Food & Friendship in American Samoa
Matt Hoffman arrived in American Samoa this past July. Read on to learn how he is discovering the culture through sharing meals with his community.
Barbeque, in Samoan terminology, refers to anything except the tangy-smokey-nectar one usually finds slathered on ribs and the like. In Samoa, it’s a verb (not all that different from the states) and noun used as a universal term for grilling, or refers to a teriyaki-esque sauce that goes on EVERYTHING.
My first experience with a Samoan barbeque was at a Samoan friend’s house during orientation, where rugby players procured endless Steinlager (New Zealand beer), chicken, and beef strips. I had already eaten dinner, so of course I ate more. Waves and waves of sweet smoke rolled from a grate set over some sort of re-purposed metal box filled with coals, starting anew each time the sauce has liberally sloshed over the meat on the grill.
I smelled like charcoal the next morning.
Grilling is popular as well out on Ta’u, but probably less frequent (only a few stores on the island carry frozen meat, and if they’re out, the island is out). We’ve had a couple staff get-togethers where chicken and Samoan sausages (like giant, more substantial hot dogs) are loaded up on. We had one of these events on Friday, and I gladly integrated myself into Samoan culture (read: I ate tons of food).
Shortly after finishing, I waddled back downstairs (school is on top of a hill that is part of a mountain, but everyone refers to it as “upstairs”). I digested food for a couple hours at our house, then set off for the other WorldTeach house in Faleasao, about a 45 minute walk away.
I didn’t even make it 100 yards before some neighbors flagged me down. They were grilling. Chicken. And sausage. It would have been massively rude of me to refuse, and I put my appetite, honed from years of stuffing in enough calories to replace miles of running, to use. As I mowed down a chicken leg, a plate materialized from the house, with two slices of breadfruit, a starchy plant that fills your stomach like quick-set concrete. Two more sausages, and another chicken were piled on to the plate. Kool-aid was procured. Finally I had to start turning down food.
I love these people.
This particular family is especially friendly — their daughter is a student of mine, and her mom is an administrator at an elementary school on the island. Still, Ta’u social circles can be harder to break into than some other villages, so as I stared through chicken mounded on a grimy grate and into glowing embers piled in a wheelbarrow (I’ll have an upcoming post comparing Samoans to McGyver), I felt the love. And a brick in my stomach.
I finally took my leave, and resumed my trek at a significantly slower pace. Kids and families were out and about for the “siva,” a Samoan dance held in an outdoor Fale near the edge of town. Walking to Faleasao in the dark is a bit tricky. There’s no streetlights for a good stretch, just jungle. After adjusting to the darkness one can make out enough of the road to not wander into the bush, but the first couple minutes are tricky. I prefer to navigate by the gap in the treetops.
As I climbed the hill and lights stabbed through the trees, swirling, upbeat Samoan music filled my ears, the woods, and the sky.
– Matt Hoffman, WorldTeach American Samoa ’13-’14