I am pleased to write to you from American Samoa, on the main island of Tutuila (Manoua for La Pérouse) where I am currently on a stopover for a few days, and to tell you in a few lines about my visit to the Bay of the Massacre.
By explaining the tragedy that took place on this beach, I convinced some of my colleagues to join me in visiting the monument erected in memory of our 11 compatriots who died there for science and the country.
The day before the expedition, we had inquired with the local authorities who did not know the monument well. We still managed to glean some information.
The D-day we went to the village of A’asu in the heights of the middle of the island. We understood that this village of A’asu was the new village located in the heights. The old village, bearing the same name, was previously located on the coast, down the valley, bordering the beach of the bay of the massacre.
On the spot we easily found a kind soul to show us the beginning of the path. On the spot, the owner of the land kindly indicated us the way and authorized us to borrow the path, from now on private, without any encumbers.
Then began a two-hour walk, over collapsed trunks and mud puddles in the pouring rain. We then arrived on this famous beach where almost 235 years ago, the clash of cultures carried away in confusion, I imagine it the most total, 11 of our ancestors.
This beach of fine sand, bordered on each side by tangled basalt rocks, is crossed by the mouth of a clear water stream. This same stream attracted the commander of Langle for a final sting, which was unfortunately fatal.
We then looked for a few minutes for the famous monument in the back beach lush with greenery in these tropical rainforests. We didn’t take long to find the cross which overhangs it, next to a fishermen’s hut, the latter being absent when we arrived.
We then cleaned the place of all the creeping vegetation which only asks to take back its rights. We made a clean place. We had brought a mouth tap from our boat that we sealed behind the monument, next to that of the Prairial, a Navy surveillance frigate that had renovated the monument in 2004
Thus, as sailors of the French Navy, we wanted to pay homage to our former soldiers who fell in the name of the colors of France.
We gathered for a few moments. Each one in silence.
The fishermen, owners of the hut next to the monument, returned from their fishing and greeted us. What allowed us to ask them to take us all together in photograph in front of the monument.
This made, I spread out cleanly a sheet of paper with the logo of the association that I had prepared and immortalized the moment. I attach 2 photos to this email.
We then discussed a few moments with the local fishermen. Today we speak a common language, we understand each other, we have a common value system, the joys of globalization …. I think of the cultural gap that must have separated the astrolabe and compass sailors from the indigenous Samoans. Impossible to understand each other for them.
We exchange some gifts with the Samoan fishermen who show us the fruit of their fishing. One of them shows us a shortcut to go back to where we came from.
A last look at the stele and it is already time to leave our new friends.
We go back to the new village by the same way we came, except for the shortcut shown by the fisherman. We talk about Laperouse’s adventure, of course. I tell my comrades what I know about it. Many sailors today know the name of Lapérouse, if only because a ship of the Navy bears his name, but few know the incredible story of his adventures in the Pacific.
However, we were struck by the Samoan vision of this massacre. We heard from several people we met that the massacre was also shared. About fifty Samoans died that day and no plaque honors them. After all, can we really hold these islanders responsible for their actions, as they were also victims, in my opinion, of an improbable clash of cultures. Two worlds that clash brutally, head-on and that do not understand each other because they do not share the same value system.
I had never asked myself the question in this way before today and it is true that the vision of some Samoans on the subject is not without meaning.
I have been long, I apologize, but this expedition has excited me and I hope to come back one day on the tracks of your ancestor in this magnificent bay with a tragic destiny.
Florian Chavagnac _ November 6, 2022