Serious ‘Fautasi’ Racing Wanted Or Else

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  • FILE PHOTO of fautasi racing inside the reef
    FILE PHOTO of fautasi racing inside the reef

By Staff Writer

The popular fautasi or traditional longboat racing is being revived for the Teuila Festival next year, but crews must take competition seriously.

 No more token entries to make up the numbers and arriving at the finishing line in comfort to collect on the prize money for taking part.

The Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, took a serious tone on national radio yesterday, on public interest at the official start of the Teuila Festival Week starting Sunday.

“This was an issue for Sala (Tourism Minister Sala Pinati) but it was too late for fautasi racing to be organised, with the festival starting up officially this Sunday,” the PM explained.

Fautasi racing is next only in mass appeal to the formal raising of the national flag in the annual celebration of the national anniversary of independence in Samoa.

Racing were organised 5 miles out of the protective reef.   The open waters  became a test for boat crews in testing conditions that became hugely disruptive and in some case life threatening for boats and crews.

The race course was eventually re-set inside the calmer waters behind the protection of the reef, rowing  left to right from Faleula west of Apia to the inside of the Apia Harbour.

Spectators lined the coastal seawall in their hundreds, usually from the jutting Mulinu’u Peninsula  where they can see out into the distance.

The boats run daringly close to the shoreline to take full advantage of any course shortcuts, much to the delight of the cheering fans who can make out the rowers easily.

The most memorable moments  in the history of  this traditional race, came when neighbouring American Samoa and Tonga, joined in competition.

Tonga to a large extent introduced modern designs that ‘looked like submarines’ made of lighter modern craft building materials to produce what came to be known as  ‘fiber glass fautasi.”

Traditional wooden fautasi were heavier and slower, no match for Tonga’s fiberglass submarine fautasi cutting like torpedoes through the water.

American Samoa, with their deeper US dollar pockets, took the modern fiberglass design to another level with made in America fautasi. 

In addition to ‘spoon oars’ the seats were designed to move with the bums on them.

Before long Pago Pago started flying Uncle Sam’s proud symbol of power and strength, AETO or EAGLE.

For the next few years, our traditional wooden boats would arrive at the finishing line while the Tongan and the American Samoan crews where already showered and sitting down for dinner.

But we did not lose our fighting spirit.  Our turn to finally win back our pride and  respect, came when were able to craft fiberglass fautasi designs similar to the new and modern boats.

Since then fautasi racing has never re-captured the excitement of the pre-fiberglass era.

Traditional rowing villages like Fagaloa, Manono and Apolima are no longer as prominent as before.

In the more recent years the Kionasina, Tamarina and the Manulele Tautala tried to keep the interest going. 

The novelty of the Tama Uli from Salelologa, Savai’i added on to the excitement, but they were on a race of their own.

The rest of the field were out to enjoy a morning row and to make sure they get to the finishing line so they can claim a money prize.

“Next year when fautasi racing starts up again we want the boats to be seriously competitive,” Tuilaepa sternly warned.

“We don’t want to see any boats hanging out too far to be seen from the finishing line.”

Fautasi racing is also relegated to run during the Teuila Festival, as an event of cultural interest.

Tuilaepa did not indicate whether the iconic event celebrated as a symbol of our spirit of independence as a nation, is symbolic anymore.