The sun has begun to droop low and the Pacific sky is awash with a splash of pink and purple. A quiet and tranquil field soon gives way to fits of laughter and music as boys from neighboring houses descend upon it. A rugby ball is being passed from boy to boy and then suddenly BOOM! The ball is launched high into the air and someone is giving fast chase. It is now being kicked back and forth as the others put on their cleats. Once enough boys have prepared themselves a game of touch breaks out. This exact scene is taking place every afternoon in villages all over the country. When it comes to sport, it is clear that rugby is the undisputed king of Samoa.
Before my arrival I knew of rugby’s level of popularity in Oceania. It’s telling when two of the greatest national teams in the world are in the region. (Australia, New Zealand) Even with that said, I had no clue how imbedded it was within the Samoan culture. No matter where you g
o there is a semblance of the game. Look left there is a bus named after the All Blacks. Look right there are men, women, and children wearing rugby related clothing. Open the newspaper and you get the daily fill in on how well the coach is doing. Watch tv and there is a high chance the only thing on is rugby from some part of the globe. It is inescapable!
There are zero professional sports in Samoa, so the country has but one team to root for, Manu Samoa. This is the national rugby team. In reality they also root for the All Blacks (New Zealand) as more than half their team are Samoans. Fun fact: the population of Samoans in New Zealand is greater than the population of Samoa itself. With this fact it just so happens that these men are made for rugby. I don’t know if it’s the taro or something else, but Samoans are naturally athletic. It is incredible! If you look at the world’s national teams the majority house at least one Samoan. How do I know this? My host father loves to point it out as we watch tournaments on tv.
The saying “Ball is life,” is not a joke here, its truth. For many the sport of rugby goes way beyond that of a simple hobby. Back home there are plenty of things to be a fan of with countless teams across several sports to be interested in. Here, you have zero professional sports and just one on the international level who is competitive. Manu is the pride and joy of this little island nation. In 2015 the entire country shut down as the New Zealand All Blacks visited to play Manu Samoa. It was the first time in history they had done so. It was as if every citizen was in the capital to watch the game. No one even cared that the All Blacks won by over 50 points, as they are just as popular across the country with their star studded Samoan roster.
As a giant fan of rugby it has been wonderful living in Samoa. Outside of injuring my shoulder, playing the sport has never been as much fun. Every afternoon I have the chance to lace up my boots and hit the pitch. My love of the sport has only grown. I owe the sport greatly. Many men know sport itself is its own language and this love of rugby fostered many of my friendships within my community. For example it is a daily conversation between my host father and I. Some of my favorite moments are when my host family and I are huddled around small 19 inch screen tv rooting for Manu or even the United States. Some say sport is a great unifier and I couldn’t agree more.