Samoa: Wedding cake and the shaking ‘fale’

Life in mid-60s Samoa could get a little strange for a guy who grew up in urban Salt Lake City. Here are just two examples:

I recently wrote about some of my experiences in Samata, Savaii, and how much we enjoyed the ripe bananas from a region famous for its bananas. In addition to eating them ripe, Samoans also bake and boil green bananas — both of which can be very tasty, especially with some coconut cream (thick fa’alifu-style with the saka or boiled, and thin-and-salty miti with the baked); or better yet, either way eaten with palusami — a baked dish made with young taro tops, coconut cream, onions and a little salt…but none of these Samoan delights satisfied a sweet tooth.

In fact, Samata provided little in the way of getting a sugar-fix. Traditional Samoans often didn’t like things that were sweet, and the old matai or chiefs would actually drink their koko Samoa (hot chocolate made from locally grown cacao) without sugar: Think dark unsweetened cooking chocolate, and you get some sense of how bitter this could be.

True, you could buy little “minties,” a small taffy-like candy imported from New Zealand, at practically every little country store (or their “cousin,” the very similar “milk shake” — not to be confused with the real thing). But otherwise, our life in Samata was pretty basic, and I believe at one point I had lost about 15 pounds on an already lean frame in those days. In fact, when Sister Price, our mission mother, saw me upon my return from Samata, she said, “Oh no, Elder Foley. What will your mother think if we send you home like that.” Well, if she could see me now she needn’t have worried.

But this was back in the day, and I could sometimes satisfy my palagi (Caucasian) sugar craving with a form of New Zealand wedding cake that came in a small box. Samoans would actually buy quite a few of them and place them together back then to make a more regular sized wedding cake. Somehow the boxed ones were very well preserved (chemicals?)…because we could store them for weeks, perhaps even months on the shelf without spoiling — this in a place where we had no refrigerators. Actually, a few little stores and the occasional Protestant minister had kerosene refrigerators; but I’m guessing if you were like me, you had no idea there was such a thing as a kereosene pusa aisa (ice box).

New Zealand wedding cake back then-and-there was actually more like a yellow fruit cake, but with candied fruit and maybe some marzipan inside. Now I know a lot of people make fun of fruit cakes, but I’m a fan — always have been since little-kid-days: My Grandma Foley (not a Mormon) used to bake them in Portland, Oregon, where she lived, wrap them in a cheese cloth, place them in a tin, and send them to us in Salt Lake City. They, too, would last for months, but I now think that might have had something to do with the rum she probably put in them.

Anyhow, whenever we went on mission business (usually once a week) to Max Haleck’s Store in Salelologa, near the wharf for ferries to-and-from Upolu, I’d stock up on these little boxes of wedding cake . . . and enjoy a little slice every day or so in far-off Samata, sometimes with a little ripe banana.

Enough about food. This next story is about another type of comfort, or more correctly, an interuption to said comfort: My companion and I were assigned to proselyte from Afega to Leauva’a. We lived in Tuana’i behind the Mormon chapel in a little Samoan fale — a thatched roof house just like the ones in the Samoan village at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, except ours was about the size of their kitchen.

A previous set of missionaries had built a wooden floor in it about 18-24 inches above the ground (by nailing two-by-fours across the various poles, and then planks on top of those). This kept us considerably dryer, especially when it rained . . . but it also created another problem.

One of the things my dad taught me when I was a little kid, while visiting the farm of some family friends in Santaquin, Utah, is that pigs love to have their back scratched. In my mind, I can still see my dad pick up a board and scrape away at the backs of the pigs in their pen. They were in ecstasy and just couldn’t get enough . . . so I think you can see where this little story might be going:

In Western Samoa at the time many pigs were allowed to ta’a — roam wherever they wanted, rooting up stuff, including below outhouses hanging over the ocean (too much information?). Well, anyhow, in the middle of the night my companion and I would occasionally be woken up because our whole fale was shaking.

Earthquake? No. The pigs would crawl under there and scratch their own backs against the two-by-four joists. So, no matter what the weather was like, the only thing that would make them stop is for one of us to get up and throw rocks at them. We took turns. So did the pigs.


  1. Mikaele, I enjoyed reading your stories. We have so many stories to share and enjoy, especially during our missionary days. I wish there was a safe forum to share our spiritual experiences too. I wish words can flow to me like you do when you sit by your computer. Thank you again and have a blessed week.

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