I was fortunate to be able to time my quarterly visit to Samoa to coincide with the Teuila Festival, one of the country’s most impressive annual events. All this past week there have been displays, entertainment, feasting, and sporting events in celebration of Samoa’s rich culture and great beauty. As always, I particularly enjoyed the fire-knife dancing and the fautasi (traditional long boat) races.
Wednesday was a particularly interesting day because it started with a ceremony at the Samoa Tourism Authority’s new cultural village fale outside Government House, to launch a new cultural cookbook, Me’a Kai: The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific. Written by world-renowned chef Robert Oliver with Dr. Tracy Berno and Shiri Ram, Me’a Kai contains more than 90 traditional recipes from Samoa and neighboring island cultures.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa spoke eloquently at the book event about the importance of re-embracing organic agriculture and organic food, both deeply rooted in Samoan history and culture. My friend Adimalaga Tafuna’i, Executive Director of Women in Business Development Inc. (WIBDI), spoke about WIBDI’s organic farming and healthy living programs, including a village-based healthy eating and weight loss competition being launched in collaboration with the Peace Corps and the Embassy.
Following the ceremony there was an umu demonstration, as well as a wonderful lunch including food from the umu and a variety of side dishes prepared by Chef Oliver. The organic locavore feasting continued the next day when Chef Oliver hosted Dr. McWaine, our friends Sose and Jackie, and I at Sose and Jackie’s Sinalei Reef Resort for a lunch tasting of some of his favorite recipes.
(Apologies for using video about Me’a Kai from Auckland, but I have not been able to locate any video from this past week’s Apia festivities at the fale.)
For my non-Samoan friends, an umu is a traditional Samoan cooking method in which stones are heated in fire, food is placed on the stones, and everything is then covered with banana fronds and left to cook. It’s a lot like a Maori hangi, but above ground. Bananas, breadfruit, taro, fish, and pork all come out of the umu moist, savory, and delicious.
To rewind a bit, I should note that the week started in perfect fashion on Monday with breakfast with His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, Her Highness, and Deputy Prime Minister Misa Telefoni. As usual, the spirited conversation covered a wide range of topics including geneaology, organic agriculture, cinema, religious thought, and philosophy. Their Highnesses were just leaving for Fiji for commencement ceremonies at the University of the South Pacific, of which His Highness serves as Chancellor, so I very much appreciated their taking time to get together.
The next night I took a couple dozen of my Peace Corps friends out for dinner. Over the course of about four hours I was again amazed at just how much food and drink twenty-somethings can consume. It was a fun evening, and I was glad that a few of the folks from Savai’i were in town. As I’ve said before, if you see Peace Corps volunteers on the street, give them a pat on the back and buy them a drink. They do great work.
I should also note that I had a marvelous time on Wednesday at the junior division fire-knife dance competition and the variety show that followed. I particularly enjoyed seeing a traditional dance performance by my friends from the Coral Reef Academy.
The Academy is a highly regarded off-shore treatment program for at-risk teenage boys from the U.S. I visited the Academy on my last trip and was greatly impressed by the quality of the curriculum, the creativity of the students, and the dedication of the staff. It was great to see the young men working hard and taking pride in their skills, teamwork, and performance.