Table of Contents
'Epa, Apei, and Päega: Ceremonial Mats
Death and Funerals
Koua: Earth Ovens
Koua are ovens, dug in the ground, in which food is baked. The term also refers to the contents of such an oven, to food that has been baked in an earth oven, and to meals that have been so prepared.
A sheath of coconut is shredded, lit, and used to ignite the kindling wood. While the firewood is burning, the men are scraping taro, papai(Cyrtosperma chamissonis), and other root-crops, as well as breadfruit, in preparation for baking in the koua. Pigs that will be cooked are killed; after their carcasses are turned on the hot stones to singe off their hair, they are scraped with knives (in the past, with seashells). Each pig's throat is slit open and its esophagus pulled up and tied with string to close off the opening before being put back in place. At the other end of the digestive track, a hole is cut near the anus and the bottom of the pig's intestines is likewise tied with string. If the pig is male, its penis is tied as well to keep urine from contaminating the meat. Then the abdomen is sliced open and the internal organs, from the esophagus to the intestines, are carefully removed and given to the women to clean in the sea. The carcass is also washed with sea water. After the gall bladder (hasu) has been removed, the liver (äfe) is kept to be cooked with the pig. If cows have been slaughtered, they are skinned and cut into pieces, which are then wrapped in plaited coconut leaves.
Again using the poles, the pigs are placed first on the coals in the centre of the koua and turned belly down. Next the meat from the cattle, followed by the root-crops (papai, taro, yams, etc.) and breadfruit are placed along the margins of the pit because they do not require as much heat to cook. Some hot stones are placed on top of the food using 'ilehi (tongs made from the midribs of coconut leaves) in order to distribute the heat more evenly.
all the food is in place, the koua is covered
with banana leaves and papai leaves thick
enough to protect the food from sand, and to keep the heat from escaping.
For small koua, sa'a
(Macaraga sp) leaves may be sewn together using the midribs from
coconut leaflets (no'o) to form a leafy
blanket (lepa) serving the same purpose.
Next old mats are put on top, covering the leaves. Finally the koua
is covered with earth or sand. This stage of the process is known as
waiting for the food to bake, the men plait baskets (if for a funeral,
la [a type of shallow basket] as well) and trays of coconut leaves
to carry pigs to the feast site. If the koua
contains beef, they also make a bier of wood to transport it. The women
use this time to clean the innards (finäe)
of the animals and wrap them in fan-palm leaves. They tie each wrapped
bundle (telulu) with a string. These are
then baked in a small koua prepared by
the men. (These telulu are not eaten at
the time of the feast, but are given to the women who cleaned the innards
to take home.)
For funerals, koua are uncovered and the food removed after three or four hours, because the burial must take place very soon after death has occurred and the funeral feast follows immediately thereafter. On other occasions, when time to prepare is greater, koua are allowed to cook overnight (as in fao te for weddings). A family koua, containing only a small pig, may be uncovered after only a couple of hours. The uncovering of koua is known as koua hue'kia.
Taro, a roasted pig, sugar-cane, and a kava plant constitute a minimal koua for presentation at a ceremony. Roasted chicken, corned beef, bread-fruit, fekei, watermelon, and pineapple are supplementary items to koua at big functions.
When time is ample to prepare for a function, the women plait tauga (closely woven flat-bottom baskets about a foot deep) from coconut leaves. These are used as containers (fono) to carry food to the chiefs. Men fill the fono with food and carry the basket supported in the palm of one hand, while the other hand holds the front edge of the basket. People use green baskets ('af jarava) for fono if they have no tauga.
 The requirement that a burial take place within 12 hours is a modern innovation prescribed by the Ministry of Health. In olden times the burial was delayed so that people from other parts of the island, who had to come on foot or by canoe, could attend. back to text