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.

Cannibalism. - During some of their wars, a body was occasionally cooked by the Samoans; but they affirm that, in such a case, it was always some one of the enemy who had been notorious for provocation or cruelty, and that eating a part of his body was considered the climax of hatred and revenge, and was not occasioned by the mere relish for human flesh, such as obtained in the Fiji, New Hebrides, and New Caledonian groups. In more remote heathen times, however, they may have indulged this savage appetite. To speak of roasting him is the very worst language that can be addressed to a Samoan. If applied to a chief of importance, he may raise war to avenge the insult. It is the custom on the submission of one party to another to bow down before their conquerors each with a piece of firewood and a bundle of leaves, such as are used in dressing a pig for the oven; as much as to say, "Kill us and cook us, if you please." Criminals, too, are sometimes bound hand to hand and foot to foot; slung on a pole put through between the hands and feet, carried and laid down before the parties they have injured, like a pig about to be killed and cooked. So deeply humiliating is this act considered that the culprit who consents to degrade himself so far is almost sure to be forgiven.

From such references to cannibalism as we have at pp. 47, 48, and also the following fragments from old stories, it is further apparent that the custom was not unknown in Samoa.

During a great scarcity occasioned by a gale cannibalism prevailed. When a light was wanted in the evening, two or three went to fetch it - it was not safe for one to go alone. If a child was seen out of doors, some one would entice it by holding up something white and calling the child to get a bit of cocoa-nut kernel, and so kidnap and cook.

A story is also told of a woman who had a child who was playing on the surf on the beach. Three of her brothers came along and begged her to let them have the child. She said that if a bloody surf should suddenly appear they might have the child, but not otherwise. Presently the surf dashed red and bloody on the shore. She kept to her word, and let the heartless fellows carry off the boy to the oven.

Here is another piece about Ae a Tongan, who attached himself to the Samoan chief Tinilau. Tinilau travelled from place to place on two turtles. Ae wished to visit Tonga, and begged from his master the loan of the turtles. He got them, with the caution to be very careful of them. As soon as he reached Tonga he called his friends to take on shore the turtles, kill them, and have a feast, and this they gladly did.

Tinilau, after waiting long for the return of the turtles, suspected they had been killed. This was confirmed in his mind by the appearance on the beach of a bloody wave. He called a meeting of all the avenging gods of Savaii, and put the case into their hands. They went off to Tonga, found Ae at midnight in a sound sleep, picked him up, brought him back to Samoa, and laid him down in the front room of the house of Tinilau.

At cock-crowing Ae woke up and said aloud, "Why, you cock! you crow like the one belonging to the pig I lived with." Tinilau called out from his room, "Had the fellow you lived with such a fowl?" "Yes, thepig had one just like it." "Tell us more about him," and so Ae went on chattering, and still using the abusive epithet pig when speaking of his master, and talked about the turtles, what a fine feast they had, etc. As it got lighter, he looked up to the roof and said, "This too is just like the house the pig lived in." By-and-by he woke up, as it got light, to the full consciousness that somehow or other he was again in the very house of Tinilau, and that his cannibal master was in the next room. He was dumb and panic-stricken. Orders were given to kill him, and he was despatched accordingly, and his body dressed for the oven. And hence the proverb for any similar action, or if any one takes by mistake or intention what belongs to another, he says in making an apology, "I am like Ae."

Another curious fragment goes from cannibalism to the origin of pigs. A cannibal chief had human victims taken to him regularly, and was in the habit of throwing the heads into a cave close by. A great many heads had been cast in, and he thought no more about them. One day, however, he was sitting on a rock outside the cave when he heard an unusual noise. On looking in, the place was full of pigs, and hence the belief that pigs had their origin in the heads of men, or, as some would call it, a humbling case of evolution downwards!

Cooking. - The Samoans had and still have, the mode of cooking with hot stones which has been often described as prevailing in the South Sea Islands. Fifty or sixty stones about the size of an orange, heated by kindling a fire under them, form, with the hot ashes, an ordinary oven. The taro, bread-fruit, or yams, are laid among the stones, a thick covering of bread-fruit and banana leaves is laid over all, and in about an hour all is well cooked. In the same oven they bake other things, such as fish, done up in leaves and laid side by side with the taro or other vegetables. Little bundles of taro leaves, too, mixed with the expressed juice of the cocoa-nut kernel, and some other dishes, of which cocoa-nut is generally the chief ingredient, are baked at the same time, and used as a relish in the absence of animal food. Salt water is frequently mixed up with these dishes, which is the only form in which they use salt. They had no salt, and were not in the habit of preserving fish or pork otherwise than by repeated cooking. In this way they kept pork for a week, and fish for three weeks or a month. However large, they cooked the entire pig at once; then, using a piece of split bamboo as a carving-knife, cut it up and divided it among the different branches of the family. The duties of cooking devolved on the men; and all, even chiefs of the highest rank, considered it no disgrace to assist in the cooking-house occasionally.

Forbidden Food. - Some birds and fishes were sacred to particular deities, as has been described, and certain parties abstained from eating them. A man would not eat a fish which was supposed to be under the protection and care of his household god; but he would eat, without scruple, fish sacred to the gods of other families. The dog, and some kinds of fish and birds, were sacred to the greater deities - the dii majorum gentium of the Samoans; and, of course, all the people rigidly abstained from these things. For a man to kill and eat anything he considered to be under the special protection of his god, was supposed to be followed by the god's displeasure in the sickness or death of himself, or some member of the family. The same idea seems to have been a check on cannibalism, as there was a fear lest the god of the deceased would be avenged on those who might cook and eat the body.

Liquors. - The young cocoa-nut contains about a tumblerful of a liquid something resembling water sweetened with lump-sugar, and very slightly acid. This is the ordinary beverage of the Samoans. A young cocoa-nut baked in the oven yields a hot draught, which is very pleasant to an invalid. They had no fermented liquors; but they made an intoxicating draught from an infusion of the chewn root of the 'ava plant (Piper methysticum). A bowl of this disgustingly-prepared stuff was made and served out when a party of chiefs sat down to a meal. At their ordinary meals few partook of it but the father, or other senior members of the family. It was always taken before, and not after the meal. Among a formal party of chiefs it was handed round in a cocoa-nut shell cup with a good deal of ceremony. When the cup was filled the name, or title rather, of the person for whom it was intended was called out; the cup-bearer took it to him, he received it, drank it off, and returned the cup to be filled again, as the "portion" of another chief. The most important chiefs had the first cups, and, following the order of rank, all had a draught. The liquor was much diluted; few drank to excess; and, upon the whole, the Samoans were perhaps among the most temperate 'ava drinkers in the South Seas. The old men considered that a little of it strengthened them and prolonged life; and often they had a cup the first thing in the morning.

Hospitality. - The Samoans were remarkable for hospitality. Travelling parties never needed to take food for any place beyond the first stage of their journey. Every village had its "large house," kept in good order, and well spread with mats for the reception of strangers. On the arrival of a party some of the members of every family in the village assembled and prepared food for them. It was the province of the head of one particular family to decide, and send word to the rest, how much it would be necessary for each to provide. After all was cooked, it was taken and laid down in front of the house, and, on presenting it, one of them would make a speech, welcoming them to their village; and, although a sumptuous repast had been provided, an apology would be made that there was nothing better. The strangers replied, returned thanks, and exchanged kind words. In the event of there being a chief of high rank among the party, it would probably be decided that every man, woman, and child of the place turn out, dress themselves in their best, walk in single file, each carrying a fish, a fowl, a lobster, a yam, or something else in the hand, and, singing some merry chant as they went along, proceed to the place, and there lay down in a heap what they had provided for their guests. An evening ball or night-dance was also considered an indispensable accompaniment to the entertainment. A travelling party rarely spent more than one night at a place.

Meals. - The Samoans had a meal about 11 A.M., and their principal meal in the evening. At the evening meal every family was assembled; and men, women, and children all ate together. They had no tables, but seated themselves cross-legged round the circular house on mats. Each had his portion laid down before him on a bread-fruit leaf; and thus they partook, in primitive style, without knife, fork, or spoon. Should any strangers be present, due respect was shown to them by laying before them "a worthy portion." After the meal, water to wash was handed round, and a rub on the post of the house was the usual table-napkin.

The head of the family, in taking his cup of 'ava at the commencement of the evening meal, would pour out a little of it on the ground, as a drink-offering to the gods, and, all being silent, he would utter aloud the following prayer: -

     "Here is 'ava for you, O gods! Look kindly towards this family; let 
     it prosper and increase; and let us all be kept in health. Let our 
     plantations be productive; let fruit grow; and may there be 
     abundance of food for us, your creatures.

     "Here is 'ava for you, our war gods! Let there be a strong and 
     numerous people for you in this land.

     "Here is 'ava for you, O sailing gods![1] Do not come on shore at 
     this place; but be pleased to depart along the ocean to some other 

It was also very common to pray with an offering of "flaming fire," just before the evening meal. Calling upon some one to blow up the fire and make it blaze, and begging all to be silent, a senior member of the family would pray aloud as follows: -

     "This light is for you, O king[2] and gods superior and inferior! 
     If any of you are forgotten do not be angry, this light is for you 
     all. Be propitious to this family; give life to all; and may your 
     presence be prosperity. Let our children be blessed and multiplied. 
     Remove far from us fines and sicknesses. Regard our poverty; and 
     send us food to eat, and cloth to keep us warm. Drive away from us 
     sailing gods, lest they come and cause disease and death. Protect 
     this family by your presence, and may health and long life be given 
     to us all."

It is related of an old chief in Savaii, that one night at the evening meal he ordered a sea-crab to be reserved for his breakfast. In the night some lads of the family got up and ate it. Next morning the old man was in a great rage, rose, and said to his daughter that he was going off to commit suicide, he could bear no longer the unkindness of the family. He seized his staff and went off to the mountain, where there is a deep ravine. When he reached the edge of the precipice he called to his daughter, who had followed him, that he would jump over, and cause a storm to arise and destroy the place - and over he went. The daughter thought it was of no use to go home, and so she lay down on the edge of the ravine, and became a mountain to shut up the storm and save the people from the threatened wrath of her father.


[Footnote 1: Gods supposed to come in Tongan canoes and foreign vessels.]

[Footnote 2: The principal god of the family.]