Generally, my travels are fuelled by one of two things; curiosity or memories of things and places I read about as a child. One of the places on my travel list fuelled by both is: The Road of the Loving Heart in Samoa.
Or, The Road of Loving Hearts in Samoa…it all depends what you read.
Robert Louis Stevenson, born 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland and most famous for the novels Treasure Island, Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, was a frail man who had suffered with chronic health problems since he was a child. At the advice of a Doctor, Stevenson began travelling to warmer climates in an attempt to improve his health. He soon became a passionate traveller and during one of his trips to the US he met the woman who would become his wife, Fanny Vandergrift Osbourne.
After their marriage, Stevenson and his new family, packed their big wooden travel chests and began exploring the South Pacific. At the same time the colonial and industrial powers of Europe and The US were carving up parts of the world looking for resources they could use to fuel their expanding empires.
By the time Stevenson and his family settled in Samoa in 1889, the island nation was being fought over by Germany, the UK and the USA. It was also being ripped apart by internal turmoil.
Warring tribal chiefs were battling to become King of Samoa, a battle that was further complicated by the foreign visitors. Stevenson, appalled by the interference of the foreign powers and, armed with the belief that Samoans should have control of their own country, took action. He aligned himself with high chief Mata’afa and wrote A Footnote To History: Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa, a non-fiction account of the Samoan civil war.
When Mata’afa and his forces were defeated and imprisoned, Stevenson and his family maintained their support and visited the political prisoners with gifts of food, tobacco, books and chocolate. Stevenson’s continued devotion to the prisoners and his understanding and respect towards Samoan culture so impressed the chief and his followers that, upon their release, they decided they needed to show their appreciation.
Now the details of what happened next vary depending on what you read, but according to an article from the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, the chief noted that the journey from town to Stevenson’s home high in the hills was difficult and at times dangerous, so they offered to build a path. Stevenson, or as the Samoan’s referred to him, Tusitala (storyteller), agreed – on one condition: that the road be named The Road of Loving Hearts. Hearts, plural. Samoan hearts.
The chief disagreed and argued for a small grammatical alteration to: The Road of the Loving Heart. In doing so, the emphasis was on Stevenson’s heart and his love for Samoa and its people.
When Stevenson died suddenly in 1894, another path was constructed by the locals. This time leading from his home to his final resting place on Mount Vaea. According to some articles, it was this path, that was called The Road of Loving Hearts. A path that allowed locals and Stevenson’s family to travel back and forth to pay their respects and visit and maintain his grave site.
So, which story is correct?
But the road is still there. As is Stevenson’s house.
In my imagination it’s a perfectly preserved time capsule, high in the lush, green hills of Apia, visited only by a solitary few, in reality though…I don’t know.
Which is why it’s on the list.
Resources and further reading:
For more Tales of the South Pacific why not try: https://ihearthula.wordpress.com/2020/04/06/the-stonehenge-of-the-south-pacific-ha%CA%BBamonga-%CA%BBa-maui/