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No major incidents, no deaths, no New Year baby

While American Samoa did not have a New Year’s baby to celebrate the start of 2012, the Department of Public Safety was happy to report there was no major incident in the territory claiming any lives during the New Year’s holiday weekend

“We are very fortunate with the blessings of the Heavenly Father that no lives were lost over the New Year’s holiday weekend due to any incident,” said Capt. Lavata’i Ta’ase Sagapolutele, who heads the DPS Criminal Investigation Division and was among the DPS personnel working the holiday law enforcement program that officially ended at 7 a.m. yesterday.

From last Friday through yesterday morning, eleven individuals were taken into custody for driving while under the influence and a small number of people were detained for either public or private peace disturbances, he added.

Since the holiday enforcement began on Dec. 21, a total of 52 cases of DUI was recorded, and although there were some minor traffic accidents over the New Year’s weekend, there was nothing devastating, he said.

“Overall, since the start of holiday enforcement, there were no major incidents or accidents for American Samoa,” Lavata’i told Samoa News yesterday morning. “On behalf of Police Commissioner Tuaolo M. Fruean and the department, I extend my sincere thank you to the public for your cooperation and support throughout the enforcement program with the goal to ensure peace and harmony in the territory during the holiday season.”

Meanwhile, a final Samoa News check with the LBJ Medical Center yesterday morning found that the territory didn’t have a New Year’s Day baby to report, however, one infant was born at 1:52 a.m. on Jan. 2.

The territory ushered in the New Year in typical style, without much fanfare compared to other parts of the world, where massive fireworks displays were part of the celebration. Many local residents attended church services, with some services starting just after sunset while others began about an hour before midnight.

At more than ten parishes of the Methodist synod in American Samoa, their service known as the “po o moli” or night of lights, lasted for two hours — timed to end at the stroke of midnight. This special event includes man-made trees, about 10 to 15 feet high, decorated with candy or flower leis, material, and food items like chips, cookies, canned goods and boxes of saimin. Other ‘lights’ are decorated with nothing but cash.

This is a New Year's Eve tradition for the Methodist Church in both Samoa, and while it’s not part of the church’s history globally, it’s an old custom here, where the church sets up a service of offering or thanksgiving at the end of the year.

The 'po o moli' custom began years ago with Samoan coconut lanterns surrounded by fragrant Samoan flowers, and were an offering of thanks to God, as one year ends and the next one begins.

But with the change of time, the flowers, at times garlands, were replaced with 'ula lole" or candy garlands, while coconut lanterns became man-made trees — usually about ten feet high and decorated with goodies.

Now there are even trees decorated with dollar bills — some totaling up to $100 or more a tree — making them a ‘money tree’. Church elders and visitors (non members of a parish) are the first to be given the many gifts — including big gifts baskets — from the trees. Typically, each extended family of a parish will have a ‘po o moli’.

In outlying villages, village “siva” or dances welcomed the new year — and occur after the church services for the new year.

Years ago, village siva was a popular event in Samoan villages and still some villages in American Samoa are observing that tradition, which brings residents together to dance and have fun.

Restaurants, nightclubs and bars were filled with partygoers to celebrate the coming of the new year with dancing and singing. Others hosted their own parties at home with family and friends and good conversation and songs to ring in the new year.