CHAPTER VIII. FOOD - COOKING - LIQUORS.
Animal and Vegetable Food. - Bread-fruit, taro, yams, bananas, and cocoa-nuts formed the staff of life in Samoa. The lagoons and reefs furnish a large supply of fish and shell-fish, of which the natives are very fond; and occasionally all, but especially persons of rank, regaled themselves on pigs, fowls, and turtle. A detailed account of the flora and fauna in this and other groups in Central and Eastern Polynesia will be found in the published volumes of the United States Exploring Squadron of 1838-1842.
Taro, cocoa-nuts, and 'ava were said to have been brought from the heavens by a chief called Losi. When on a visit there he was pleased with the taste of taro, and tried to get some to take down with him. He found a young shoot about the cooking-house, concealed it under his clothing, but the Tangaloans were on the watch. They made him take off his roundabout, snatched the plant from him, pulled his hair, scratched and cut his skin, and back he came to the earth in a great rage.
He engaged six of the gods to go up with him again and be avenged on Tangaloa and his people. He proposed to take up a present of fish. They caught ten, and were up before daybreak, and laid down a fish on the doorstep of ten of the houses. When the people came out of their houses they stumbled over the slippery fish, fell and cut their foreheads. They cooked the fish, but ate it with bruised heads. And hence the proverb in times of difficulty, "To eat with a bruise."
Then followed a number of schemes on the part of the Tangaloans to kill Losi and his party similar to those described (p. 250). But all failed, and then up jumped Losi and his party, and ran at the Tangaloans, who fled and called out as they ran, "What do you want?" "Cocoa-nuts," said Losi. "Take them all," was the reply. Losi again called to his party to chase, and they rushed after the Tangaloans, who again shouted back, "What do you want?" "Taro," said Losi, "to compensate for ill usage and the tearing of my skin." "Take it, your claim is just; take it and be off." Losi ordered still to pursue, and again the call came from the frightened Tangaloans, "What else do you want?" "I want 'ava," replied Losi. "Take it, all kinds of it, and be off." Losi conquered, had his revenge, and got what he wanted, and so came down from the heavens with taro, cocoa-nuts, and 'ava, and planted them all about.
For about half the year the Samoans have an abundant supply of food from the bread-fruit trees. During the other half they depend principally on their taro plantations. Bananas and cocoa-nuts are plentiful throughout the year. While the bread-fruit is in season every family lays up a quantity in a pit lined with banana and cocoa-nut leaves, and covered in with stones. It soon ferments; but they keep it in that state for years, and the older it is they relish it all the more. They bake this in the form of little cakes, when the bread-fruit is out of season, and especially when there is a scarcity of taro. The odour of these cakes is offensive in the extreme to a European; but a Samoan turns from a bit of English cheese with far more disgust than we do from his fermented bread-fruit.
A crop of bread-fruit is sometimes shaken off the trees by a gale before it is ripe, and occasionally taro plantations are destroyed by drought and caterpillars; but the people have wild yams in the bush, preserved bread-fruit, cocoa-nuts, and fish to fall back upon; so that there is rarely, if ever, anything like a serious famine. A scarcity of food, occasioned by any of the causes just named, they were in the habit of tracing to the wrath of one of their gods, called O le Sa (or the Sacred One). The sun, storms, caterpillars, and all destructive insects were said to be his au ao, or servants, who were commissioned to go forth and eat up the plantations of those with whom he was displeased. In times of plenty as well as of scarcity the people were in the habit of assembling with offerings of food, and poured out drink-offerings of 'ava to Le Sa, to propitiate his favour.
A story is told of a woman and her child, who in a time of great scarcity were neglected by the family. One day they cooked some wild yams, but never offered her a share. She was vexed, asked the child to follow her, and when they reached a precipice on the rocky coast, seized the child and jumped over. It is said they were changed into turtles, and afterwards came in that form at the call of the people of the village.