ALIA Expedition
Fanuasā o Tagaloaolagi: In Retrospect

When viewed from an islanders’ perspective, it is neither difficult nor tiresome to accept the benefits of the ALIA expedition. Living the reality where resource limitations dictate the development of Pacific Island nations means it is inevitable for islanders’ to seek and accept aid from the more resourced and developed countries.

Science is no exception in this context. With the broadening technology divide between the developed and developing worlds coupled with the difficulty of developing countries to create bridges, increases their interdependency on developed countries.

As third world developing nations, both Independent and American Samoa understand and accept the boundaries within which they lie. As a result, both have welcomed the ALIA  expedition, specifically with respect to the goals and objectives it has set out to achieve. Hereunto, the terms Samoa and Samoans respectively will be referred to as collective wholes, without any sociopolitical distinctions made between the two colonially divided nations.

Evolution of the Samoan islands is a long-standing topic of debate between applied and social scientists alike. On the one hand, there are those (constituting the majority of Samoans) who argue that the sacred lands of Samoa were formed by the ancient God Tagaloaolagi, a belief passed on through oral tradition. They believe he fished them out of the oceans and resourced them as he deemed necessary for the early ancestors to settle.

On the other hand, there are those (constituting the minority of Samoans) who believe that the islands were formed as a result of the movement of the earth’s crust over a zone of weakness in the earth’s upper mantle, where magma was extruded through plume-canals and solidified on the earth’s surface forming them.

Both arguments posses their own unique form of logic. The former employs a spiritual or qualitative means of explaining the phenomenon, while the latter employs a quantitative approach (the scientifically accepted approach).

The ALIA  expedition complements the latter, where quantitative evidence will be used to explain the evolution of the Samoan islands. By collecting and analyzing various rock samples from strategically selected locations along the island chain, scientists leading the expedition will acquire and share a great deal of knowledge as to their evolutionary nature.

Transforming this acquired knowledge into tangible opportunities is imperative, although challenging. In the local context, the information being generated will not only aid in redefining human understanding of the genesis of islands along hotspot chains, it will also assist Samoans in understanding the nature and threats of volcanism and associated hazards liable to affect their islands.

In turn, a more strategic approach to prioritizing, preparing and responding to the probable hazards can be undertaken, all of which are critical components of disaster management.

The information acquired will also serve to educate Samoans about the island environments they live in. Fundamental to survival in an island environment is acquiring basic education of the processes which have brought about their physical form, as well as the mechanisms by which humans have adapted to, and influenced them.

It cannot be overstated that nations undertaking development need a firm education base in order to succeed. By producing a firm foundation within which knowledge arises, dependency on developed nations may decline (at least in principle).

Through the inclusion of such information into local curricular, Samoans can formally learn of the processes that have fashioned their lands, and begin thinking at a young age of how this information can be beneficially applied to the more practical aspects of life. In doing so, interest may spark in the mind-sets of youth to learn more about the world around them, as well as learn of the consequences that geohazards have on society and the importance of adapting to them.

So far, this discussion has highlighted the more obvious benefits that would arise from this study. But, the benefits of this research endeavor are not limited to those directly affiliated with its overarching goal. Scientific techniques being deployed to aid in achieving this goal such as the multi-beam swath mapping place both Samoa’s on the receiving end of also the indirect benefits.

For instance, the Bathymetric mapping being implemented enables the expansion of the existing knowledge of Samoa’s submarine morphology through the integration of time-variant data sets. This in turn serves as a tool in the context of development planning and decision making in many crucial industries, such as Fisheries and Oceanic-Transport.

Most importantly, data that will be collected on this expedition will be made available to the world, where people can then utilize it according to their own respective needs. This, overall, is the fundamental essence of data collection. It needs to be shared, strengthened, built upon, and most importantly, utilized for constructive purposes.

It is important to note that the scenarios discussed above might not be made possible in the relative future without the ALIA  expedition. It is thus imperative for one to understand the inevitable consequences of denying the opportunity for knowledge expansion in this day and age, and foster the acceptance that collaboration and integration of efforts to acquire knowledge is of benefit to all.

Reflecting back on the elements discussed, one should now understand the logic as to why the two Samoa’s deem this expedition necessary. Whether it is for purposes of integrating myth with science or theory with reality, the bottom line is that both nations would not have been able to clarify these matters on their own given their existing resource capabilities.

The acceptance that knowledge integration and resource mobilization is fundamental to achieving an outcome much greater than that deemed possible standing alone, is something that all Pacific Island nations have come to accept. It has become an inevitable intrinsic aspect of islanders’ evolutionary survival, where subjectiveness is our survival.


Shaun Williams onboard the R/V Kilo Moana.
14 April, 2005


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