Our neighbor’s son, Bear, recently came home for a short visit from Japan, where he plays professional football. He has visited pretty regularly since we moved to Faleasao (maybe 2x a year?), and we really love it when he’s home. Bear and the Beard get along really well and like to do all kinds of manly, dangerous things together.
Ex: a few weeks back, we had a tropical cyclone warning (Cyclone Evans, which caused substantial damage in the independent country of Samoa). After boarding up the windows and doing other storm-prep, Bear and the Beard decided to take advantage of the weather by breaking out a kite…. to go surfing. In a storm.
Unfortunately for them, the wind wasn’t consistent enough to really get out in the water, but they had fun trying.
While Bear was home it was like Andrew Zimmern was living next door. First, it was typical: Bear went fishing with some other guys in the village and caught some reef fish and lobster. Okay. Normal stuff. Then, all of a sudden, it was a shark. Then it was a bat (or flying fox). Littered between these other adventures was story after story of catching wild pigs in the jungle just beyond our village.
Now, we all knew about the wild pigs. (I even caught a glimpse of the backside of some pigs last year while hiking to Toa Cove.) I’ve heard about some men in the village hunting the pigs, but in the time we’ve lived here I’ve never seen anyone hauling back any carcasses. Until recently anyway.
Bear (along with two migrant workers from Tonga, Saia and Mote) were like pig-hunting madmen while he was home. Every weekend they’d come back from Toa with a pig. I was starting to wonder if there’d be any left in the woods. While everyone on the island knows about the wild pigs, they aren’t hunted very often. A lot of families raise their own pigs, and slaughtering your own is much easier than trampling through the jungle in search of a feral beast that might charge you.
The first couple of times they prepared and cooked a pig, I kept my distance. Some of you may not know this, but I didn’t eat pork from about 2006 until around the time we moved here. And I haven’t really been chompin’ on ham-hocks or anything since we came here. It’s more… well… I’ve been eating a lot of Spam and sausage and other not-good-for-ya meat and meat-like substances. So I’m not as picky as I used to be.
I’ve always had this fantasy that one day I would move to a foreign country, raise chickens, and learn to kill and clean them myself. I think it’s a sort of get-back-to-nature kind of thing; maybe part of me thinks things like gardening and killing chickens will bring me closer to my southern roots. Hey, I don’t know why. That’s not the point. The point is more that I’ve never even been able to handle a processed, boneless chicken breast–we’re talking from the package to the pan–without feeling a little queasy.
So it was with a lot of hesitation (and some internal pep-talking) that I decided to join the boys next door as they prepared a pig. I hid (awkwardly) behind my camera–sometimes closing both eyes and shooting blindly (the quality of these photos is therefore pretty horrible).
Bear and the Beard helped out while Mote and Saia prepared the pig the Tongan way and cooked it in pieces in the umu (the traditional, lava-rock oven). A week or so after these pictures were taken, while the Beard was on Tutuila for the Science Fair, I also got to see a pig cooked Tongan style (skewered on a big stick and turned by hand over an open fire).
I’m warning you RIGHT NOW that these photos are pretty graphic. I can’t tell you how it all turned out because I decided to eat an extremely rare pizza Hot Pocket instead (which was absolutely incredible). But the boys were pretty pleased with themselves.
Bear went back to Japan and Mote & Saia are only here for a few more weeks so I think our pua’a days are over. As adverse as I am to pork, and blood, and guts, and the smell of an animal’s internal organs sweltering in the hot equatorial sun, it was a pretty neat-o experience and I’m glad I woman-ed up enough to go next door. But I don’t think I’ll be killing any chickens any time soon.