About the food of samoa

Mom was the ultimate “drop everything and go” traveler at a time when not many people, let alone pregnant women, did that sort of thing. She was in Samoa in 1979 – just months before I was born. P.S. In case that wasn’t tough enough for ya, she also had a (very energetic) toddler in tow – my brother Damien.

Amaz. ing.

I know, I know, I know. You’re thinking things have changed since then – and to some extent they have (although much is still the same, like the fact that this tiny Polynesian nation is made up of a few islands totaling just over 1,000 square miles ). But I had to get her report of the place and what I heard was too good not to share. Here’s just an excerpt of her letter dated April 16, 1979 (just 3 months and 2 days before I was born), where she talks about the singing, the food, and the children.

Uninhabited Nu’ulopa island in the Apolima Strait in Samoa. Apolima-tai (village on Apolima island) is to the right, and Savai’i island is in the distance. Photo by Neil.

For starters her “condition” as a single mom just about to pop raised many questions. “Where’s your husband,” was the standard greeting whenever anyone saw her waddling their way.

Not that her answer ever changed anything – Samoan hospitality was incredible; locals simply joined her and my brother on her walk so she wouldn’t be alone. And since the islands were formed by volcanoes, coal-black lava stones were always underfoot.

Falefa Valley, looking north from Le Mafa pass at the east end of Upolu Island. Photo by Kronocide.

While there, mom and Damien enjoyed many fresh meals with bananas cooked in coconut milk [recipe], fried, or roasted in fires with taro leaves. Like the locals, they drank freshly grated cocoa at every opportunity.

There was also an amazing love for fresh seafood. Mom said  many women swam out into the ocean, ran their hands along the ocean floor until they stumbled across a sea urchin, which they promptly lifted out of the water and sucked dry, right then and there.


Raw fish “cooked” with citrus juice and coconut milk is another popular treat, similar to the Kokoda we made for Fiji [Recipe].

At the end of the day, there’s a lot more processed goods there now – things like spam/corned beef which makes it’s way into recipes like… well.. spam sandwiches, musubi (a spam “sushi” of sorts), and Palusami (a mixture of taro leaves, coconut milk, onion, and canned corned beef) [Recipe]. There’s also all manner of rolls, coconut breads, half moon pies, and spice cakes like Puligi [Recipe]. You can even, if you so desire, start your day off right – with koko rice (a.k.a. chocolate rice pudding) [Recipe]. Ahem.

I’m so grateful for my mom’s adventurous spirit, which inspires me daily.


  1. Sandra says

    I have known since I started reading this blog that I would enjoy meeting you, but now I will add your mother to the list as well. She sounds like an amazing woman.

  2. Gaughan’s paintings – groundbreaking art…and my childhood poet Robert Louis Stevenson is buried there. The initial impetus was Margaret Mead’s research as recorded in “Coming Of Age In Samoa” – fascinating..she focused on teens…my major – psychology of adolescents….

    Actually, noone walked alone…I would be surrounded by “volunteers” coming out of their Fales whereever I went.

    Yes…lots of stories to tell…

  3. elisa waller says

    If memory serves me right..did’nt they (the Samoa’s) want to “keep Damien because of his pure white skin and blonde hair? they thought he was a god of sorts? Atleast this is what i heard growing up…I was 12 at the time so those kind of facts could be distorted from my young sponge-like mind…LOL….I On a grander note:.It seems everyone in the family has an adventurous spirit..there is not a boring one among us…….Vincent VanGogh says it best: “I am not an adventurer by choice but by fate.” Aye!

    • Elisa…they wanted to keep my unborn child…and I almost lost Damien to a big fat Samoan Mama who was grinningly holding him on her lap in the marketplace while I was running around in circles frantically trying to find him..I think it was a test of how bonded I was…well, she found out!!
      As to the offer of fale (home) and nursing care for three months after giving birth…all I had to do was give up the baby…”The father won’t care…you have the other one”. I think they thought I was in Samoa to do just that – their culture could not conceive of such independence…everything is so family oriented- tribal oriented ie children are just cared for by everyone – move from fale to fale especially in the teen years. Discipline is strong and exercised by the father in front of the entire intergenerational family @ Sunday morning fale gatherings for bible reading and singing – it can be embarassing for the teen – who would not dare utter a word in protest and includes loud vocal chastisement for the “crime” of disobeying or talking back to the mother with slaps across both sides of the face in front of everyone – who are all sitting cross-legged in a circle on hand-woven coconut palm mats (which are also slept on). It is an insult to sit with legs outstretched as that implies a challenge or act of “war” to others …
      Fried bananas for breakfast were staple as was taro root instead of potatoe.
      String beans grow in bushes (like poinsettias in SanDiego) and are plucked for dinner

      • elisa waller says

        wow amazing…so i quess I hear right, I always wondered what the whole story was….thanks! some of that (discipline nad family stuff) sounds like traditional catholic up bringing…that line about a big fat samona woman is awesome.. I can totally picture that….How did they cook the taro root…? would you go back again?

        • absolutely…

          As for the “traditional Catholic” upbringing….I think you are missing the cultural flavor of Samoan life or perhaps I did not elaborate enough for you to get it …there were no Catholic Schools on the two islands….

          Taro root – like potatoe – baked on coals or fried or boiled etc.

          • Coming of Age in Samoa is a book by American anthropologist Margaret Mead based upon her research and study of youth on the island of Ta’u in the Samoa Islands which primarily focused on adolescent girls. Mead was 23 years old when she carried out her field work in Samoa. First published in 1928, the book launched Mead as a pioneering researcher and the most famous anthropologist in the world. Since its first publication, Coming of Age in Samoa was the most widely read book in the field of anthropology, until Napoleon Chagnon’s “Yanomamö: The Fierce People” took the lead in sales. The book has sparked years of ongoing and intense debate and controversy on questions pertaining to society, culture and science. It is a key text in the nature vs nurture debate as well as issues relating to family, adolescence, gender, social norms and attitudes.[1]

            In the foreword to Coming of Age in Samoa, Mead’s advisor, Franz Boas, wrote of its significance that,
            Courtesy, modesty, good manners, conformity to definite ethical standards are universal, but what constitutes courtesy, modesty, good manners, and definite ethical standards is not universal. It is instructive to know that standards differ in the most unexpected ways.
            Boas went on to point out that at the time of publication, many Americans had begun to discuss the problems faced by young people (particularly women) as they pass through adolescence as “unavoidable periods of adjustment.” Boas felt that a study of the problems faced by adolescents in another culture would be illuminating.

            Samoan girls, c. 1902
            [edit] Mead
            Mead described the goal of her research: “I have tried to answer the question which sent me to Samoa: Are the disturbances which vex our adolescents due to the nature of adolescence itself or to the civilization? Under different conditions does adolescence present a different picture?” To answer this question, she conducted her study among a small group of Samoans — a village of 600 people on the island of Ta‘ū — in which she got to know, lived with, observed, and interviewed (through an interpreter) 68 young women between the ages of 9 and 20. She concluded that the passage from childhood to adulthood (adolescence) in Samoa was a smooth transition and not marked by the emotional or psychological distress, anxiety, or confusion seen in the United States.
            Mead concluded that this was due to the Samoan girl’s belonging to a stable, monocultural society, surrounded by role models, and where nothing concerning the basic human facts of copulation, birth, bodily functions, or death, was hidden. The Samoan girl was not pressured to choose from among a variety of conflicting values, as was the American girl. Mead commented, somewhat satirically:
            You can read more if so inclined….

  4. Gwen Larsen says

    It’s generous of your mom to share her private life with us in this way: for the noble cause of world peace! My grandfather was an brave adventurer, too – emigrating from Norway as a young single man. After having fished the North Sea, which must’ve been an adventure every day, he became an Iowa farmer. I carried on this pioneer spirit by marrying a like-minded soul who has moved us to 9 states & 6 countries…our children consider themselves global patriots” rather than US citizens. (all 3 married in “foreigners” so the adventure continues!)

  5. Eileen says

    You & your mother are birds of a feather. I loved this story. I’ve never been to Samoa, but I have been to Fiji, and the island photo looked so familiar I had to pull out my map. They are indeed close country cousins.

  6. Sandra says

    I am really enjoying this discussion. Thanks to your mom for sharing more of her story. I had both books -MM’s and the Yanamamo -assigned in college as part of my Common Core readings. I went on into a science career but have always had a passion for other cultures. I ventured off to Kenya and Ethiopia when I was 26 but not pregnant or with a toddler. I really want to hear more from your mom- what an amazing adventure. Like the gentleman above my family roots are European and I grew up in Iowa. My children are a combo of adopted and birth and have roots in Iowa, Ethiopia, and Mexico. Our family dinners reflect that diversity which I guess is one reason I love your blog so much.

    As for Samoa- my husband and I decided recently that our retirement bucket list will include visiting all US National Parks together. The Samoan park has risen to the top as the one I most want to visit. Thanks again for the amazing jvirtual journey. I am starting to feel sad that you are all the way to S already. What will you do afterwards?

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