Sunday, September 8, 2013

Cultural Arts at the Teuila Festival

Last week was the annual Teuila Festival.  We picked up a schedule from the tourism office, looked it over, and decided what we wanted to see and do. The most appealing event to me were the cultural arts demonstrations. We hoped to see the pao pao races (outrigger canoes) but missed that. We also marked our calendar for the 'Dream' competition in which the students from the various high schools compete for cash prizes awarded to winning schools. We weren't at all sure what to expect. We definitely got more than we ever expected. These were original productions involving sets, costumes, music, drama, and story-telling. We were so proud of our Pesega kids. It was truly impressive in every aspect. Of course we had no idea what the plot was since it was all in Samoan. But musically, artistically and in every other aspect, the  level of excellence was impressive. Leon took a movie of it on his phone, but no still pictures to share with you.

On the other hand, the cultural arts center offered so many demonstrations of traditional Samoan culture, and we do have pictures to share.

Here's where it all happened. To the left of this view is a large malai (grass field) with many fales like those in the picture below, located around the perimeter. In each of the fales was featured a different aspect of traditional skills and crafts.  For now, we'll start with the most important: traditional cooking of some of the best food you will ever eat.

So many delicious entrees begin with coconut milk. First step: split the coconut in half. With a rock. 
Or buy it in a can at a local grocery store. No one would argue that fresh is best.

Then the white meat of the coconut is scraped into a bowl. 
If you're expecting a crowd, use a large bowl. This is the meat of 20 coconuts.

Extract the milk by wringing it out of the meat, using sennet, also derived from the coconut palm tree and used to make rope.

Coconut milk is used in one of our all time favorite Samoan foods: palusami. It is combined with onion and wrapped in young taro leaves, then banana leaves, and finally breadfruit leaves as shown here:

Like love and marriage, you can't have palusami without taro. The outer covering of the taro is scraped off before cooking it in the umu. It can be cooked alone, or wrapped with coconut milk and onion. So good. It is starchy like a potato, but with its own distinctive flavor.

The umu is prepared by heating river rocks and placing the food on the rocks. More hot rocks are used to cover the food and then everything is covered over with banana leaves. Taro and palusami, fish, pigs, shell fish, bananas, yams, and other staple foods are cooked this way, even now. If you've eaten dutch oven cooking, you have an idea how delicious foods cooked this way would taste. We dreamed of palusami through all the years in between. The fire is burning, the rocks are heating. Soon the food will be placed in the umu and covered over with hot rocks and leaves.

These offerings will also be added to the umu, though I imagine they will have to wait their turn. The pigs will be filled with hot rocks as well.

That's squid next to the lobsters. Somewhere we know there was also albacore. We were there, remember?

Thanks for letting me share a part of the culture we enjoy every chance we get. Thankfully, local people everywhere sell taro and palusami. I don't think the temple president would be happy to see us making an umu in our front yard.

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