Palolo-The art of eating sperm
I picked it off the leaf that was in the girls hand. I choose the blue one. It was hard to get a grip on because it slithered like a snake. It looked like a worm, except it was blue. “Just eat it,” I was told. Not wanting to look like a chicken I swallowed. It didn’t have much of a taste, just felt slimy. I asked about the other color worm on the leaf. “Not sure if it is different, try it!” so I did. The brown sea sperm tasted just like the blue one.
If you were to ask me over a year ago if I would willingly eat sperm from the sea, I would have laughed at you completely. For one thing I hated sea food, and I can’t imagine putting something as disgusting as sperm from the sea inside my mouth. Since then, my taste buds have changed, and my willingness to try different things has also changed.
Hearing how much people look forward to fishing for palolo so they can eat it, tempted me. Why would the whole country go fishing one night, just so they could eat sperm from the sea? There had to be a reason behind it. I needed to try it.
My mission began about a month ago, a week after the last full moon. A day which I thought would be full of fishing for palolo. I went out with my brother and his friends to the sea at 2:30 in the morning to go fishing. There were hundreds of people out at that time with their flashlights waiting for something. I had heard all of a sudden you saw blue color coming to the surface and I wanted to see it.
However, this day only happens once a year, and it was the wrong full moon. We had to wait for the next full moon. A week before fishing everyone was chatting about, “Are you going?” it sounded like it was going to be even bigger than the last unsuccessful trip with my brothers. I had to try again.
My brothers were leaving at 4:30 in the morning this time. I set me alarm, and went to sleep. My body did not want to wake up, and I overslept. I awoke shortly after 5, woke my little sister and we headed towards the Pacific. I took her through the wooded path to the rocks where my brothers had taken me, but no one was there. I was so confused, where was everyone. We headed down the steps to the ocean, and scrambled on the wet boulders, until we reached the beach. After walking across the sand for awhile, we began to see shadows and people began to call out my name.
The beach was packed with people from my village and the neighboring village. They were just sitting around waiting. A lot of them were resting on the sand, they looked exhausted, like they were camping on the beach all night. Many kids were splashing about in the water, or burying each other in the sand. It was an early morning party on the beach that was amazing (if I wasn’t so tired!). We searched around for my brothers, and could not find them, so I hung out with many of my neighbors. It was a lot of fun.
We watched different people take turns searching the water with their flashlights for the sperm to emerge, however when it was approaching sunrise, we realized it was the wrong day. Again. I was 0 for 2 for finding palolo. That is a pretty bad percentage!
Yesterday everyone was seen fixing their nets. The nets looked like a lace fabric around a stick. It was pretty functional for such a simple design. Others got their buckets ready, with what looked like mosquito netting filling it.
I was invited to go out the next morning with many people, but I decided to see how I was feeling, since I have been sick all week, and sleep is too good to pass on. So, I overslept again. And sadly, today was the only successful palolo fishing day.
As I walked to school, people were heading back from the beach. They showed me what was in their netting. Ewwww. That is what they made such a big deal about? It looked like hundreds of tiny worms colored blue and tan. Everyone was so excited to show them off to me. On the way, I ran into a girl who was headed to school at the college. She had a leaf in her hand and asked me if I wanted to see. “Sure,” I said.
There were so many little worms crawling about. I asked if she had ever eaten them, and was told she didn’t like them. I was then offered a taste, I looked at them and asked her how people it them. She must have thought I was the stupidest person around, and told me, “you just eat it.”
“No, I mean. Is it cooked, or do people eat it raw.” The answer was both. Well, I had to do it. I decided to try the colorful one first. It was difficult to pick up just one as they were just slithering about, inter-tangled with one another. I stared at it for awhile. I knew how disgusting it sounded to be eating sperm from the sea. It was already in my hand, so why not?
I put my head back and swallowed.
When I was finished I asked, “What does the other color taste like?” I was urged to try that one. So once again I went for it. It tasted the same.
Even though eating palolo is something very special for people here, I can’t believe that I will ever get that into it that I will begin searching for sea sperm when I go back to America. But while I’m here, I might as well do as my neighbors do, and maybe next year I will actually be able to have a successful fishing trip for palolo.