Why we eat pisupo

By Enid Westerlund Samuelu 19 November 2023, 12:00PM

When I was attending university in New Zealand, I stumbled upon 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 wanted to know what that looked like. The theatre 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 raw. Her voice set the stage. She performed about 20 poems, and I can recall 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 was about pisupo and was the most memorable.

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 and a 6lb pisupo (corned beef). Slowly and deliberately, she took out her machete. A united gasp went through the crowd when she swayed it from side to side. Her hips swayed too. Then she opened the six-pound pisupo with the machete. If you've never used a knife like this, then you need to revisit your grandmother's cookhouse in Samoa. It is an art all Samoan girls and boys must learn to master before learning how to cook.

"Do you know why Samoans love corned beef? Because it's the one thing that tastes closest to human flesh!" Shocked. The people quickly turned their heads towards me, the only other brown person in the room, for confirmation. I laughed and then nodded. 

Truthfully, Samoans love corned beef because it's food, 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 or not, I don't know any Samoan who doesn't love pisupo. Writing about it is making me hungry!

The show was eye-opening, and uncomfortable at times because she spoke about gluttony, sexual abuse, dog problems, cannibalism in pisupo form and other issues that are controversial in our culture. Asiata Avia has gone on to win many awards.

I enjoyed it, it stirred up other 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.

As we enjoy another peaceful Sunday Samoa, remember we can use any form to talk about important issues, whether it's song or poetry. The thought of human flesh never crossed my mind eating pisupo, but one does wonder why it looks like that!

• Enid Westerlund Samuelu is an aviation specialist, business consultant and author and loves to share stories and write children’s books. 

By Enid Westerlund Samuelu 19 November 2023, 12:00PM
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