A Question of Survival and Samoan Food
Date: 20th May 2005
Subject: A Question of Survival
Place: Manase, Savi’i, Independent Samoa
Can you eat this?
“Can you eat these worms?” asked Matthew as two little caterpillar like creatures crawled up his arm and onto his T-shirt.
I wondered if Steve had been talking survival techniques with him.
“Well, you probably could if you really, really had to,” I said trying to be honest without encouraging further practical exploration, “but there’s plenty of better things here you could eat first.”
“Like coconuts, breadfruit and tarot.”
“I don’t like those.”
“Well what about fish or crabs or lobsters?”
“Don’t like those either.”
“Well how about bananas, pineapple and papaya? I know you like those.”
“I like the ones you get at home.”
Living off the land is an everyday reality
The idea of living off the land is an everyday reality here; Samoa really is a blessed place in this respect. When you look at the contorted volcanic rock that is so much a part of the landscape here it seems amazing the land can be so productive, but the volcanic soil is mineral rich and drains well and there’s no shortage of sunshine or rain. So something like 75% of the population do some form of subsistence farming, growing their own crops, keeping their own livestock and catching their own fish.
And it really shows in the village shops that only sell things that don’t grow on trees; crisps, biscuits, sweeties, noodles, lavalavas, washing powder and soap. The boys obviously love our visits to these little kiosks but they haven’t done much for our diet.
Some kids are better equipped for this
Steve and his kids are much better adapted to this environment. They feel as comfortable living off the land as we do selecting a frozen ready meal at a supermarket. They once went off on holiday around the island, equipped with not much more than a day-sack, and ate as they walked for seven days.
“It was great,” said Steve recounting the story when we stopped at a farmer’s plantation, “catching fresh fish, crab and octopus, drinking coconut milk, picking bananas and papaya.”
There was no mention of visiting a kiosk.
“Survival here is easy,” he continued as he opened a fresh cocoa pod and passed it around for everyone to taste, “but that’s not what some of our clients expect at all.”
Survival does not have to be hard
Some South Pacific Islands have recently hosted “Survivor” style reality TV shows like Survival Vanuatu. The marketeers have been quick to use such global exposure to promote South Pacific destinations to those looking for adventure as well as those after a little R&R in paradise. But Steve’s company has been offering a guided survival experience for years, giving people the chance to learn how to live a traditional subsistence existence on an uninhabited island for up to thirty days.
“The trouble is it attracts some real hardnuts. Mostly English you know,” he laughed pointedly. “They come expecting something hardcore, you know cutting their way through overgrown jungle, fending off marauding lions and tigers, sleeping with snakes and spiders, eating live grubs, drinking muddy rainwater. Then they get all disappointed when you pick a papaya off a tree or chop down and crack open a coconut. They say it’s too easy when fish jump onto their lines and crabs come crawling out for dinner. And when I tell them we’re going to sleep under the stars on a beautiful sandy beach well they say, hey this is too much like camping. I tell them survival doesn’t have to be hard. I guess that’s the bit that’s tough for them eh?”
Time for us to fend for ourselves
Of course this kind of easy living is fine if you’re fit and healthy and like papaya, coconuts and fish. But with our bouts of impetigo, sickness, diarrhoea and the challenges of heat and the kids pickiness over food, the going has not exactly been easy. A few times in the past few days Kirstie and I have wondered out loud whether we can survive a full month in beautiful Samoa or whether we’d be better to cut things short.
“You guys will be fine,” said Steve as he left us at the end of nine days on his eco tour, “you’ve got a good feel for the islands now and can figure things out for yourselves. And if you need any help just give the office a call and we’ll sort you out.”
He high-fived both the boys, carefully avoiding Cameron’s sores, then headed for his bus.
“Why is Steve going now?” asked Cameron sadly as the man who showed him where Father Christmas lived drove off in the cool green turtle bus he’d become so fond of.
“Well sweetheart, the part of our holiday with Steve is over now.”
“So, what do we do now then?” asked Matthew.
“That’s a very good question.”