For about half the year the Samoans have an abundant supply of food from the bread-fruit trees. During the other half they depend principally on their taro plantations. Bananas and cocoa-nuts are plentiful throughout the year. While the bread-fruit is in season every family lays up a quantity in a pit lined with banana and cocoa-nut leaves, and covered in with stones. It soon ferments; but they keep it in that state for years, and the older it is they relish it all the more. They bake this in the form of little cakes, when the bread-fruit is out of season, and especially when there is a scarcity of taro. The odour of these cakes is offensive in the extreme to a European; but a Samoan turns from a bit of English cheese with far more disgust than we do from his fermented bread-fruit.
A crop of bread-fruit is sometimes shaken off the trees by a gale before it is ripe, and occasionally taro plantations are destroyed by drought and caterpillars; but the people have wild yams in the bush, preserved bread-fruit, cocoa-nuts, and fish to fall back upon; so that there is rarely, if ever, anything like a serious famine. A scarcity of food, occasioned by any of the causes just named, they were in the habit of tracing to the wrath of one of their gods, called O le Sa (or the Sacred One). The sun, storms, caterpillars, and all destructive insects were said to be his au ao, or servants, who were commissioned to go forth and eat up the plantations of those with whom he was displeased. In times of plenty as well as of scarcity the people were in the habit of assembling with offerings of food, and poured out drink-offerings of ’ava to Le Sa, to propitiate his favour.
A story is told of a woman and her child, who in a time of great scarcity were neglected by the family. One day they cooked some wild yams, but never offered her a share. She was vexed, asked the child to follow her, and when they reached a precipice on the rocky coast, seized the child and jumped over. It is said they were changed into turtles, and afterwards came in that form at the call of the people of the village.
Cannibalism.—During some of their wars, a body was occasionally cooked by the Samoans; but they affirm that, in such a case, it was always some one of the enemy who had been notorious for provocation or cruelty, and that eating a part of his body was considered the climax of hatred and revenge, and was not occasioned by the mere relish for human flesh, such as obtained in the Fiji, New Hebrides, and New Caledonian groups. In more remote heathen times, however, they may have indulged this savage appetite. To speak of roasting him is the very worst language that can be addressed to a Samoan. If applied to a chief of importance, he may raise war to avenge the insult. It is the custom on the submission of one party to another to bow down before their conquerors each with a piece of firewood and a bundle of leaves,