Post 51 – Caviar of the Sea

The chickens are dyed pastel colors for Easter.

The chickens are dyed pastel colors for Easter.

A year and a half into the two-year contract, nothing much phased the family anymore. Pigs in the road were to be expected. Parades with marching men in lava lavas followed by floats full of tie-dyed chickens happened on a regular basis. Five inches of rain in an hour simply meant the laundry would take a little longer to dry. Gradually, the extraordinary had become mundane.

Larry felt that they had become too acclimated. Although they had moved to a new culture, they had brought comfort items and bad habits from home. Jean and Larry had sampled some of the native-flavored foods on the island, but the children were picky eaters and remained stubbornly loyal to more traditional fare. Carolyn still refused to eat many meals, preferring to wait until there was something she really liked and then stocking up by having several helpings. Larry decided that some tough love was going to be needed to force the children out of their comfort zone.

October 1965

“Ready for some culture? Last week the palolo came in. What’s that? You don’t know what palolo are (or is)? Well, you haven’t lived. They’s worms, man, worms. Here’s the story: Every year the Samoans look forward to the palolo run, sort of like the smelt run in Michigan. These things are little green worms about the size of uncooked extra thin spaghetti. They come up out of the sea every year, seven days after the first full moon in October. The little green monsters live in the coral all year and this is their one opportunity to howl. The worm splits in two; the reproductive part rises to the surface to procreate with other halves while the first half stays down in the coral and regrows its jewels. On the big night, they rise to the surface by the trillions where they are caught in the surf and washed onto the reef where hungry Samoans are waiting for them. The natives bring taro, bananas and beer around midnight and scoop up the worms by the thousands. Many of the little creatures are devoured raw by water-logged natives but most are hauled ashore and eaten with the items they brought, then washed down with beer. “


Kathy and Carolyn stood ankle-deep in the cool surf, peering into the water. Larry had decided that the two younger girls didn’t need to experience whatever was about to happen and Jean had been grateful to stay home and go to sleep. The waning moon provided little light, but the sparks from Coleman lanterns and a billion stars illuminated the delicate waves. The mood was casual but anticipatory as the watchful Samoans dotting the reef talked and laughed and waited, pushing aside the clouds of brown, foamy scum that were a signal of what was about to happen. The Broquet girls dutifully held glass jars because they had been instructed that they should scoop up whatever was about to rise out of the sea. Carolyn had some vague idea that it was going to be those tiny silvery blue fish that you could usually see in the clear water. She thought it might be fun to have an aquarium.

Palolo-greenA shout rang out from a man in knee-deep water and suddenly the surface of the sea exploded as people plunged their hands into the shallows. There was churning and cheering and splashing salt spray as handfuls of long, green worms were scooped up and deposited into any bucket available, or even better, directly into mouths. The palolo were everywhere, and Kathy and Carolyn looked down in horror as the swarming, writhing mass wrapped itself around their knees. Dropping their Tang jars, the two girls ran screaming toward the beach with Larry close behind. They dropped to the sand and tried to scrape off the mucousy film that clung to their legs with the extra parts of the worms reproductive systems still intact. The ocean filled with a milky, viscous liquid that signified that the frenzied worm orgy they had just been standing in had been successful.

The Samoans were celebrating and dragging nets and containers full of worms to the beach. The next few days would be a feast for them, as the annual harvest of these delicacies would be sold on the street or fried in oil or baked into a worm loaf with coconut milk and onions. One of the Broquet’s neighbors, a man who had jumped headfirst into Samoan culture and relished such celebrations as this, beckoned the girls over and showed them the worms up close. He offered Larry a taste, urging him to sample the tart, fishy taste. “It’s like mixture of seaweed and caviar,” he encouraged, but Larry knew he would not be able to take advantage of this teaching moment with his daughters. He was suddenly okay with the idea of eating pot roast and ham for the rest of their stay.

“What was all that white stuff in the water?” asked Kathy, equally repelled and fascinated by the slimy viridian spaghetti in front of her.
“I’m going to let your dad explain that to you,” said their neighbor, as the many Samoans standing on the beach lit up a cigarette and smiled with satisfaction.

6 Comments to “Post 51 – Caviar of the Sea”

  1. You mean you missed having green eggs and ham? We all awaited that for breakfast the next morning after our catch. We served some unexplained to an unsuspecting military guy once. I don’t suppose he ever forgave us, but we all looked forward to it every year we were there.


  2. Gee, Anne, I wish I had used Green Eggs and Ham as the title of the post! You Flanigans were always a lot more adventuresome than we were.



  3. I remember every pot and jar filled to the brim with palolo in our refrigerator. Cam & Peg’s friends and our house maid were very popular with our sharing refrigeration, a true luxury!


  4. Oh my, I had completely forgotten about the palolo. Your stories are bringing back so many memories of my childhood. We lived in American Samoa from 1980-1982.


  5. Talofa Broquets! Thank you for sharing your old photos and stories about our island home. I am born and raised but what you’re describing in your writings was long gone when I was born. Thank you for this opportunity to see and read what Amerika Samoa looked like back then.



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