Almost every day or several times a day, Upolu is irrigated by thunderstorms.
The afternoon had started perfectly but, as on other days, we were once again caught without refuge by the dynamic weather and a warm rain that left us drenched. So it was with pleasure that we returned to the temporary home from Apia, Samoa, for long showers and change of clothes.
That night, we were invited to watch the spin spin (Samoan party/banquet) at the Aggie Grey's Hotel. Perhaps because of sacred Polynesian humility, those responsible for promoting Samoa had forgotten to explain to us where they were going to stay.
Little by little, thanks largely to a hardcover book we found in our room and to the internet that we only picked up from the balcony, there we learned about the historical importance of that place and the family that founded it.
Aggie Grey's Fascinating Samoan Origin
Agnes Genevieve Swann was born in 1897 in island of upolu, Samoa. She was the second daughter of William Swann, a sailor who settled on the island as a pharmacist, and of Pele, a Samoan ceremonial maiden.
Shortly thereafter, a war broke out between the chiefs of the archipelago, Agnes was sent to the safety of Fiji. When he returned, Samoa had been divided between Germany and the USA, in accordance with the Tripartite Convention of 1899, Upolu was integrated into the Germanic Empire. The misfortunes did not stop there.
In 1903, his mother died. Aggie was raised only by her father. He tolerantly adjusted to his hedonistic existence, financial problems, and Samoan stepmother. Confirmed an already announced bankruptcy, she and the sisters helped the parent in a small shop far from town. But as they grew up, isolation plagued them. Thus, they engendered a longed-for return to the city.
After a few months in the graces of an influential friend, Aggie has become a desired single on the social circuit “afakasi” (mixed Samoan and Western). She ended up marrying two promising New Zealanders.
The first relationship ended with the death of her first husband. The second became extremely degraded, with five children to raise, another bankruptcy and a new retreat far from the capital Apia.
In the distance, life in the capital continued to call for Aggie. But the only profitable businesses open to women were, then, either brothels or bars. The bars and Drinking Clubs of Apia had succumbed to the prohibition with which the later New Zealand colonist sought to remedy the excessive alcohol consumption of the Samoans.
The British Club and Aggie Gray's Career in Catering and Hospitality
Finally, Aggie Gray came up with the idea that revolutionized her life: she rescued the decaying British Club in the capital and began serving drinks legitimated by “medical authorizations” that she could get in unserious numbers.
Over the years, it has turned the new Cosmopolitan Club into the favorite haunt of bored, lonely expats. Later, also hundreds of soldiers passing through the city. He made a small fortune serving American sailors' favorite drink, a Tom Collins.
James Michener and the Disclosure of His “Tales from the South Pacific”
James Michener was one of them. By that time, this naval lieutenant was developing a fruitful career as a writer, author of 40 titles, largely family sagas set in unlikely locations around the world.
Your "Tales from the South Pacific” and the partial film adaptation “South Pacific” revealed those confines of Samoa to the West. Covertly, it was the figure of Aggie Gray that inspired Michener for the cartoon character Bloody Mary.
Aggie's convivial aptitude and her experience dealing with men acted as a surefire decoy. Disillusioned lovers and angry wives gave the business the publicity it no longer needed. It turned out to be common to all of their ventures, including the Aggie Grey's hotel that had hosted us.
It's Fia Night at Aggie Grey's Hotel
The fia-fia Samoan night begins.
Proud of her heritage, Marina Grey, daughter-in-law of Aggie, wife of son Alan Gray (hotel manager), takes the microphone and speaks: “I'd like to introduce you to these beautiful young Samoans all of them working here at Aggie's.
Tomorrow, one of them will be your waiter for breakfast, one of them will take care of your room and others will help you at the reception or with the purchases you make in the store. Please give them a warm applause.”
On a stage with a vegetal aspect – with so many palm leaves and other plants that decorate it – island musicians prepare the audience for their contagious spirit of fun and celebration. When the objective is assured, they are joined by a group of energetic and hyperactive dancers in typical costumes from the archipelago.
They accompany the accelerated melodies they sing with mimic choreographies from Polynesia, beating arm against arm and arms on legs in an almost acrobatic way and at the infernal rhythm that distinguishes Samoan dances from much slower Maori, Hawaiian or Tahitian dances.
Several performances later, Marina Gray is called back to the stage. Despite its classic figure, something british, joins the last dance in an elegant and harmonious way, which surprises and delights newcomers.
The Stimulus of Hamburgers Served to American GI's in World War II
Soon after, a buffet full of traditional Samoan dishes opens, which spectators line up in long but fluid lines. And yet it was to serve fast food American mother-in-law Aggie cooked the family's success.
With spread from WWII to the Pacific, US armed forces poured into Upolu from Pago Pago, the capital of neighboring American Samoa. The Seabees (Navy Construction Force) were quick to reveal to Aggie Gray their Yankee love of hamburgers.
“The Americans had all the money in the world, they didn't know what to do with it, and they were at war. I really cared about those guys.” You declared in 1977 to a reporter for the Free Lance Star. “I bought a cow, gathered onions, salt and pepper, just like I was told to do.
In the first sale, I had to ask the GI how to stop everything from falling apart. He jumped to the other side of the counter, smoothed the meatballs and said, "See, it's easy."
Aggie estimates that he served hamburgers to more than 12.000 Seabees and GI's. With the money, he made the Cosmopolitan Club a hotel and built speak (traditional cabins) additional for accommodation.
And soon, the Aggie Grey's Hotel Stardom Phase
Gary Cooper, William Holden, Marlon Brando, the entire cast of “in the South Pacific” and so many other showbiz personalities elevated him to stardom. At 80, Aggie still delighted guests and guests with prodigious displays of blasphemy and his humorous and warm tirades. He died in 1988, aged 91 years.
Aggie Grey's was just part of their heritage.
From the first moment, the room that we were given seemed to be basic, with a controversial decoration, not to mention in bad taste. But we had already realized that Aggie Grey's had never had to worry too much about ephemeral Western luxuries and refinements. It was from the overcoat of his mentor's aura that he prospered.
Until recently, thousands of guests chose it – the original and the SPA version built in the meantime – as a base to discover Upolu, one of the unavoidable islands of Polynesia and the surrounding Pacific.
In December 2012, Cyclone Evans left the original hotel in disrepair, but a half year later it was reopening. For most Aggie Grey's historical fans, the worst was to come.
A few months ago, Tupaimatuna Lulai Lavea and Lupesina Frederick Gray – representatives of the group and of the holding Aggie Grey's – closed a deal with the Starwoods chain.
Some time later, the Aggie Greys's were renamed Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey's Hotel & Bungalows