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Sunday, November 24, 2013

WHY WE EAT PISUPO!

From Tupea's polynesian market


When I was attending university in New Zealand, I stumbled across a poetry workshop on my way to one of the lecture halls.  There were a couple of students in the queue so I joined the line because I'd never been to a poetry workshop.  The theater was not so packed and when the curtain was raised, I saw a fair skinned, big boned, long haired woman probably in her early 20s. Her voice was a crisp whisper in the air, drawing in her audience and she spoke with a melody inked with her ancestors' voices. 

This was the first time I heard poetry expressed and performed by the author, herself.  It was poetry in its pure form, raw, true and most importantly in the poet's own voice. Her voice controlled the mood and produced the stage effect she wanted.  She performed about twenty or so poems but one I remember to this day. Actually two.  The first poem was about a dog(s) named Bingo.  In this stanza she speaks of her Samoan family's numerous dogs, different shapes and colours all having the same name. Bingo. The second poem I remember, was probably the most memorable about pisupo and why Samoans love to eat it.

It began with the poet, standing in the middle of the stage with a single spotlight on her:
She had the following props:
A chair
A machete
A 6lb pisupo (corned beef)

Slowly and deliberately she made us watch while she took out her machete.  A small gasp went through the crowd when she swayed it from side to side.  Her Samoan hips swayed from side to side while imitating the action.  Then she took the large can of pisupo (corned beef) and used the machete to open it.  If you've never used a knife instead of a palagi can opener to open a canned pisupo, then you need to re-visit your grandmother's house.   It is an art all Samoan girls and boys must learn to master before learning how to cook a palagi rice inside a palagi oven.

The rest of the poem was blurred but the lines that were most memorable and drew the most reaction from the audience included these:

"Do you know why Samoans love corned beef?
Because it's the one thing that tastes closest to human flesh!"

When the people around me heard this, they quickly turned their heads towards the only brown person among them, me,  for confirmation.  My first reaction :laughter, my second reaction, a nod.  Truthfully, Samoans love corned beef because it's food, it's beef, it comes in a can and it's PISUPO! No one ever stopped to think about what it resembled! Whether it tastes like human flesh (I don't know because obviously we are not cannibals any more) or not, people's reasons for eating pisupo cannot be studied under a microscope.  Rather, it is a collective WE when it comes to anything eatable. Food is a universal language we all speak, ok maybe not universal, a Pacific language none the less.

The poetry show was eye-opening, uncomfortable at times because she spoke about gluttony, sexual abuse, dog problem, cannibalism in pisupo form and other issues that are presently sensitive in our culture.  To this day, I don't recall the poet's name but boy she was memorable.

I enjoyed it, it stirred up other issues that we hardly talk about. Issues such as feminism, sex, church leaders' abuse of power and using the bible as leverage to live a comfortable life while our people try to make ends meet on a minimum wage, working several jobs leaving their children to fend for themselves or leaving them with friends or relatives. Issues that are important.

As we start the week, (Monday!) I dare you to think of reasons why we do the things we do, including the reasons why we eat the food we eat and think the thoughts in our heads. Most of the times, the reasons are tradition! We eat because our parents ate and so it is a habit that transfers from them to us.  I eat pisupo because my parents introduced me to it and it goes beautifully with taro! The thought of human flesh never crosses my mind when I eat pisupo but one does wonder about the taste of human flesh and who created pisupo in the first place! Why do we eat pisupo??

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