Chief Luteru's son taught himself to do the fire dance at a very young age!
In 2017 Islanders Luau had 159 events at venues all over SoCal. Here are some fun pictures and videos from a handful of those tropical events!
Islanders Luau has been our family business for almost 50 years. Our roles have changed, but everyone in the family still gets involved--because we love what we do!
This photo was taken by our son, last December in Samoa. Nathan, who was living in Samoa working as a dentist, had one of the only kayaks on the island and Santa borrowed it to come to his church Christmas party. The kids were so excited that they jumped into the water to greet Santa, just like the old days when Samoans waded into the water to greet incoming visitors. Nowadays it is the airport that has everyone coming to greet visitors. Every Monday and Friday night, when the plane comes from Hawaii, there are huge, excited crowds at the little airport to welcome loved ones! In the two years that Nathan and his family lived in Samoa, we flew into that little airport because, "We Bring the Islands To You!" #MeleKalikimaka #Kerisimasi
1. Luteru, holding a traditional Samoan fan. 2. Luteru from a Church College of Hawaii yearbook photo. 3. Luteru with four of his children: Susiana, Opapo, Pago, and Panesi at his daughter's wedding in Idaho Falls.
All photos are from the late 1950's.
“Susiana and the Islanders” would have never made it to Southern California without the great faith of this man, Luteru Afualo. These are the only three pictures in existence of him. He was born on the large Samoan island of Savaii in the early 1900’s. An LDS relative encouraged Luteru to go to the island of Upolu to attend the LDS church school in Sauniatu. While there he met Siasaga Naea, who told him she wouldn’t marry him if he wasn’t a member of the LDS church. He promptly converted. After finishing school, they were called on a lifelong mission for the church. Luteru would travel to small villages, and ask the chief of the village if they could start a church there. The chief would give them a small plot of jungle land to farm. They would clear the dense vegetation and build a fale, or grass shack, and farm the land by day, and do missionary work by night. Once the church was established in a village, they would move on to a new village and start over again. Susiana remembers that they would put all of their belongings on handwoven mats and the family would carry or drag the mats to their new land in a new village.
Luteru and Siasaga had 10 children, 8 of whom grew to adulthood. All of the children were born in different villages on two different Samoan islands. They all have interesting names that have to do with their parents faith.
Opapo--Born in Sauniatu, Western Samoa, named after the man who converted Luteru, Opapo Fonoimoana.
Elesiva--Also, born in Sauniatu, called Siva--appropriate for her lively personality. Siva means dance.
Pago Pago--Born in Pago Pago, American Samoa, where the family moved to proselyte.
Uatisone--Born in Tula, American Samoa, the first of the boys to be named after an American missionary, Elder Watson.
Laile--Born in Sauniatu, Western Samoa, the headquarters of the church in Samoa. Named after a church leader named Lyle.
Susiana--Born in Lauli'i, Western Samoa. Susiana is not a traditional Samoan name, but the Samoan version of Susan or Suzann, possibly the name of a visiting church leader’s child.
Penina--Born in Eva, Western Samoa. Named after her beloved older sister who passed away.
Panesi--Born in Mesepa, American Samoa. Named after an Elder Barnes.
The boys all learned to work hard, fishing and farming. Susiana’s job was to go to the villages to sell the fish and produce. She learned to be a very good salesman as a young child, because she would get in trouble (sa sa) if she came home with unsold items. Things were different back then.
The children didn’t have toys, other than a cricket bat and ball. Susiana said that some of the activities that the children enjoyed were singing, dancing, and spinning a stick like a Samoan Fire-knife dancer. (She is the one who taught her son, Maril, the basics of firedancing at the age of 5 years old. Who would have ever guessed he would use that skill almost every weekend for the next 50 years?) Their mother had learned to play a pump organ at the LDS school, and she taught all of her children to play. All of the kids remember that she had a metronome, and if they missed a beat during their lessons, they would get rapped on the knuckles with a ruler. The family was well-known for their musical talents.
Luteru's wife, Siasaga, died of TB after her youngest son was born. Luteru wanted his family to go the Mormon temple in Laia, Hawaii, so the family came up with a plan. First Pago got accepted into a school in Hawaii--which was still not a state--just an American Territory. Then the other boys, Opapo, Uatesone, and Laile joined the military to allow them to immigrate to Hawaii. Once they were there, then Luteru was able to come and one by one, the other children were able to come--Elesiva, Susiana, Penina, and little Panesi.
Luteru’s mission then changed to that of a labor missionary, where he worked to build the Church College of Hawaii in Laia. While in Laia, the handsome Afualo brothers were well known for their singing talent, often singing songs by the Lettermen, with beautiful harmony. While in Hawaii Susiana observed that entertainment didn’t have to be just for fun--it could be a viable business.
All of the children soon migrated to the US mainland, and by the time Susiana was 25, she was dancing at luaus in California. Before she was 30, she started “Susiana and the Islanders”, now known as “Islanders Luau”. She enlisted many of her siblings into the first Islanders band. Sone on bass, Panesi on lead guitar, Peni on ukulele, tamborine, and Susiana on ukulele.
Luteru passed away in Laia, HI in 1960 on the day that he was released from his lifelong church mission. He was walking with his son, Sone, when he peacefully collapsed with his release papers still in his hand. All of the children and grandchildren enjoy the faithful legacy of Luteru and Siasaga, who richly blessed their posterity.
*Side note: If anyone knows of any LDS missionaries who served in Samoa from 1930 to 1950, who have photographs of their missions, please let us know! We don’t have any pictures of Luteru’s wife, Susiana’s mother, Siasaga Naea. We know she must be in a lot of photos that American missionaries took, back in the day. Also, if anyone knows of any corrections or additions to this blog, please comment!
We were amazed by how coconuts are used for just about every dish of food in Samoa. Coconut trees sprout everywhere, without being in the soil. Trees are growing everywhere and they are loaded with about 50 coconuts per tree, which is quite dangerous if you happen to be standing under a tall tree at the wrong time. Our 4 year old grandson had a coconut fall less than a foot from his head when he was playing at a park. A coconut in its husk is bigger than a child's head and quite heavy!
Coconuts are so plentiful in Samoa, that every day you find them on streets, floating in the ocean, on the beaches, and sprouting along all the hiking trails. They sprout and start growing into a tree without even being buried. They will sprout and then a root will travel down to the ground and start a new tree.
When hiking we had run out of water, so we found a thick stick, stuck it in the sand and used it to pry off the husk of a coconut. Then we took a rock and broke it open, which is easy to do if you know where to hit it. Then we drank the coconut water inside, which tastes an awful lot like Sprite. Seriously.
The Samoans don't usually eat the coconut meat--they feed that to the animals--but they use coconut cream in just about everything. They can quickly husk a coconut, and then use a scraper attached to a wooden horse (see picture) to scrape the white meat into a bowl. Then they set the meat into the coconut husk, and squeeze all of the coconut milk out of the flaked meat into the bowl.
The coconut milk is used to make koko rice for breakfast, and it is used as a fat substitute in many recipes. When they add a little salt and onion to it, it makes a wonderfully rich sauce on top of native vegetables, starches, and meats. Coconut milk is used in just about every traditional dessert, bakery item, main dish, and side dish in Samoa.
If you are wondering what the third picture above is, it is a niu, or a young coconut. The middle part tastes a lot like cotton candy, believe it or not, and kids love it.
Susiana started Islanders Luau in 1970 (see our "About Us" page). We pull this gorgeous great-grandmother out of retirement a couple of times a year to entertain "by special request!" Like many children in Samoa, she learned to play the ukulele as a child with a handmade uke, made out of a coconut. She mastered it to the point that she can really crank on it--while she sings all the Hawaiian oldies. About 10 years ago, she was playing it "by special request", and she even played it behind her head--really well! Many Samoans are blessed with incredible musical talent, and she has brought her magic to many people throughout Southern California for over 50 years!
When our family took our first trip to the Samoan islands in 2005, we were delighted by the unique, striking flowers that grew in our family's yards. When we went to Samoa again in 2016 we noticed that those same unique flowers can be found along remote hiking trails. We strive to use those same authentic tropical flowers for our customers' luaus. The little details, like using authentic tropical flowers, are what set us apart!
Last month Islanders Luau traveled to Samoa to learn of Maril's heritage. We went to a Senior Center where the American Samoan Government has hired Senior Citizens to teach children traditional skills. These skills are becoming scarce as Samoans focus on mastering Western skills. We were so grateful that the seniors squeezed us into their schedule. Islanders Luau - We Bring the Islands To You #Tradition
Diana designs many of the decorations and props that we use at our luaus. By studying the traditional skills of weaving, carving, and traditional fabric printing, Islanders Luau is second-to-none in Southern California for authentic decor that will WOW your guests!
We traveled to the five islands of American Samoa in February 2017 to visit family and experience life in Samoa. Maril's mom, Susiana, was born "under a coconut tree" in Samoa in the 1940's. Our son, who lives there now, showed us the best spots to snorkel, so we can share them with you. Talofa Lava!