Reunited in the neighboring valley, we brought ashore some fish we’d caught for Mami Faatiarau, Maoni, and Georgina–the woman with whom they were staying. The goat and the puppy had come along too! They’d just returned from a morning of foraging in the mountains with a sac full of mangos, and were pulling a steaming hot pot out of the traditional underground oven, full of a cake called ‘poe mape’, made from grated local chestnuts and coconut milk. I could only imagine what time they woke up; it was only 8:30 in the morning! The other grandmother, Georgina, loved to talk and spoke French, so she cheerfully started in on stories of her and Mami Faatiarau’s courageous escapades over our generous helpings of cake and instant coffee. Both women were separated from their husbands, so they kept each other company from time to time. She recounted one story that I felt obligated to share…
Not long ago, around ten at night, Mami Faatiarau and Georgina were out catching local shrimp in the river in Mami’s valley. They’d already caught a few, when they heard something rustling in the brush behind them. Instantly, Mami’s hunting dogs erupted in wild barking.
Without a good flashlight, Mami Faatiarau couldn’t make out what all the commotion was about. She grabbed her knife and headed for the scene, but it was too dark so she called to Georgina to go and light a palm frond on fire and bring it over so she could see. When Georgina came back with the lit frond, she illuminated an enormous, 600-pound tusked wild boar. Pinned by the well-trained dogs, Mami went straight in and stabbed it in the heart!!
Once it had died, the work was just beginning….
Mami Faatiarau and Georgina cut two long straight branches from a nearby tree and built a sort of ‘sled’ using bark rope and sticks. They somehow managed to slide it under the beast and then Mami hauled it down to the beach, where she lit a fire, cleaned and gutted it, and used the fire to burn the hair off the skin. She then butchered the massive pig into manageable pieces and prepped it for the curing and salting process. Without refrigeration, they use old fashion system of salting meat to preserve it.
She didn’t finish working until 4am!
Mami Faatiarau smirked with gleaming eyes as Georgina recounted the memorable night, nodding ever so often in affirmation. She wasn’t prideful; it seemed to her it was just everyday ‘living’. She rose to take another piece of ‘poe mape’, moving nimbly on bare feet at almost 80 years old, skirt flowing about her legs. Unlike some of the male hunters, she didn’t wear bore’s tusks around her neck. If it wasn’t for Georgina, Mami Faatiarau would never have even told us the story. I wanted to hear more, trying to imagine the realities of her many, toilsome years in the valley. She was a living monument to a dying way of life, her richness of an uncountable sort. It was a gift just to be near her strong, vibrant presence…one I won’t soon forget…