Monday, April 12, 2010

Cultural Exploration 39: Niu

If there’s one thing on this island with unanimous acclaim, it’s niu, the kind of coconut you drink from. In the coconut family, there’s also the standard coconut, popo, the flesh of which can be served in raw chunks or shredded and baked inside a German bun or shredded, squeezed, and salted to make pe’epe’e, coconut cream. Finally there’s o’o, which is essentially a popo that has sprouted. O’o is mostly used for pig feed. But for today, we’ll be focused on niu.

Once again, for those of you keeping score at home, a quick lesson in pronunciation. Niu is pronounced as one syllable; almost like “new” or “gnu”, but not quite. The i acts like a “y”, so the effect is similar to putting an “n” at the beginning of the word “you”. Nyou. Another way to think about it is niu rhymes with the first syllable of “music”. Got it?

You can get buy a niu at the open-air market for $1.50, although the niumongers will give you a bigger coconut if you pay $2.00 or $3.00. And though it’s usually taboo to drink while standing, it’s not unusual to see a few Samoans walking around the market, shopping and sipping a niu. You can also buy in bulk and take your niu home and open them yourself later.

Niu trees are extremely common around the island, so in rural villages, rather than buying niu, people will get a kid to climb a tree and toss one down.

To open a niu, use the dull side of a large, heavy knife, or the broadside of a medium-to-big rock. All coconuts have 3 veins running along the side as shown by the blue lines in the second figure at right (Click on the diagram to enlarge.). You want to imagine a circle (like the red one in figure 3) and strike each vein where the circle crosses it. Continue rolling the niu and hitting each vein until the coconut cracks. It’s surprisingly easy to get a fairly clean circle. Use a straw, or drink directly.

As you might expect, coconut juice is quite healthy. In addition to being high in vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin C, and iron. They are good for electrolyte replacement, and they’re almost guaranteed to be safe to drink—even when the water isn’t.

Niu is served at formal occasions. When the training village threw a big fiafia just before our group left, niu were served. When my school hosts special events and invites dignitaries and faifeau, niu is served. Since coconuts are round and they’re prone to rolling over and spilling, they are usually served sitting on top of a drinking glass or coffee mug. The cup in this situation is only a stand though; it’s still customary to drink directly from the coconut.

A bunch of restaurants in town—Skippy’s, the fish market, et. al—list niu on their menu, but I find these places rarely have them in stock. I’m not sure if this is because niu are that popular or because these restaurants underestimate demand. In any case, niu are tasty and healthy, and I highly recommend them.

Tomorrow’s Cultural Exploration: X-Ray Stencils

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Niu and meal at the training village fiafia.

Phil drinking a niu during to'ona'i near the end of training.

Akenese drinking an un-husked niu.

Another great thing about niu is when you're done drinking, you have the option of splitting the rest open and eating the flesh. It comes with an optional meal.


Ερμής said...

hi my friend!!! you have a very very nice blog. You are so lucky to live in a real heaven like Samoa

I am from Greece. i have a blog also

the url above is my blog. Please visit me!!!
Thank you my friend!! thank you so much. Your visit is too important for me!!!!
Thank you again

Mr Pollo Hisenberg said...

Yes my frien I'm love with your blog. Samoa sounds so interesting. Your life sounds very interesting.
I love the sounds of this 'niu' and Akenese drinking 'niu' is a priceless photo.

How about a CE on rugby in Samoa and football in Am Samoa.

Anonymous said...

Cons about drinking the young coconuts is they will not mature for copra. Copra brings in cash for families.

Timmi said...

Niu is also a well-known natural laxative!