Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Samoa in the News

"Open Happiness"

Apparently, sea cucumbers are being overfished (overcucumbered?) in American Samoa, prompting a moratorium on harvesting them.

I'm no fan of the idea of eating sea cucumbers or their byproducts. I say idea because happily in my two years' time in the islands, I escaped without so much as touching my lips with sea cucumber, largely because I was virtually never directly offered them. (Otherwise, I would have been forced to oblige, as I did when offered tuitui, sea urchin.)

Folklore has it that one dish, sea, or sea cucumber entrails stored in a sort of sea water brine, is processed by toothless old Samoan women who suck the guts out of the hapless invertebrates, then spit the guts into a Coke bottle, the preferred container, it seems, for later sale on the roadside or at town markets.

(Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods, shows what the sea experience is like from a Western perspective. His cultural insensitiveness and linguistic ignorance—in Samoa, at least—are perhaps topics of another post.)

But the idea of a moratorium to conserve resources is not a new concept for the Samoan islanders. Early missionaries to Samoa noted the practice of the faʻasā, which, according to Mormon missionary William O. Lee, writing in 1899, "is a forbidding of the use of any particular article in the time of scarcity until it becomes plentiful again." "A valuable lesson in retrenchment," Lee calls the practice, recommending it to his readers back home.

Lee writes elsewhere that
the village council . . . puts a faasa-taboo on cocoanuts, taro, pigs, chickens, etc., that none shall be eaten or sold in time of scarcity, until they are plentiful again, a custom, by the way, which we are pleased to acknowledge is a valuable lesson in economy.
It's good to see that the Samoans are using their traditions to manage their resources in the 21st century.

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