In 1986 the Seattle Samoan Cricket League forms and organizes games of this cherished pastime of Seattle's Samoan community. The league holds games at the Genesee Field in Rainier Valley, but the boisterous cheering, loud music, and traffic congestion creates too much disturbance and will force the league to move to Jefferson Playfield in Beacon Hill. Despite being introduced in Samoa by British missionaries, Samoan cricket, or kirikiti, differs in number of players and in the rules of the game. Kirikiti has taken on a specific cultural meaning since it reflects the value of community to the Samoan people and includes traditional singing and dancing. The Seattle league educates Samoan American children in their heritage and provides an opportunity to connect to their parents and grandparents.
A Rough Start
The organizers of the Seattle Samoan Cricket League were High Chief Ropi Sua Semo and fellow Samoan American Pale Pa Balaile. The new league institutionalized a cherished Samoan and Samoan American pastime with games becoming more regular and better organized. Originally, four teams played at Genesee Field in Rainier Valley, and at its peak, the league included 14 teams.
For the Samoan American population in Seattle, cricket matches represented another opportunity for families to gather and enjoy spending time together. Even before the league, since the mid-1970s, families gathered to sing, eat, and cheer for the players at these all-day affairs. Lawn blankets and beach chairs graced the sidelines and the landscape around the playing field. Families set up generous picnics and used the opportunity to catch up along with cheering on the teams. Dancing, singing, and traditional music accompanied the games.
However, with the league instituting regular games at Genesee Field, this cultural gathering received unfavorable notice. Soon after the formation of the league, the boisterous enthusiasm of the crowds, loud drumming, and traffic congestion on game days disturbed neighbors and other users of the playfield. The neighbors complained to the Seattle Park Board, and the games suffered a hiatus while the board deliberated on the issue.
The next year, Puni Hokea, a board member of the Park Department, negotiated a compromise, which included a limit of one whistler and drummer during the game and restricted games to Saturdays. Despite the compromise, Parks Department Superintendent Holly Miller, decided the cricket games must move to Jefferson Park playfield in Beacon Hill due to the field’s relative isolation from residences. Even before the league moved to the new playfield, however, residents close to the the Jefferson Park field protested the decision in anticipation of the noise and traffic of Saturday cricket games.
Cricket the Samoan Way
In the Samoan Islands, located two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand, cricket is the national sport with youth, recreational, and community leagues bringing people together. British missionary expeditions, in particular the missionary William B. Churchward, brought cricket to the Samoan Islands in the 1880s. British missionaries also introduced the game to other colonies, but the Samoan people have fit it to their culture and needs.
A game associated with pristine white uniforms and sedate crowds, it became the darling sport of the Samoan people and took on a distinctly Samoan flavor. Colorful sarong-like uniforms (known as lavalava) and the animated sideline celebration all give Samoan personality to the sport. Even the cricket bat (known as kirikiti) reflects ownership of the sport. Kirikiti are extra large, three-sided bats painted with colorful stripes which have a longer and harder construction than standard bats; additionally kirikiti is the Samoan word for cricket.
Their interest in this transplanted sport sets the Samoan people apart from other Polynesian cultures. Former coordinator of the league, Fagalima “Lima” Skillion, spoke to this when she said “It's a cultural sport that makes Samoans different from all the Polynesians, what makes us stand out. And we want to keep it alive for us and our people. It's a sport that brings us together" (Le 2001).
Kirikiti in Seattle
By 2001, the Seattle Samoan Cricket League had four women’s teams and seven men’s teams playing regularly at Asa Mercer Middle School. From the traditional cricket team of 11, the Samoans developed the sport into teams of 20 to 30 players. Samoan cricket leagues can also be found in Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Salt Lake City. The Seattle league hosts games with teams from different cities and connects to other Samoan communities. (Washington is home to the third largest population of American Samoans after Hawaii and California.)
In Seattle, the cricket league and the games provide an opportunity to share the “most famous game in Samoan history” with young Samoan Americans (Semu Tauanu’u quoted in Le 2001). Children come to the games and witness a sport their elders grew up with on the islands; the games demonstrate the power of teamwork and provide role models. The matches also combat issues of gang membership and delinquency, which has plagued the community. Since it provides a hang out, one player, Romeo Semo, noted that the cricket league “brings a lot of kids off the street” and out of gangs (Le, 2001).
Now (2010) the Samoan League is on the move again. Renovations at Jefferson Park removed the cricket pitch and rendered the league homeless. Games have been played at the Asa Mercer Field but unfortunately the playfield at the school has proven too small for the crowds of hundreds as well as for the batters during the game itself; a game needs a circular or oval shaped grass pitch of close to 500 feet in diameter.
One potential spot for the relocated games is in southwest Seattle. With the city capping the West Seattle Reservoir in 2012, 13 new acres of park space will open up to the city. As of 2008, the Samoan community, the City of Seattle, and the Cascade Land Conservancy have worked together towards this goal. Another potential location is the lidded Jefferson Reservoir on Beacon Hill.