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Current position of the SSV Robert C. Seamans. Click on the vessel to view position history. Use the tools, top right, to change the map style or view data layers. Dates and times use GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).

SEA Currents: SSV Robert C. Seamans

September 28, 2016

The Umu

Alexander Heenan, B Watch, Western Oregon University


Palasami, breadfruit, meat, and hot stones: the necessities of an umu

Ship's Log

Current Position
14° 16.479’ S x 170° 41.599’ W

Pago Pago Harbor

Mostly sunny with short periods of rain, slight breezes present

Souls on Board

This is our second day on board the SSV Robert C. Seamans, and as any introductory process we are still memorizing the inner workings of the ship. Our day really began in the early hours of the morning as the crew began to be introduced to dockwatch, an hourly check to ensure the ship is running to her optimum capacity. My watch began at 00:00 and ended at 01:00 which was fortunate for me as our activities on board ended fairly close to 22:00 so it didn’t impact my sleep much. Other watches were not as lucky. I started my day at 05:45, just before the first wakeup call went out. This gives me time to change and enjoy the beautiful mornings here in Samoa, and also offer help to our steward. Breakfast occurs in two shifts in which we as a crew really get to sit down and socialize with each other. This doesn’t last long as our watches begin right after this. Today involved us learning to use the winch (which will later be used to lower scientific instruments), the helm, and how to coil our lines as to avoid injury. After this was done the real experience began.

Yesterday many of the crew bought ‘ie lavalavas, a Polynesian clothing that wraps around you. Our first mate showed us how to tie these.

Yesterday we watched a Samoan style tattoo demonstration from a lovely couple at the nearby community college. Today we met back up with them to prepare an umu, or a traditional Samoan feast. Our professor told us we would have the chance to volunteer and I jumped at this. It would later turn out to be one of the best experiences of my life. The man who did the tattoo is named Wilson, called Su’a out of respect. We met him on his property and immediately got to work. He began by showing us how to husk coconuts. This was a little difficult to pick up but by my third coconut in I became pretty efficient at husking. At one point Su’a as he was instructing someone else pointed to me and said, “the giant over there just pulls them apart by hand”.

This was one of the best things I heard today. When this was finished we began splitting the coconuts while Su’a went to gather taro leaves. I actually had so much fun splitting it was hard to stop. We drank the milk from many of the coconuts we split; at this part you will have to trust me when I say there is a definite difference in the coconuts bought in store and the fresh ones from the island. I also got the opportunity to take a bite from a coconut seed. A man by the name of Mark whom we were also helping told me this only comes from very old trees. I have never seen anything like it. It was spongy and sweet; I couldn’t help but feel honored that I could share this with them.

One use of coconut cream was mixing in with onions and salt, placing it in taro leaves, and wrapping it in banana and breadfruit leaves. This is a dish known as palasami that after several attempts I was finally able to make.

The main courses of the umu were turkey covered in cinnamon and banana leaves and ham wrapped in papaya and banana leaves that was placed on a bed of hot rocks and covered in a tarp and banana, papaya, and breadfruit leaves. The fruits of our labor were well worth it but there was something here of much greater value. Su’a  showed us traditions of Samoa, helped us learn the work that goes into preparing an amazing feast, and even helped me tie my ‘ie lavalava.

Our Samoa hosts were incredible. They loved the fact that others would care about their culture enough to want to share in it. In the two days I’ve been here I’ve seen beautiful landscapes, an unparalleled generosity, and traditions I would have never learned of had I not taken the chance to come on this expedition.  I am very appreciative to Reg and Su’a who took us into their home and allowed us to have an experience that many do not get. I have been told they consider us ‘aiga, part of an extended family. If ever given the chance in the future I will prepare for them an Oregon style BBQ fitting of just how much the time we have spent means to me. I will remember today for many years to come, but the memories are just starting on this trip so there will be a lot more to come!

- Alexander

Previous entry: Welcome to American Samoa    Next entry: Safety at Sea


Leave a public comment for students and crew to read when they reach their next port and have access to the internet!

#1. Posted by Caroline Shehan on September 29, 2016

Olivia Shehan,

Hi its your sister Caroline. Im sorry I missed your phone call. Ive been feeling badly about not wishing you well on your travels and telling you that I love you. I hope you can get this message somehow. I miss u and I cant wait to see the pictures. Be safe, have fun & i love you. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

<3 <3 <3 Caroline

#2. Posted by David Newmann on October 01, 2016

Really enjoyed the report on the umu.  It looks and sounds like an incredible feast!

As to the tattoo demonstration, very curious to learn who the demonstration was performed on.  Wondering whether Emma took the opportunity to follow through on her ongoing threat to get one . . .

We miss you, Emma!

#3. Posted by Kelley Kirsch on October 05, 2016

Families at home love hearing about the stories of the students and their experiences.

Please keep the presses rolling!

Take care, all!

We love and miss you!



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