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An Account of Samoan History up to 1918

The Food Supply of the Samoans

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The Food Supply of the Samoans

(The preparation thereof and some of its effects on the health of the natives.)

This is a subject that does not seem to have received the attention and study that its importance warrants. Much study has been devoted to the health of the natives from a curative standpoint but practically no egforts have been expended to discover what relation their food has to the ailments they suffer from. Many and frequent claims have been made as to the efficacy of the various treatments attempted but all of them, satisfactory and otherwise, have all been in the line of cure rather than prevention and as disease is an effect and not a cause it follows that there must be some one or more underlying first causes. Possibly by the time I have finished this article it will be allowed that food plays an important part as an agent in occasioning the many sicknesses the Samoans suffer from.

The principal foods used by the Samoans, their names and the different hours and methods of preparationx are set out hereunder:- 'Ulu: the breadfruit tree and fruit. There are many kinds. The fruit is round in shape, of an average diameter of 4 to 6 inches. The tree is an evergreen and varies in height from twenty to sixty feet. Threes of the latter height may be seen at Leauva'a. The timber from the tree is much used in house building as it is very durable. The first bearing of fruit is available about the beginning of July and lasts until September, the second commences about December or January and continues until March. The fruit is decidedly starchy and when baked is of a floury nature and of pleasant taste. It is usually baked but may also be boiled. Quantities of the fruit are sometimes buried in the ground and are eaten when fermented. This fermented mass is utilised when there is a shortage of food and it is called MASI. It has an objectionable smell that can be likened to some brands of cheese.

Two to four breadfruit are eaten at a meal depending on the size of the fruit. Partaken of at all meals.

“TARO.” An evergreen plant the bulbous root of which is edible. There are many varieties. (Arum esculentum.) The majority of the species grow in swampy soil and are carefully cultivated by the Samoans. Taro is usually baked when it is of a consistent texture and decidedly starchy. The bulbs vary in size and weight and may average page 2 from 6 inches to fifteen inches in length and from one pound to ten pounds in weight. It is made up in to various forma of dishes and is partaken of at any or all meals. The cultivation of this tuber seriously depletes the soil and it is customary to allow the ground from which a crop has been to lie idle for sufficient time to recouperate.

“FA'I”. (Bananad). The banana is no well known that no description is necessary. There are a great many varieties but all have the same characteristics and all are edible. The Samoan prefers to cut the fruit when green and bake or boil it. The banana is a staple food and forms a part of any and all meals. It is prepared in various other ways which will be described further on.

“MASOA.” (Arrowroot) This plant is cultivated extensively and when sufficiently grown the roots are scraped and pounded and mixed with water and formed into round balls which are used as occasion demands. This food is mainly fed to children and invalids and is highly farinaceous.

“PULA'A.” (fern root.) Only used as food in time of food shortage. Usually baked.

“OFI.” (yam) Several varieties. A tuber that grows wild and is also cultivated. The wild or bush yam attains large dimensions and specimens have been obtained up to forty pounds in weight. It is akin to the Maori “Kumara” and is either baked or boiled. It also is a starchy food. The bush yam is termed “Ufiyao.”

“SAGA.” (Corn) Similar to European varieties. It is eaten either cooked or raw.

“FALA.” (Pandanua). The fruit of the tree which is baked. Only used in time of food shortage.

“TOLO.” (Sugar cane.) Eaten at all times by all Samoans.

“HIU”. (Cocoanut.) One of the most important of the native foods. It is consumed in the natural state and enters into the composition of numerous native dishes as will be explained furtheron. Contains a high percentage of oil.

“TAAMU.” A plant akin to Taro and utilised in the same manner.

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“PUA'A.” (pig) Pork is keenly relished by the Samoans and only the value and comparative scarcity of the porker prevents them consuming this meat more frequently than they do. The pig is baked whole, or what we Europeans would term partly baked, and in this condition is consumed in large quantities. The division of the body of the pig is a matter of grave concern and the different parts of the porker are recognised as belonging to Chiefs Orators etc. The following are the parts assigned to different ranks:-

Ta'ifau, (Dog). Dogs were baked and eaten until recently as were rats and snakes, but only in times of food shortage.

“MOA.” Fowls. They are as keenly relished by the Samoans as by the Europeans and are plentiful. They are usually baked and are eaten at all meals.

“FUAMOA.” (Eggs) They are prepared by baking, boiling and frying and are also mixed with other foods as described later on.

The European foods are being consumed in ever increasing quantities particularly the faranaceous foods. Bread and tinned meats and Iollies and the different preparations of wheat flour perhaps head the list of non Samoan foods used by the natives. Of the effects on their health generally more will be said later on.

“IA.” (Fish). The waters surrounding Samoa are plentifully stocked with fish which are usually baked or 'boiled without being mixed with other foods.

“FIGOTA.” (shellfish.) Keenly relished by the Samoans. Eaten either raw or baked. The varieties of fish and shell fish found in Samoan waters are enumerated hereunder:-

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FISH Anae, Atu, Ataata, Alogo, Afulu, Aua, Atuli, Avaava, A'u, Ali, Ava, Filoa, Fee (cuttlefish), Fuga, Fugausi, Fai, Galo, Gatala, Iasina, Iaui, Laea, Lalafi, Laulaufau, Lo, Laumei (turtle.) Lupo, Lalafutu, Malauli, Malie(Shark), Mumu, Manino, Matamu, Malai, Malau, Moana, Matapula, Manifi, Mutu, Mataeleele, Moamoa, Mano'o, Nofu, Palani, Palu, Patagaloa, Pogi, Pelupelu, Pusi, Peapea, Pauulu, Sapatu, Sugali, Sumu, Sali, Sesele, Tu'u'u, Tani, Tauleia, Taiva, Tamala, Tautu, Taoto, Tafuti, Tito, Tavalau, Tafiti, Tanifa, Talitaliuli, Umi, Ulutui, Umiumia, Vete.

“FIGOTA.” (Shellfish.) Aliao, Asi, Fugafuga, Faisua, Foli, Fatuaua, Gau, Aliali, Lemu, Loli, Lumane, Mamao, Matapisu, Ofaofa, Pule, Palaau, Pae, Pipi, Sea, Sisi, Satula, Tuitui, Tugagi, Ulutunu, Vaga.

“FAI.” The different varieties of bananas are:-

Fai Samoa (large banana that the Samoans were first acquainted with), Fai Papalagi (European banana) that is exported and receives its name from the fact that it finds favour with Europeans, Misiluti (Ladie's finger) a small sweet fruit introduced by Mr Luke., Mamai, Faiota, Pata, Talua (large banana) Soa'a, Sulasula, Faipipio, Tapua, Apuapu, Faipuputa, Faitoga, Faifanamanu (bush banana.)

“ULU.” Varieties of: Maopo, Uluea, Puo, Maafala, Ulumaa, Aveloloa, Mese'e, Ulumanua, Sagosago, Ulufao.

“TALO.” Varieties of: Taloniu, Talomanua, Pula, Anosamasama, Magasiva, Vase, Magauli, Talopaepae, Pueutu, Talopapalagi, Sasauli.

“NIU.” Cocoanuts: Varieties of: Niumea, Niuvae (large) Niuui, Niuafa (for making afa or sennet.) Niulea, Utunao(husk eaten - sweet.) Laita (Very small nut.)

“UFI.” (Yam) Masoa, Ufipoa, Ufilei, Palai, Ufitau, Asoaso,

“FUALAAU.” (Fruits) The principal fruits grown and consumed in Samoa are:- Moli (Oranges), Fala (Pineapple), Ese(mummy apple), Sasalapa, Kuava (Quava), Mago, Vi, Meleni (melon), Tipolo (lime), Nonu, Seasea, Nonufiafia, Anume, Ifi, Pasio (passionfruit).

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“NATI” Fualaau” (Nute) Talie, Fao, Niuvao, Niupiu, Niu. Lama, Seasea.

The following names are applied to different food preparations customary amongst the Samoans:-

“Faiaivaluvalu”. Yam and the expressed juice of the cocoanut baked.
“Faiaiulu”. Expressed juice of the cocoanut and breadfruit, baked
“Faiaivalia”. Expressed juice of the cocoanut and masoa.-baked.
“Faiaifee.” Baked juice of the cocoanut.
“Faiatalo.” Cocoanut juice and taro baked.
“Faiaufi.” Cocoanut juice and yam baked.
“Faiaigau.” Cocoanut juice and gau baked.
“Faiaipaa.” Cocoanut juice and crab baked.
“Fuata.” Contents of eggs baked in taro leaves.
“Fafa.” Small pieces of taro baked in a taro leaf with cocoanut oil.
“Faausi.” Dessicated taro pressed together with cocoanut oil and baked.
“Faalifu.” Yam boiled with cocoanut juice.
“Faavevela.” Green plantains are buried in a hole in the ground and embers in a cocoanut husk placed alongside. They are left for from five to seven days and being ripe are then eaten.
“Luau.” Taro leaves and cocoanut milk baked.
“Luaufua.” Taro leaves mixed with salt water and baked.
“Luaufee.” Taro leaves and fe'e baked.
“Luaupua'a.” Taro and pork mixed and baked.
“Luauelo.” Taro leaves and putrid fish baked.
“Masi.” Breadfruit and bananas are buried in the ground until fermented and consumed after the style of cheese. Smells highly.
“Oloolo.” Green bananas grated and mixed with cocoanut milk and baked.
“Poka.” Taro leaves mixed with salt and baked.
“Palasami.” Cocoanut oil mixed with salt and taro leaf, and baked in a banana leaf covered by a breadfruit tree leaf.
“Piasua.” Arrowroot mixed with cocoanut juice and baked.page 6
“Poi.” Ripe bananas cut up and mixed with cocoanut milk as a salad.
“Soupoese.” Mummy apple and cocoanut milk mixed - breakfast food.
“Samilolo.” The cocoanut is emptied of water and filled with sea water. After about two weeks the flesh is reduced to the consistency of gruel and is then spread on taro and eaten.
“Suafai.” Ripe bananas, water and cocoanut milk mixed. Used as a food for the sick.
“Tafolosami.” Breadfruit, cocoanut milk and salt mixed and baked.
“Tafoloniu.” AS above less the salt.
“Sofesofe.” The yam is cut into small pieces and baked with cocoanut juice.
“Ti.” The root of a plant. It is eaten in times of scarcity.

It is not claimed that the above list is a complete one or that the details of preparation etc are strictly correct. The list will, however, suffice to show the classes of foods available and from it one can more easily understand the mentality and the physique of the inhabitants of this country if it is remembered that a man is what he eats. It will be noticed that fats and carbohydrates form about 95% of the bulk of the food supply of the Samoan and of this 95% about 60% are carbohydrates. Taro, Breadfruit, Masi, Cocoanut milk and oil, Bananas, yam, European bread and biscuits are the staple foods together with pork fish and meats.

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From birth to about nine months or age Samoan infants are fed at the breast. For about the first thirty to fortyeignt hours after birth nothing but water is given. The infant is fed in a similar manner to the stupid European custom - as often as it cries- when oftimes the cry is occasioned by nothing but thirst which plain water would effectively assuage. After the seventh month the breast feeding is supplemented by soft taro and arrowroot and these foods are first masticated by the mother. The mother ceases to feed the child after the ninth month and the child's nutriment consists of taro, breadfruit, banana, yam and mummy apple with occasional pieces of pineapple and portions of other fruits. All these foods are first chewed by the mother and this maternal mastication continues until the childs first teeth appear. As soon as the milk teeth have developed the food is supplemented by a small supply of fish, pork, fowl, in fact everything. After three years of age the child is allowed free choice and except for quantity, eats the same classes of foods as the adults.

Here again we notice that the food supply is definitely an excessively starchy and fatty one to the exclusion of the eliminants such as fruits and vegetables; and it is to be remembered that the quantities consumed are from one to three hundred per cent greater than are partaken of by European children. A point in their favour is that Samoans do not habitually mush their foods with excessive liquids and having better teeth than Europeans are able to masticate the starchy foods better.

It is uncommon to find the hook worm in children whilst they are being breast fed and it is reasonable to assume that the explanation is that the mother's milk contains all the requirements of the body in their proper proportions and that nature has no call to introduce germs and worms to consume any accumulated filth; but within a very short time after the introduction of fatty and starchy foods into the dietary the hook worm becomes evident and that disgusting and troublesome condition known as Tonas or Yaws begins to develop. It is noticeable that in villages or districts where the supply of the starchy foods is not excessive and where more fruits are partaken of that worms, yaws, tonas, boils and all diseases or sicknesses dependant on fermentation or acidity are markedly less.

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Living in their natural state the Samoans have two meals per day. The first is partaken of about half past ten in the morning and the second between seven and eight p.m. Feast days account for more and larger meals and the amount of sickness in a village can often be gauged from the number of appointments to titles, weddings, deaths etc. It will be interesting to know how much food is consumed by an adult at a meal or in one day.

For one meal: 1 pound of baked taro, one or two breadfruit averaging threequarters of a pound in weight, half a pound of fish, 3 papasami, half a pound of pork and in addition anything else that can be procured or is prepared. This is usually followed by the juice of a cocoanut. If available the above foods and amounts will be consumed twice a day as the Samoan's digestive capacity seems to be limited only by his ability to procure the food or have it procured for him. The above foods and quantities have been checked several times from personal observation and should the amount consumed at a feast be mentioned one would be liable to be put down as a liar.

It is a fact known by those who have personally studied and observed the effects of foods on the human system and have not allowed their minds to be confused by the pseudo scientific rubbish that has been written about calories and vitamines, that the inevitable result of an excessive intake of starchy, sugary and fatty foods, is mental and physical lethargy, proneness to skin diseases, acidity and its consequent variations, eruptions and tumours. These characteristics are very pronounced in the Polynesian races of the Pacific particularly where Nature has been so bountiful in her gifts and where the climate does not tend to induce activity. Worm and other parasites batten and fatten too on the seething fermenting mass that is found in the cesspool below the diaphragm of the average Samoan and this cesspool is filled with the rotting residue of an excessive starchy, fatty and sugary intake. Should it be doubted that such is the case, let a Samoan suffering from any of the diseases mentioned above, be induced to cut out his supply of the offending foods and drink the juice of a lemon three times a day for three days. Worms, boild, yaws etc disappear magically as do many other complaints.

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It is understood that an exeessive intake of sugary and starchy foods creates a craving akin to the desire for alcohol and the end products of these foods really are a form of alcohol. This will explain the abnormal desire of the Samoan for starch and sugar, the deprivation of which renders him miserable and quickly reduces his weight; but it should be noticed and remembered that in this latter condition his mental facultie are markedly sharpened as is also his desire to work. On the completion of a meal where sufficient food is available to satisfy his demands, the Samoan customarily heaves a sigh and falls asleep. The demands of his appetite are so great that all his nervous energy is required and is diverted to deal with the horrifying load that is below his belt, and as nature can best work on the process of digestion with a brain at rest she overpowers his mind and carries on as does a bon constrictor which has bolted his meal.

Before the coming of the European the Samoan had no cooking utensils and his food when cooked was baked in earthen ovens. It was treated in a reasonably hygenic manner. Since the white man has taught him the use of cups, saucers etc. cleanliness has proportionally disappeared and in some instances his treatment of food is positively disgusting, particularly the use to which utensils are put.

The use of European beverages and foods is increasingly lowering the resistance of the Samoans and those diseases that one associates with the consumption of certain foods to excess are manifesting themselves to an ever increasing extent. It would seem that the same story will eventually be written about the natives of these Isles as has been recorded about the inhabitants of other tropical countries- the adoption by the Samoans of European foods and clothing plus the method of treating their ailments will in the future spell their extinction unless some method is discovered whereby their dorment powers of self protection are awakened. Many diseases which were previously unknown amongst them are at the present time rapidly increasing and the reason must be in the changing habits of the people particularly with regard to their food supplies. Much criticism could be and has been made of the present medical treatment but that perhaps had better be left to others. page break