disqualified due to it starting in front of the start line.
In the end, however, neither fautasi was disqualified.
We were fortunate to be in American Samoa for the fautasi races for three years. Each one was different, but so much fun!
In 2017, we completely missed the championship race due to it starting early. But, we did get there in time to watch the Manulele Tausala fautasi team come back into its home dock. As the boat closed in on the shore, the rowers all stood up, joined hands, and sang a song in Samoan. It was such a unique celebration!
Another year, we were fortunate to get to watch the race from a police boat that was following the fautasis. This was such a different perspective! But it had the same energy and excitement that we had seen in previous years.
This is definitely one of the best ways to get a glimpse into the the Samoan way of life in a short period of time. I highly recommend watching the fautasi races in American Samoa if you ever get the chance! You won’t regret it!
Fautasi races are the highlight of the Flag Day celebration in American Samoa. They are the most exciting expression of village pride and teamwork that you will ever see! You must check them out for yourself one day! I am so thankful to have been able to witness these races first hand. I hope you get the same chance one day!
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