Karen and Dave in Samoa

Hi BCEP people!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, or, as we say in Samoa, Manuia le Kerisimasi! Manuia le Tausaga Fou! Since I know that this is a stressful time of the school year for everyone, I thought I could brighten everyone’s day with some fun stuff about my adventures in Samoa.

Dave and I have been living in our new house for almost three weeks now.  It’s quite small – probably half the size of the BCEP classroom – but it works for us.  The school committee (like the PTA) and the aumaga built it for us over the past two months and we’ve spent the last few weeks finishing it up and making it the way we like it.  The aumaga is the term used for all of the untitled men of the village.  As part of their service to their families and the village, they have to take part in communal village activities – like mowing the entire rugby field with machetes or building the cute little house for the new Peace Corps in the village.  Small as it is, we are definitely not living lives of poverty.  In the kitchen, we have a fairly large refrigerator, an oven and stove top, and a microwave.  We also bought a vacuum to deal with all of the dust that falls from the ceiling when you have a thatched roof.

Dancing, church, and eating are huge parts of Samoan culture. I ended up accidentally joining the Catholic youth group in my training village and that led to lots of learning how to do traditional Samoan dances.  The main fundraiser that churches and other groups do is called a tausala.  Sometimes a dance will just be a tausala, but sometimes there are other groups dancing as well.  Here’s how a tausala works.  Each family that is associated with the group (the church, the school committee, or whatever) has to sponsor one dance for a female in the family.  Traditionally, the female is a taupou, or virgin, but that requirement has mostly fallen by the wayside.  Each family has to pay a certain amount of money for their dance, but it is in no way optional.  I was the taupou for my host family and my host mother had to pay 300 tala for my dance (roughly $150).  The taupou then goes up and does a traditional Samoan dance.  A bucket is placed on the floor in front of the dancer and people will go up and throw money in the bucket.  After the dance is over, the organizers count up how much money went in the bucket and announce it to the crowd.  While this sounds amusing, it’s actually incredibly boring since everyone dances to the SAME song, and does the same boring half-hearted dance.  So far though, in my two experiences serving as taupou, I have come in third place in raising money.  The first time, my family won 400 tala and the second time they won a pig.  Not bad eh?  I try to forget about the fact that the only reason I win is that I am a palagi –aka WHITE foreigner.

Usually the dances are held to raise money for the church.  Since this is a society that is mostly cash-poor, it is amazing how much money they can raise.  At the first one I went to, the church raised almost 7500 tala.  That is a HUGE amount of money considering some people have trouble scraping together enough money to buy a one pound bag of sugar at the village store.

The big meal of the week in Samoa is the to’ona’i, or Sunday lunch.  Usually extended families will come together to eat this meal together.  Meal preparation usually begins at four or five in the morning when the young men of the family will get up to start preparing the umu, the traditional stone oven of Samoa.  This involves gathering firewood, lava rocks, banana leaves, and breadfruit leaves, as well as coconut. Then they usually have to kill a pig or two, as well as some chicken, for cooking in the oven.  In case you are interested, there are three main ways of killing a pig.  First, you can take the simple but bloody methods of cutting its throat.  Second, if you have a partner, you grab the pig, flip it on its back, place a sturdy stick across its neck, and stand on it with your partner – basically breaking its windpipe and suffocating it.  Third, you can drown it in a bucket of water.  After you’ve piled your giant pile of rocks and firewood up, you stick the pig in between after wrapping it in wet banana leaves and pile more rocks on top.  The men also have to prepare the palusami (young taro leaves in coconut cream), the saka (boiled taro, breadfruit, or bananas), and make soup.  Then everyone leaves for church.

When Samoans sit down to eat, the oldest and most respected people always eat first.  This normally means that Peace Corps and the high chief of the family.  The most respected people will sit down and be served gigantic plates of food by the small children of the family.  While you eat, the children will fan your food to keep the flies off  – or run to fetch anything you might desire.  When you are finished, you push your plate away, thank everyone for the food, and then you are brought your fingerbowl for washing your hands and mouth.  If there is a very highly respected chief or minister at the meal, no one can finish before that person, so it’s important to gauge your eating speed so that you don’t have to continue stuffing your face until the matai has finished a leisurely meal.  After the first round of people has eaten, whoever is left gets the leftovers.  I used to feel bad about this, but now that I’m used to having poor hungry children stare at me with disappointment as I eat all the best and tenderest pieces of palusami, it doesn’t bother me in the least.

That’s enough for now!  Good luck with your theses! I hope they are all going well.

Karen

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