Some reflections on our 2014 Samoa trip,
By Charlotte and Melanie.
On Sunday, we got up early to go help prepare a traditional Samoan Umu. We had been invited by Tu and his wife Lei Loa to experience this traditional Samoan way of cooking. Tu and his family are one of the few families to return to live near the sea after the tsunami that devastated Poutasi village. Tuhad recently been promoted to talking chief, the second highest title in the village. An umu is similar to the Hawaiian Imu and the Maori Hangi but cooked above ground. A fire is built up and a specific volcanic rocks are placed onto of the fire. When the wood collapses and the rocks are considered hot enough to cook on, the food is placed on the hot rocks and covered with palm and breadfruit tree leaves and left to cook for 45 minutes.
We arrived to find the fire already built up and the taro and breadfruit peeled. We were served for breakfast a bowl of cocoa and rice. After this highly caffeinated breakfast, we were shown how coconuts were prepared. Coconuts are Samoans most versatile food. The outer husk is peeled away and used for lighting fires. Then the coconut is cracked open. Most Samoans can open a coconut with two cracks, perfectly splitting the coconut in half. The coconut water is drank and sometimes the meat eaten. At Tu’s the meat was grated into a bowl and then wrapped in a kind of straw and squeezed: this produces coconut cream. We were then shown how to make palusami with the cream. Onion is added to the cream and then the cream wrapped in taro leaves and baked in the umu. We also helped prepare the chicken, corn and octopus (which was cooked in the coconut shells). All the food has to be prepared before the wood collapses because once the rocks reach the perfect temperature it is time to cook! The chicken, taro, breadfruit, potatoes, corn and coconut cream in taro leaves are all placed on the rocks and rocks are used to cover the food. Palm leaves and breadfruit leaves are piled on top. Between he leaves was placed the octopus, lobster and fish. On special occasions in Samoan, a whole pig is cooked over the umu. The umu is then left to cook for 45 minutes, so we headed off to church. After Church, lunch was served to us on the Jo’s deck overlooking the ocean.
The traditional Samoan diet is overall very healthy. While high in carbohydrates, to prepare a traditional meal like an umu is extremely labour intensive. Everything is prepared fresh, with most of the native vegetables being freshly harvested and the fish caught on the day. This contrasts dramatically with what is sold in the stores. Most villages have a small general store with shelves fall of potato chips, sweets, full strength soft drinks and beer. The bread sold in the stores is slightly sweet and always white.
Religion in Samoa
From the moment we arrived in Samoa, it was evident that church was an important aspect of the Samoan way of life. We had been informed prior to the trip that for many Samoans life revolved around church, family and the village, and as we learnt more about their culture these priorities were very clear to see. From our first drive from the airport to Apia we observed that it seemed as though every second building was a church hall. We later learnt that most villages, no matter the size or population, had a catholic church and a congregational church where everyone in the village would attend one or the other. Being a religious country, it became normal to hear gospel music played on the radio in shops and taxis and to commonly hear the phrase ‘God Bless you’ from people of all ages.
We had the opportunity to experience a Samoan church service in Poutasi Village, attending the congregational church on Sunday morning. We entered just as the choir had begun to sing and were blown away by the beautiful sounds. They sang so loudly, sweetly, and completely in the Samoan language, as was the rest of the service. It was difficult to appreciate the remainder of the service, as we did not understand one thing that was said and found it interesting that all the tithes and offerings that had been donated by individual families was read out at the conclusion of the service. Joe later told us that this was a controversial aspect of the church service that all Samoan churches do, even though it may be said to be the cause of many people leaving the church.
Every denomination of Christianity seemed to be represented in Samoa, but we did not see any other places of worship of other religions, except for a Bahai temple, one of only eight in the world. It was a perfectly symmetrical building, inside and out, and was surrounded by beautiful gardens. The temple represents grace, beauty and peace and attracts visitors from all over the world.
After our stay in Poutasi Village, we returned to Apia to meet with a few organisations, one of these being SPREP, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme. SPREP is an intergovernmental environmental organisation working in the Pacific with 25 member countries whom have direct interests in the region. SPREP’s vision for the future is: “The Pacific environment, sustaining our livelihoods and natural heritage in harmony with our cultures.”
A regional officer, Penni met with us to introduce us to the organisation. He had been working with a team on an initiative called the PACC, the Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change. Its aim is to build resilience to the effects of climate change in pacific communities in 14 pacific island countries. It works with the UNDP, which executes the programs and SPREP implements them. The goal of the programs run by the PACC is to reduce vulnerability to climate change and increase adaptive capacity. PACC programs and funding have just come to an end with individual evaluators assessing its progress in communities. All up PACC programs contributed to the lives of 54, 355 people in 80 villages in 14 pacific islands through 150 institutions.
Penni organised for us to help plant trees in the O Le Pupu-Pue National Park with forestry officers earlier on in our trip and has ideas for what future CERES global groups can do in helping SPREP, such as visiting other project sites and assisting in report and proposal writing.