Ink

samoa umu

Today was significantly more relaxing. After the usual breakfast spread of papaya and coconut I headed back down into Apia town to the ‘Samoa cultural village’. This is an area in which locals can gather to display their traditional skills and talents to interested visitors. Each fale (thatched roof on wooden posts) houses a different skill. I was the only visitor there for a time so got to know some of the cooks preparing a traditional ‘umu’: they light a fire, cover it with rocks then use the heat of the rocks to cook the food once the fire has died. First though, they prepped the various components – the taro, breadfruit, plantain and coconut milk parcels. I’d never seen someone making coconut milk before so found this particularly fascinating. Vito spent around an hour de-husking then scraping out the coconuts, then he used a fibrous mess, which is apparently produced by the bark of a special tree, to vigorously squeeze large handfuls of coconut chippings to force out the liquid.

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This precious coconut milk was then ladled into a pouch of young taro leaves, sealed with a tougher leaf then eventually put on top of the rocks with the rest. Thankfully a few other people began to arrive at this point as they were persistently trying to make me pick my favourite chef to be my ‘Samoan boyfriend’, dismissing my pleas that I am perfectly happy with my boyfriend back in England!

Check out the tattoos on this guys leg as they layer up the 'umu'

Check out the tattoos on this guys leg as they layer up the ‘umu’

Covering the umu in leaves from the bread fruit tree to keep the heat in

Covering the umu in leaves from the bread fruit tree to keep the heat in

A rather unattractive looking meal of breadfruit, taro, cocunut mild with young taro leaves. plantain and fresh tuna

A rather unattractive looking meal of breadfruit, taro, cocunut mild with young taro leaves. plantain and fresh tuna

One of my favourite fales was the ‘tatau’ area where the local tattoo artist was working his magic. Apparently tattoos originated from Samoa and the word ‘tattoo’ itself is a derivative of their ‘tatau’. Not anybody can become a tattoo artist in Samoa – only by birth. It’s a highly respected and sacred job so reserved, ironically, only for those who have it in their blood. They were in the process of performing the 11th of 12 four hour sessions necessary to complete a man’s set of traditional tattoos. These tattoos, covering the body in ink from the waist to the knees, can only be granted after the man has proven that he can protect and provide for his family. The decision is made by the entire extended family when a man is ready, but he then can choose whether or not he wants to go through this prolonged period of pain. Once he starts – he cannot stop. This would bring irrevocable shame, not just on him, but on his entire family. He might as well leave Samoa. He needs to carefully prepare himself, therefore, before he can begin the process.

Unfortunately it would have been disrespectful for me to sneak a photo of the scene so I will have to attempt to describe it. A typically ‘sturdy’ Samoan man of around 30 was lying on his front with his head turned towards me. He was trying to hide the expression of pain from his face, but let the odd wince through every now and then. His wife was sat above his head fanning his face. Two of his brothers were sat either side of him stretching the skin tight over the back of his thighs and in the middle tapped away the artist. In one hand he held a long wooden implement with a large number of miniscule needles in a cluster on the end, and in the other hand, he held a stick which he tapped firmly and rhythmically onto the other to pierce the needles into the skin. A few onlookers fanned and wiped the leg periodically as the ink spread slowly across the inner thigh. It’s entirely the artist’s prerogative what tattoo the man should get. I could see that going drastically wrong were it to be the practice in western society!

A few other demonstrations included wood-work and creation of the lavalavas (sarongs). Another highlight was watching an elderly lady using her teeth to rip off the bark of a special branch, scrape it for ages with varying shells, pound it with a bludgeon then eventually churn out a ‘tapa’ – a special kind of paper upon which they print traditional designs for decoration or clothing.

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They performed a couple of different dances. This is the ‘Siva’ where the woman is said to tell a story with her hands. They men also did the ‘fa-ataupatu’ where they created a fantastic rhythm out of slapping noises using their hands/feet/thighs etc.

They performed a couple of different dances. This is the ‘Siva’ where the woman is said to tell a story with her hands. They men also did the ‘fa-ataupatu’ where they created a fantastic rhythm out of slapping noises using their hands/feet/thighs etc.

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We were also shown how to weave using the palm fronds. Here you can see a headband I made and a plate upon which to eat the food once it came out from the umu.

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Still relatively early in the day, I wandered back via a little waterfall to relax back at the hostel…I’m not going to attempt to post tonight again as the beyond useless internet will stress me out so this can wait until the morning. I’ve been having to wake up with the sun before 6 anyway so that works quite well J. (P.B. 5:30am and still no internet – will have to wait a while longer) (P.P.B. 8:00am – still nothing. Will have to be postponed until this evening) – Gave up on this. Had to wait to leave Samoa so am now back-posting from the airport.

Waterfalls on the walk back home

Waterfalls on the walk back home

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Surreal modern church in the middle of Apia

Surreal modern church in the middle of Apia

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