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Samoan Material Culture

Food utensils

Food utensils

Utensils here include instruments, implements, and vessels for domestic use, grouped together for ease of reference.

An oven spreader (sasae or tofa umu), a stout, five-foot-long pole used in spreading the hot stones of the oven has been described. It may be straight or forked. There is nothing special in its technique. Any pole does; it is an implement of convenience which is in general use.

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Oven tongs (iofi) are made of a piece of coconut leaf midrib, 2 feet or more in length. The side edges bearing the leaflets are trimmed off. It is doubled at the middle so that the outer wood fibers snap while the inner ones remain to form a hinge. The ends are trimmed off level if they do not coincide. A green midrib is used which dries without impairing the utility of the implement. Tongs are constantly used in shifting hot stones in food preparation, and are an indispensible article in every kitchen. (See Plate IV B.)

Knives. The long-bladed steel knife is now universally used as ax, slasher, and for general use, from cutting clown small trees to carving pork. The original sele knife consisted of a strip of bamboo split off to leave a sharp edge. Though no longer used in the kitchen it was exclusively employed in olden times for slicing off the outer part of the ta'amu talo, cutting up raw fish, pork, and the few culinary operations in which a knife was needed. It is still occasionally used by women in cutting off strips of bark cloth and weft ends while plaiting.

Peelers (fofo'e) are pieces of wood or bamboo, about 4.5 to 6 inches long and 0.5 to 1 inch wide, brought to a flat rounded cutting edge point and used for peeling green bananas and the grilled breadfruit for taufolo. The banana skin is incised longitudinally along the concave side with the point which is then used to separate the skin on either side and pry it away from the fruit. The fofo'e is used to remove the baked outer rind of the taufolo breadfruit because it is too hot to manipulate with the fingers.

Scrapers ('asi) are made from discarded half coconut shells. Part of the outer edge circumference is cut away to form a sharp edge. (See Pl. IV E.) The fingers are spread around the outside circumference of the shell with the thumb above the cutting edge and the strokes are made downwards away from the body. (See Pl. VII C.) Yams, talo, and breadfruit are always scraped (vavalu) before cooking. The breadfruit is scraped in longitudinal strips a little apart on the first round and the intermediate parts scraped on the second or finishing round.

A fair-sized hole is made through the bottom of some scrapers. The hole allows the scrapings which would otherwise adhere to the inside of the shell to pass through. The scraper is also more readily cleaned.

Mollusk shells such as that of the sele are sometimes used. When used for scraping breadfruit, it is called a sele fatu. The term 'asi also belongs to a mollusk shell used in scraping bark for cloth, but as applied to the kitchen, it definitely means the coconut shell scraper. The mollusk shell Tonna shown in Plate IV C was obtained in Manua, and was used as a talo scraper. To form the grating edge an oval hole was made through the shell.

A round stick, about 2 inches in diameter, is driven into the ground just page 110outside the cooking house to form a rest (valusanga, or tu'itu'i) for the vegetables as they are scraped. The upper end which is about 6 inches above the ground is cut off level or wrapped with coconut husk (pulu) which is tied with a strip of fau bark. (See Pl. VII C.) Besides supporting the food, the rest allows the gratings to fall clear. In Tutuila the bare stick (tu'itu'i) was seen in use. In Upolu and Savaii, the covered end was in use and was termed valusanga. The advantage of the husk covering was that it prevented slippery objects such as yams from slipping off the end of the rest as they were turned. It also saved the edge of the grater from being blunted or chipped when it occasionally struck the rest in the downward sweep. Yams and talo are not washed beforehand. Scraping removes both dirt and skin so that further cleaning with water was regarded as unnecessary.

Graters. Three forms of graters are used for coconut, talo, and turmeric. Of these the coconut grater is in everyday use and forms an essential part of the kitchen equipment.

1. Coconut grater, consists of two parts; the tuai grater, and the wooden frame upon which it is mounted.

The tuai was formerly made of coconut shell (ipu niu) cut into a rectangular piece about 3 inches long and 2 inches wide. The end which forms the cutting edge is cut away on the convex outer surface of the shell to form a bevel which meets the inner concave surface to form the sharp cutting edge. The cutting edge is straight transversely with a slight rounding off at each end. In the model (Pl. V A), the tuai has curved sides and the cutting edge is concave transversely with the ends sloping around to the sides. The concave cutting edge, however, appears to be the result of bad workmanship and the straight or slightly convex edge is the normal form.

The ausa'alo is selected from the trunk of a small tree or a large branch with two other branches projecting out close together. The end of the trunk or main branch with the two smaller branches forms a tripod as shown in the models (Pl. V A). The trunk or main branch resting on the ground at one end and raised towards the other by the two natural legs forms a slanting beam. To the raised end which projects from 6 inches to a foot beyond the leg attachments, is attached the tuai grater. The end is trimmed down in large, natural frames and a slot about 2.5 inches long cut on its upper surface. The depth of the slot is sufficient to provide a surface 2 inches wide to support the tuai.

The tuai is placed with its convex surface downwards on the slot and with the cutting edge outwards. It is lashed in position with sennit braid. In the models one lashing is accomplished by transverse turns set closely together, while in the other it consists of diagonal turns crossing in the middle line. Owing to the nature of the material the upper surface of the tuai is concave both transversely and longitudinally. This causes the cutting edge to be directed upwards away from the surface of the woodwork. In one of the models (Pl. V A, 1) another shorter piece of coconut shell with its outer end bevelled, is placed between the wood and the tuai as a chock to prevent the force of grating from snapping it off. The full-sized frame is characterized by its large size and clumsy appearance. The main slanting beam is usually 6 inches or more in diameter. The two natural legs raise the cutting part well above the ground, thus allowing a large wooden bowl to be placed on the ground below it. The cook sits astride the slanting beam, and, holding the half coconut firmly with both hands, works the inner meat part of the nut against the cutting edge with downward scraping movements. The gratings (penu) fall down into the bowl. More modern supports consist of a single beam of page 111sawn plank, which is rested over a log when in use. Others have a couple of board legs nailed on near the grating end, and may even have a peg at the back end as in the form figured by Handy (14, p. 19).

Besides being made of coconut shell, tuai were sometimes made of stone. A stone tuai found at Leone had a chipped convex cutting edge with a partly ground bevel on the under surface as in the coconut shell form. The stone tuai hafted for Mr. Judd was regarded with distrust until further field work revealed its proper function as a grater and not an adz. (See Pl. V, E.) The tuai made of iron have now completely displaced the old forms. They are usually slightly convex at the cutting edge, which is serrated. The four-legged curved seat with a projecting arm to carry the grater, characteristic of the Cook, Society, and eastern islands, is unknown in Samoa.

2. Coral grater (lapa). The uncooked talo was grated for the important fa'ausi preparation. The coconut grater was unsuitable, so recourse was had to the oval-shaped pieces of coral of the genus Fungia. These have sharp ridged edges set close together which served excellently as a grater on which the talo was rubbed. They are called lapa. In parts where Fungia was not obtainable slabs of lava with rough surfaces formed by the bubble holes are said to have been used. Sheets of tin have now displaced the coral. Holes set close together are made with a nail from one side, and the raised margins of the holes on the opposite side form a more durable grater.

3. Sennit grater. Turmeric root (ango) was grated to prepare the turmeric yellow powder. The grated material, after mixing with water and straining, divided into an upper layer of lenga and a lower, heavier layer of malasina. The malasina was cooked as food.

The grater was made by wrapping sennit braid closely around a pole about 1.5 inches in diameter for a distance of about 18 inches. The commencing end of the braid was fixed by slanting it down in the direction of the wrapping and burying it under the turns. At the end of the wrapping three or four loose turns were made, the sennit end passed back under them, and the turns successively drawn taut. After drawing the last turn taut, the braid end was pulled to remove the slack and the sennit cut where it issued from under the turns.

Arrowroot (masoa) was also grated with the sennit grater before the adoption of the perforated tin article. Grating on coral or sennit is termed olo.

Pounders. The pounding of cooked foods in Hawaii, Society, Cook, and the Polynesian islands to the east, is a characteristic feature of their methods of preparing foods. It has resulted in the evolution of various forms of stone pounders. Beautifully made implements with various shapes and grips have become characteristic of different groups of islands. Stone pounders have been curiously lacking from Samoa. It was thought that the Samoans, being Polynesians, must have possessed such implements, but that they had been strangely overlooked by collectors. The study of the various forms of food page 112preparation which follows reveals the curious fact that the Samoans never used stone food pounders. The pounding of cooked foods only enters into two food preparations, the taufolo made of breadfruit and talo. Outside of cooked food, the preparation of the kava root should be expected to need a stone pounder. Kava, however, was chewed until recent times. The pounding of the root which has succeeded the old method of chewing, is done with any stone of suitable size. Any leaves or bark that were used for fish poisoning or other purposes that needed pounding, were subjected to beating between two stones. Samoan material culture thus provided nothing in the form of a worked stone pounder. An occasional kava pounder may be seen with a slight notch to fit the fingers, but even this primitive attempt is modern. Each of the two mashed foods mentioned had its own type of pounder.

The Samoan breadfruit pounder (autu'i) is surely the most primitive of food pounders. To understand its evolution we must picture the conditions that called it into use. (See Pl. VI, B.)

Beside the heated stones of the oven lies a pile of breadfruit. The young men lay the unscraped breadfruit on the heated stones and grill them until they are cooked. The charred outer rind of the cooked breadfruit is removed with wooden peelers and the cooked flesh placed in wooden bowls. The breadfruit being in the more mature stage is fairly soft. It could be mashed by pressure with the closed fists, but as the taufolo preparation is made immediately, the heat prevented the use of the fists as pounders. Something is needed to press down the heated mass. What is more natural than an unscraped breadfruit from the nearby pile. This is done, but as the improvised pounder sinks into the mass the hot material comes in contact with the fingers. A handle is quickly formed by inserting a pointed stick into the breadfruit pounder. But one stick works loose and comes out as the pounder is lifted. The solution to the difficulty is four or five sticks which, by being held together, gripped the interior of breadfruit and made a handle that does not work loose. The improvised pounder with these improvements finishes the job. (See Pl. VI, C.)

As taufolo is only made on special occasions, an incentive is lacking to construct a permanent article for continued daily use. Each making of taufolo produces its own pounders.

The breadfruit pounder (autu'i) shown in Plate VI, B consists of four or five such pointed sticks stuck into a breadfruit around the circumference of the stalk attachment, a little distance apart. The sticks are held together in the grip of both hands which thus squeeze them together, gripping the flesh of the breadfruit. The implement is used for pounding cooked breadfruit. As shown by their stone adzes, the Samoans showed little inclination to do more working with stone than was absolutely necessary. As the breadfruit pounder proved effective, it is little wonder that no stone food pounders have been collected from Samoa. They were not made.

Talo pounder (ulu lapalapa). According to Kramer (18, vol. 2, p. 151) a taufolo mashed preparation was also prepared from cooked talo. During a six page 113months' sojourn among Samoan villages I saw breadfruit taufolo made on numerous occasions, but did not see talo taufolo nor was it described to me under food preparation. The cooked talo is firmer and more fibrous than the breadfruit used for taufolo. Something harder was needed as a pounder. The easiest and most available material was the butt end of the coconut leaf midrib (ulu lapalapa) which was used and discarded when its use was over.

Poi pounder. The poi preparation of Hawaii which is so widely known is made of well-pounded cooked talo. In Samoa, the term poi is confined to a preparation of mashed ripe bananas. In the preliminary stages ripe bananas were pounded or really mashed in a wooden bowl with the closed fists. The closed-fist pounder is mentioned to show the general attitude of the Samoans towards pounding or mashing food. The fists, the uncooked breadfruit, the butt of the coconut leaf midrib—anything to serve the purpose for the particular occasion.

Strainers and wringers. In extracting liquids from chewed or scraped solids, the process of wringing and straining went on at the same time, and the material used discharged both functions. Wringers were used in the preparation of coconut cream, vaisalo, and kava. Each preparation had its distinctive wringer and strainer.

There are two varieties of coconut cream wringer (tauanga): 1. The tauanga of laufao. The proper strainer is made of laufao (Heliconia bihai), which has leaves and a stem somewhat resembling the banana. The stem, formed of layers of the butt ends of the leaves, is cut off in a length of about 3 feet. With a fofo'e wooden peeler, the edge of the outer layer is peeled off in a narrow strip. Working from this edge, narrow strips of the single layer are peeled off until a sufficient quantity is obtained. (See Plate V C.) The strips are picked up in a handful and rubbed between the hands progressively along their length. The rubbing to crinkle the strips is termed nguti or ngutinguti. One end of the bundle is then held firmly in the left hand, while the right hand sharply jerks (se'i) sections of them out. When so treated, they are rubbed and mixed together to form a tangled mass, and a sufficient quantity forms a tauanga. (See Pl. V, D, l.) The tauanga is used to express the coconut cream (pe'epc'e) from the grated mature nut (penu) prepared with the tuai grater. The wringer is spread out and a quantity of the grated nut scooped up out of the wooden bowl. The fibers are folded around and the strainer twisted in the hands until all the liquid is expressed into the bowl. The strainer is opened out and repeatedly flicked to shake off all the dry particles of coconut meat. The process is repeated until all the grated nut has been treated and only the white, creamy liquid remains in the bowl. Thus, not only is the liquid squeezed out of the gratings by wringing (tatau), but the fluid in the bowl has been page 114strained (fa'amama). 2. The coconut husk tauanga. Many Samoans told me that wringers were not made of coconut husk fiber (pulu). In spite of that, I saw it used in Fitiuta and other parts, and specimens are present in Bishop Museum. (See Plate V D, 2.) The husk of the mature nut is beaten to remove the interfibrous material and the fibers rubbed up into a tangle. It is used in the same way as the laufao wringer. The best material is laufao and coconut husk is used as an emergency substitute. Collectors of information must be careful of some of the idiomatic uses of the Polynesian language. When a Polynesian says a certain thing is not done, he sometimes means that it is not right, correct, or orthodox, and therefore, so far as the informant is concerned, it does not exist. When it is afterwards pointed out to him that you have seen the thing he denies, he shrugs his shoulders and explains that it is not the correct thing. He is an idealist when circumstances do not force him to abandon the orthodox. The fau bast is not used for coconut cream wringers.

The mincer (alava). This consists of narrow strips of the skin of the coconut leaf midrib near the expanded butt end. The edges of the strip provide a blunt cutting edge. A number are gathered together in'a mass and used in the preparation of vaisalo from the flesh of the immature coconut which, fairly soft and scraped into the bowl to join the fluid part of the nut, is picked up in the alava and rubbed between the hands (vavau). The edges of the alava strips act as a primitive mincing machine and cut the flesh into smaller pieces which may be left with the fluid. In the form of vaisalo used for invalids, after rubbing the larger pieces, the alava is used as a wringer to express the liquid. The particles of flesh are then flicked off. In this process, the alava acts as both wringer and strainer.

The kava strainer (to tau ava) is made of fau bast, and is described on page 151.

Breadfruit splitters (to'ipua or to'i'ulu) are in common use throughout Samoa for dividing large breadfruit into halves or quarters before cooking. In appearance they resemble hafted adzes and are termed to'i (adz). They are mostly made of pualulu wood, but fau is used.

A branch ranging from 1.25 to 1.5 inches in diameter is selected and the part of the trunk both above and below the branch junction is removed with the branch. The trunk portion when removed is roughly about a foot long and over 2 inches thick. The upper part of the trunk portion which forms an acute angle with the branch, is shaped into the blade, which ranges from 2 to 2.5 inches in width and deepens in thickness from the distal cutting edge to about 2 inches at the branch junction. The cutting edge is rounded with the convexity downward with the implement in the position for use. The lower trunk portion in use is turned upwards to form a heel which ends in a point. In some adzes (Pl. VII A, 1, 2), the heel is blunt and is formed by the meeting of the plane of the blade with the line of the handle. In others (Pl. VII A, 3, 4), the heel projects upwards beyond the line of the handle and forms an obtuse angle with it. The branch is cut off to form a suitable handle.

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The action of splitting by means of a blow is termed tofi. In some implements, the handles are straight, but in others a curved or bent branch is selected to form a better angle with the blade.

Food stirrers. A strip of coconut leaf midrib split to a suitable thickness is often used for stirring preparations of piasua (arrowroot) and vaisalo (coconut) to which hot stones have been added. To stir is tolo or sa'eu, and the stick so used is tolo, or la'au sa'eu. With the introduction of the bush knife, a strip of fau wood is readily prepared, and is now more commonly used as a stirrer.

Seed flicks. In the preparation of breadfruit taufolo (Plate VI C) an assistant, seated opposite each man using the breadfruit pounder, holds a stick (i'o fatu) for flicking out the hard, immature seeds (fatu) that appear in the breadfruit. Formerly, strips of coconut leaf midrib were used, but a thin, flat piece of fau wood about a foot long, trimmed with a knife, has supplanted them. There is no special distinction in shape between a food stirrer and a seed flick, but they have received their distinctive names from the use to which they are put.