I love visiting the islands and I especially love visiting Samoa – beaming smiles, ‘island time’, beautiful palm-fringed tropical beaches, impromptu laughter-filled rugby games to watch from a sandy perch, rum in hand, book cast aside. Being skinny(ish) and white, I’ve never been game to pretend to be capable of joining in.
But food has never been the intent of my island visits. It can be a long trip to the market in Apia for fruit; there is little demand out of town for what is abundant in every backyard, and coconut water is often in short supply despite the trees dripping in fruit. So it was a genuine treat during a recent visit to Taufua Beach Fales, on Lalomanu Beach on the south-east coast of Upolu, to be invited to help put down an umu for a Sunday feast. The gutting of suckling pigs was a challenge for our western constitutions, but this is some seriously free-ranging pork with a population controlled through Sunday feasting. And anyway, we were soon distracted by the delicious reward for our participation: taro piping hot, straight off the rocks, mopping up the palusami we had made from a nest of young taro leaves filled with freshly extracted coconut cream and onion, before the feast was whisked back to the beach for those more intent on lounging in the sand.