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Samoan Material Culture

Flesh foods

Flesh foods

Pigs (pua'a). Pigs are traditionally stated to have been stolen from Fiji, and were originally known as so'oso'o, a term still used in calling them to feed. They were kept in enclosures of fair extent bounded by walls of loose stones and pieces of lava. These enclosures (pa pua'a) were at the back of the village or some little distance away. The walls about 4 feet high were crossed in places with stones arranged to form steps, or by a tree trunk with steps cut out of the solid. The pigs were fed sometimes with mature coconuts cut open or other available fruit. Pigs form a source of wealth to a family enabling them to make a good showing at the various functions demanding pork. They are sometimes kept for fattening in small stalls made by crossing horizontal lengths of coconut tree timbers. These are situated at the back of the dwelling house to be near any food left over from the meals. In a well-disciplined community pigs are never allowed to run about the village.

Pigs are killed by strangling immediately before cooking them. They are never killed beforehand and allowed to hang. Climate and custom are against it. They are never stabbed as that would waste the blood. The Samoan attitude is, "Why catch the blood in wooden vessels when the interior of the page 120pig forms a vessel already." Strangling was executed by holding the pig down on its back, placing a carrying pole or other pole across its throat, and pressing it down on either side. The pig looses consciousness. It is probable that the pig would recover after pressure was removed if disemboweling and cooking did not follow in such rapid succession. The strangling takes place after the oven stones are well on the way to being heated. The pig is singed by rolling it on the hot stones. If the sea is close enough it is washed in salt water.

The lower abdominal wall (alo) is cut off, wrapped up in leaves, and sent to the taupou as her official portion. The pig is kept on its back to save the blood which has emptied into the abdominal cavity. The fat from the sides and over the intestines (great omentum) is stripped off, shredded into small pieces, and mixed with the blood in the abdominal cavity. The heart is removed, split, and wrapped up with some fat in a leaf package. All such packages are termed ofu. The heart ofu (ofu fa'afale olo) is for the high chief. The blood mixed with fat is ladeled up into receptacles of banana leaf which are wrapped neatly around the fluid contents. These ofu are termed ofu valevale to distinguish them from the package containing the heart. There are several of them. They are for distribution among the chiefs and young men who do the work. When cooked the blood coagulates like black puddings. I was at a loss to account for the white material in the cooked packages until informed of the shreds of great omentum. The liver is mea fono (for official use) to the talking chief. The intestines and the remainder of the internal organs go to the butchers and cooks. The gullet is removed through a slit in the throat and the removal of the rectum completes the cleaning.

By this time the oven is ready. With the iofi tongs, a hot stone is placed in the slit in the throat and another in the aperture left by the removal of the rectum. In a large pig a big stone is placed in the thorax and another in the abdominal cavity. Another may be pushed down into the pelvic cavity. The abdomen is then stuffed with 'o'a leaves for preference but others may be used. The leaves give the pork a flavor and are termed lavai. The method of stealing the first pigs from Fiji may now be understood. The taking of live pigs from Fiji was not allowed, but the Samoans returning home were allowed to take dead pigs as provisions. In the abdominal cavity of a large dead pig, small live pigs wrapped in leaves were used as lavai. This enabled them to evade the customs of the country.

Some 'o'a leaves are spread on the heated stones of the oven. The pig is placed on them with the abdomen downwards. The forelegs are bent back and the hind legs forward under the body. More 'o'a leaves are spread over the pig and then the usual covering of other leaves. The pig is always cooked whole no matter how large it is.

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The cooked pigs are carried whole on poles to the guest house with the other food. In important functions they are heaped together to make a goodly show. In every community there are one or more expert carvers of pigs who delight to exhibit their dexterity. The distributing talking chief may himself carve; if not, he superintends operations. The portions into which the pig is divided have been set by usage. Each part has its name and the person or rank to which each part is allotted is also set by usage. The forequarters, legs, and head are removed and the body and neck divided according to Fepulea'i as shown in figure 72.

Figure 72.—Pig, ceremonial divisions:

Figure 72.—Pig, ceremonial divisions:

1, ulu (head) to the au manga (young men who cook); 2, ivi muli ulu (neck) to the tulafale (talking chief); 3, o'o (back) to the ali'i (chiefs) of second grade; 4, alanga lima (shoulder) to the tulafale (talking chief); 5, tuala (loins) to the ali'i of the first grade; 6, itu mea tele (big side) to the ali'i of second grade; 7, itu pale asu to the family of chief; 8, muli to the women; 9, alanga vae (leg) to the matai (chief of lesser rank); 10, alo (abdominal wall) to the taupou (village maid).

The ceremonial division of the pig has become such an important social event that it has had an unexpected effect. The actual cooking of the pig has become a secondary matter. If the pig is too well done, the flesh is liable to tear away and the exact boundaries of the ceremonial divisions can not be maintained. This creates adverse criticism and comment on the part of those watching. Instead of an important spectacular success, the division becomes a failure. The failure reflects on the talking chief in charge. He in turn, vents his displeasure on the young men who overcooked the pig. This, by creating a fear of overcooking, has brought about an avoidance custom of undercooking the pig. The cooks often have an argument as to whether the pig is in danger of being overcooked. They may settle it by casting lots. A stick of any length is thrust down into the leaf coverings of the oven. Commencing from below the alternate hand grips are taken on the stick by the two sides. The one desiring the oven to be opened says, "Umu vela" (cooked oven) as he takes his grip. The other grips immediately above saying "Umu mata" (raw oven), and so on up the stick. The one who gets the upper end of the stick wins.

Often the pork is merely warmed through. When the guest receives his share in the guest house he is not compelled to eat it. His correct share has page 122been given to him which is the all important thing. He may eat a little in addition to the fowl and fish which has fallen to his portion. The remainder he sends home with the rest of his unconsumed portion. The pork is recooked in his home for his next meal. Guests also have it set aside for them, and it reappears at a later meal in a more palatable form.

The appearance of raw pork in feasts is often adversely criticized by people of another race and wrong deductions are made. The pork is not uncooked because the Samoans like raw pork, but because it is necessary to the proper carrying out of the ceremonial division. A failure in ceremony can not be remedied, but underdone pork can be recooked.

The official portions given to high chiefs and talking chiefs are often not meant to be eaten at the time. They are mea fono (for official use). Official positions have to be maintained. The ceremonial division has been partly devised to assist them in discharging social obligations. The official portions are recooked for the entertainment of guests and visitors at a later meal. The guests may be neighbors who drop in for a bowl of kava, in which event the chief falls back on his official reserve of pork, and by sharing it with others, not only avoids the stigma of selfishness, but acquires merit. It must be remembered that these portions are not a couple of slices or chops but whole joints. Here again the supposed disadvantages of underdone pork are discounted. The official cutting up of the pig may be compared to the cutting ' up of joints in a butcher's shop. It is for distribution' primarily and not for immediate eating.

Sometimes pigs are cut up into small portions. At Fitiuta in Manua I saw this done with two pigs. Each man got five pieces that came from different parts. This ensured the even distribution of bone and the meat. This method is observed in Safune, Savaii, and has led to the method being termed fa'asafune (like Safune).

Fowl (moa). Fowls are grilled on the fire (tunu) or cooked in the oven (tao). For ordinary guests, the fowl forms an economical substitute for the pig. At feasts, they are provided in quantity. The cooked fowl is divided by tearing it apart with the hands. It is never cut. There is a ceremonial division. The only parts that count are the legs. In tearing the two apart, the coccygeal part that carried the tail feathers adheres to one of the legs. That particular leg is called vae ma le muli, or vae ma le no'o, and it is the correct part for the high chief or visiting chiefs. When Mr. Judd, Mr. Cartwright, and myself went on a journey (malanga) around Tutuila, we were served with legs at every village. We formed the idea that the more choice breast and wings were being selfishly kept back. Inquiry into the details of the food complex soon revealed the fact that from the Samoan viewpoint we could not be given anything else but legs. To have offered us the breast would have been lack of respect. The more one is apt to criticise the more interesting will be the in-page 123formation revealed if it is sought. On the other hand, much of the food ceremonial has been built up around the chiefs by the talking chiefs who superintended food division. When the legs had been torn off for the high chiefs, the talking chief had the rest of the fowl.

Pigeons, doves, tern, and other wild fowl were netted or snared. In any ceremonial division they were treated as fowl.

The turtle (laumei). No opportunity occurred for a practical acquaintance with the turtle. Kramer (18, vol. 2, pp. 163, 164) describes the preparation for cooking by cutting through at the base of the neck and removing the intestines and rectum. The heart and other organs were removed through the same opening. The fat and blood were wrapped in leaf packages and cooked in the oven. The entrails were washed in the sea, cooked on the fire, and eaten by the cooks and the chief. In a large turtle, the leaf packages of organs, fat and blood, reached to 150 in number; in a small turtle to 50. Heated stones were placed inside the turtle and a lavai of leaves put in. The turtle was then cooked on its back in the oven.

The cooked turtle was taken to the guest house and divided up. The forequarters (sangamua), the hindquarters (sangamuli), the breast, and abdominal parts were removed. The stones were taken out and the fat cleared away to expose the juice (suapeau) within the cavity. The juice was dipped out in half coconut shells, and laid before the chiefs. The parts were then distributed as follows:

  • Ulu (head)—High chief.
  • Sangamua (forequarters)—Talking chief.
  • Sangamuli (hindquarters)—Village maid.
  • Tua (back)—Young men who did the work.

Fish (i'a). Fish abound within the lagoons and form the stand-by of flesh foods. The smaller fish, always cooked in leaf packages (afi) were placed unscaled and uncleaned on a banana or breadfruit leaf which was folded over them and perhaps tied with a strip of fau bark or husk fiber. Larger fish were placed on a piece of coconut leaf cut to the length of the fish. The leaflets were then brought round the fish from either side and crossed alternately over it as in the commencement of a check braid. This bundle was termed a fa'alaui'a. In serving to guests, the packages were placed before them unopened but with any tying strip removed. The guest then had the pleasure of opening his lucky package and seeing what fortune had sent him. The cooked scales are simply pushed aside with the fingers. Entrails are not wasted.

Coconut cream (pe'epe'e) may be used by pouring some into the cupped banana leaf with the fish before wrapping it up. The leaf forms an impermeable cover. Cooking curdles the pe'epe'e into fai'ai and hence the preparation is termed fai'ai i'a.

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Bonito ('atu). Of the larger fish, bonito and shark (malie) require special notice. The bonito of all fish is regarded as a chief's fish. A special canoe, rod, and hooks are devised for its capture, and there is much ceremonial connected with it. It is natural therefore that a set division and allocation has become established. The parts are shown in figure 73. The head (ulu) is cut off in a vertical line that passes behind the attachment of the pectoral fin. Here again the chiefs were given important parts which they shared at a meal with guests. The bamboo knife used to cut up the bonito was called manamate.

Figure 73.—Bonito ceremonial divisions:

Figure 73.—Bonito ceremonial divisions:

1, ulu (head) to the high chief; 2, io alo (sides) to the talking chief; 3, io tua (back) to the other chiefs; 4, ma'alo (belly) to be put aside; 5, si'usi'u (tail) to be discarded.

The bonito is a favorite fish for eating raw. At Falealupo in Savaii, while being welcomed to the village by the chiefs sitting cross-legged in the round guest house, a chief suddenly raised his head and interrupted the talking chief, who was exercising his function, by an exclamation, '"Atu!" The official speech stopped and all present transferred their attention to the tautai (head fisherman) of the western end of the village who was approaching with a large bonito. A young man grasped a laulau platter from a fata shelf and laid it on the floor at the front of the house. The tautai laid the present for the guest on the platter amid a chorus of, "Fa'afetai mo le fa'aaloalo" from the assembly. The tautai went off and the platter was laid on the ground before me. The speech was no sooner resumed than the same chief again grunted, " 'Atu!" The tautai of the eastern end of the village appeared and another bonito was laid on a waiting platter. This joined its fellow. After the speeches my talking chief, on my behalf, gave one of the bonito to the chiefs present.

The bonito is cut up into small pieces in a large wooden bowl with water in it. Nowadays the juice of limes is added. Portions are then served in half coconut shells. The shells are not specially prepared but are merely those discarded after grating the contents for pe'epe'e cream. The bowl is placed at the back of the house with the server sitting behind it as in the serving of kava. Attendants quickly place a laulau platter before each guest sitting against their respective wall posts. Another attendant comes around with a basket of cooked food and places a talo and breadfruit on each platter. Then a coconut vessel containing the cut-up raw bonito with some of the bloodstained water is given to each guest. If balance is precarious a few stones are page 125scooped out of the floor and the vessel set in the hollow. The floor mats to provide seating accommodation are around the walls only. The rest of the floor is bare. If, however, the floor is covered, mats are simply pulled aside to allow the hollows to be made. The fish is eaten with the talo and the liquid drunk. It is better than it looks.

The shark (malie). The flesh of the shark is much prized for eating. The ceremonial surrounding it has also led to set division and allocation of the parts. (See fig. 74.)

Figure 74.—Shark ceremonial divisions:

Figure 74.—Shark ceremonial divisions:

1, ulu (head) to the taupou (village maid); 2, i'u (tail) to the high chief; 3, nono (dorsal fin part) to the talking chief; 4, au for official use; 5, io (body) for general distribution; 6, lau alofa (belly) for lesser chiefs and general distribution.

The head part includes the gills (aulama). The tail is cut off from behind the second dorsal fin. The nono has its posterior boundary behind the first dorsal fin from which the portion receives its name of nono. The lower boundary is at the junction of the pectoral fin. The io takes in most of the body. It is split down the middle and each half divided into four parts. The internal parts are divided into the stomach, intestines, and liver. The stomach (tanga) and the intestines (silo) are regarded as the best parts of the fish. They are shared by the talking chief and the head fisherman, the former exercising the preference. The liver (ate) is divided up among the other shares.

When the canoes come in with a good catch the crew shout and wave their paddles to advertise the fact. The villagers gather, the chiefs taking kava root with them. Leone in Tutuila is divided into seven parts. The canoes take their catch to their own part of the village. After viewing the catch, reasonable time is allowed the head fisherman to get cleaned up. The chiefs then go to his house, take up their positions, and present the kava root they have brought with them. As a bowl of kava is being prepared speeches expressing thanks for the good fortune that had attended the fishing are made. The head fisherman sitting at the back of the house replies. If strangers are in the village, they attend and also make speeches. The kava is drunk.

The talking chief now takes charge of the cutting up. The visitors are first advised to wait, generally in another house. The lau alofa is generally cooked at once by the young men (aumanga) for a general meal. The chiefs while away the time of waiting in the house by plaiting sennit braid, by conversation, and perhaps another bowl of kava. The allocated official parts page 126together with portions for the waiters, are taken away to their houses. The head, tail, dorsal fin portion, and au are ceremonial shares, not eaten privately, hut cooked and brought out at a later meal to which others are invited. Instead of a set meal they can be used at a ceremonial kava drinking with talo for supper. As in the allocations of pork they help the chiefs to maintain their position and also the prestige of the village. Where there is no taupou in a village or division of a village, the official share of the head goes to the aumanga.

The laualofa and perhaps part of the io having been cooked, a general meal is partaken of. In this the chiefs share even after shares have been allotted to them. Thus, the body and belly of the fish are for immediate and general use; the other parts for deferred and official use.

Another custom prevails in connection with official shares. Chiefs from neighboring villages, hearing of a catch, may send in and ask the chiefs of their corresponding grades for their official shares. Thus high chief sends to high chief, talking chief to talking chief, and taupou to taupou. This can be done even if visitors from the particular village have been present and have received a share. Such requests may not be denied. The only legitimate excuse is that the shares have already been eaten or given away. This custom shows how official or public the shares allocated to chiefs are and what an important part they play in social organization. The part the talking chiefs play in framing the rules is seen in the allocation of shares. The high chief receives the worst part of the fish in the tail, whereas the dorsal fin portion that falls to the talking chief is the best. Though the talking chief subsequently shares his portion, he has the satisfaction of demonstrating that in some things he exercises more pule (power) than his superior. These diplomatic workings of the Samoan mind are fully recognized and retailed by the Samoans themselves.

The fresh water eel (tuna). The tail part goes to the chief.

The squid (fe'e) is a delicacy eagerly sought after by women at low tide with sticks for poking them out of holes in the reef, and at high tide by men using squid lures from canoes.

The proper method of cooking is termed fai'ai fe'e. The dark liquid contained in the squid (taelama) is expressed and mixed with coconut cream. The tentacles are cut into short pieces and together with the cream mixture are wrapped up in banana leaf packages and cooked in the oven. Sometimes talo leaves are included in the package.

Crab (pa'a) may be cooked plain or with coconut cream in a package to form fai'ai pa'a.

Dogs (maile and uli). Pratt (23, p. 62) gives the form uli, but there is •little doubt that it should be 'uli as kuri is the Maori and Rarotongan word for dog. Stair's contention (33, p. 187) that the word is derived from u, to bite page 127and li, to show the teeth, does not seem to fit the case. He states that the native dogs were a small breed with sharp pointed ears, but he saw only one wild one in the distance. Judd (17, p. 16) draws attention to the dogs seen in Tau, which has been fairly isolated as regards the introduction of animals by later foreign residents. He says the dog has a queer yap, slender legs, long body, pointed nose, and bat ears. They were also fed on coconuts and it seems possible that they are descendants of the Polynesian dog. Samoans of the present day are loath to admit anything that may render them subject to criticism of a disparaging kind, though why the eating of dog's flesh should be considered a disgrace to a people with a limited supply of flesh food is more than a rational person can understand. However, Stair (33, p. 187) states: "Dogs were formerly eaten by the Samoans, as at other islands: of late years, however, the practice has been discontinued."

Man. The remarks about dogs apply with greater force to human beings as a source of food. Practically all branches of the Polynesians except the Maori, Cook Islanders, and Marquesans, deny that their ancestors ate human flesh. The virtue claimed has been somewhat due to the condemnation of the practice by foreign teachers who came from countries abounding in beef, mutton, and other flesh foods. Their ancestors had no lack of different kinds of flesh foods to give them variety in their diet. It is, perhaps, natural for those who never felt the physiological need, to condemn a practice without considering it from a purely dietetic point of view. The acceptance of modern ideas beclouds the issue and leads to the forgetting of things now regarded with disfavor. While the Samoans did not replenish their larder with human flesh as a general custom, their traditional narratives contain individual instances of anthropophagy. One of the Malietoa was supplied with human victims regularly, until a shock made him give up the practice. The shock was due to his own son having taken the place of a living victim in a coconut leaf bundle that was delivered before him and opened up in his presence. The custom of a lesser chief saving his life by making abject apology and submission by being tied up in coconut leaves, carried on a pole and deposited before his more powerful neighbor as food goes back to a period when the eating of human flesh prevailed more than in later years. It was also the custom to take the wood and stones for the, oven along with the individual making submission. The tendency now is to treat the custom as a metaphorical abasement in which the person likens himself to a pig, but more probably it had a literal significance.