I grab a coffee and join the journalists who've gathered for the opening of Teuila, Samoa's cultural festival and one that celebrates the country's 50 years of independence. There's a semi-circle of market stalls selling barbecued chicken, the local Tapa cloth and T-shirts advertising Vailima, a local beer. The smoke of just-lit barbecues is trapped under canvases.
I look for a T-shirt and from the stalls scan a raised platform of dignitaries: the Prime Minister, beside him commissioners; in the second row, the finalist of the Miss Samoa competition. We watch with the rest of the small crowd as a dance troupe in navy blue dresses adorned with red hibiscuses sings a welcome song.
It's the most lovely performance, full of warmth and respect. I wish there were more people to watch it, but the crowds will pour in tonight.
The rain has eased. The women dancers wear garlands of teuila flowers, the red ginger plant that gives its name to the festival.
I'm told that the name of the flower was once pronounced differently, and that the present version is how it was said by Isobel Field, Robert Louis Stevenson's stepdaughter.
It's a good story, and you have to like the spirit that lies behind remembering her in a mistake.
But this is Samoa all over, an intensely friendly country that makes visitors feel welcome. In particular, the islands have a long history of accepting religious influence from abroad. Traditional buildings (or fales) and churches make surprisingly sympathetic neighbours, even if, like me, you find yourself wishing that less money was being poured into grand places of worship.
And in the late 19th century, the community clearly adopted not only Isobel's pronunciation but the Stevensons as a family. Isobel was given the name she mispronounced. Stevenson, who by the time he arrived in 1889 was already famous, was Tusitala, "the teller of tales".
He endeared himself to Samoans by criticising the colonial administrators and by building a grand house at Vailima - the same name as now graces the local beer. It means "water in the hand" but also, depending on your source, "five streams". In either case, it fitted the house and its chief occupant very well, for Stevenson was never far from water.
He spent years travelling in the South Pacific, and reportedly came to Samoa on the recommendation of the king of Hawaii, no less. One of his last works, aptly named The Ebb-Tide, tells the story of three down-and-outers who find themselves in charge of a shipload of champagne. An enviable situation, you might think.
But alas it's a trick, and the cargo turns out to be nothing more than water. Fortune runs through their hands, and the vagabonds' situation goes from bad to worse.
There is little of this bleakness in the beautiful grounds of Stevenson's old home. With the sun streaming in, even the sick bed in which he wrote seems part of the idyll. Our guide says that Stevenson particularly liked being on the veranda. It overlooks a lawn bordered by a high, tropical hedge of palms. Once, you could see the ocean, but now the best views are from Mt Vaea, where Stevenson is buried.
It's a good half-hour trek, and I'm sure there are better times to make it than now, at noon with the sun edging its way through a canopy of broad leaves. But at the summit you rejoin the sea breeze of the morning, and in the company of the great writer you look out to the villages that line the ocean road as it makes its way into Apia. The sea is a thin, light blue.
The inscription on the tomb is from a requiem he'd written earlier; it says, "Home is the sailor, home from the sea".
Back at sea level, I rejoin the festival, which includes an open-air display of local arts. Our guide through them is Chris Solomona, who begins his tour with a display of himself, or rather the tattoo that runs as a block of intricate patterns from his lower back to his legs.
This is the Pe'a, a form that represents aspects of Samoan life traditionally needed in order to survive, such as boats and spears.
The tattooing process is lengthy and indescribably painful. It is also in progress in one of the festival displays. A young man lies on his back.
On his left sits the "tufuga ta tatau", or tattoo artist, while three others perform support tasks: one fans the young man, who is enduring this ordeal in the noon heat, while two others stretch his skin, keep him still and wipe blood and excess ink from his leg.It's a shock to see it being done, and I find myself turning away. But of course that's the point: the tattoo is a mark of endurance and respect, like tradition itself.
And like Stevenson's mark on the island, made during his decline, the inscription seems richer for the commitment to Samoa that it witnesses.
-- The writer was a guest of the Samoa Tourism AuthoritySource: news.com.au