By Liz Ah-Hi
Cover photo credit: Nadya Va'a
The Palolo moon made me do it.
At 2.30am this morning I woke up with an unusual amount of alertness considering I had only accepted a random invitation just a few hours earlier from my neighbour to go ‘ka palolo’ in Lefaga.
It was the moment I had been waiting for and weeks of dropping hints into social conversations had finally paid off at the eleventh hour bearing in mind there was only days left of the palolo rising.
Though my Dad dispels it, I could have sworn I had a childhood memory of waking up to a dark but moonlit beach in Asau filled with shadow people carrying torches, hunting for palolo in silence. Whether it was just a dream or an actual event that took place, I was looking forward to having a new experience.
Having heard variations of ancient superstitions that best attract these elusive mystical worms I realised that at such short notice I hadn’t had time to make a lei of moso’oi but since it was my first time catching palolo - new traditions were in order so I settled for a full face of makeup and copious amounts of Victoria’s Secret ‘Passion Struck’ fragrance mist.
Arriving at Paradise Beach in Lefaga under a blanket of darkness armed with torches and hand nets, we joined a long line of eager palolo hunters who were quietly murmuring within their groups and curiously became silent when you passed by. I quickly learnt that the first rule of palolo catching is ‘you don’t talk about palolo catching’ and instead followed my friends hand signals and barely audible whispers.
I could see that there were already people in the water, my neighbour Moira pointed out that palolo catching requires team work and those individuals were out there to ‘asi le palolo’ and then report back to the group.
Making our way through the entry point locally referred to as ‘one tree hill’ we waded into the water and over the slippery rocks onto the coral. At this point I realised that palolo catching also requires a lot of praying, for one, that you don’t slip on the coral and reveal your first timer status to the locals - I silently berated myself for my choice of foot wear.
Almost immediately with one arm stroke of the hand net we caught our first worm. I was officially no longer a palolo catching virgin and I allowed myself the cheap thrill of capturing my first precious mystical worm.
Interrupted by a large wave breaking I took a breather from the methodical hand snaring action to look back towards the shore and saw a familiar sight of captivating shadow bodies and moving light beams scattered across the beach.
I sigh and marvel at the magic of palolo rising and realised that such an event is more than just the excitement over acquiring a highly sought after sea food delicacy.
It’s about the legends they inspire and the reverence people have for a mystical marine creature that answers only to the moon. It’s about the mystery that every year brings not knowing exactly when the palolo will emerge and how abundant the spawning will be.
And as suddenly as they appeared, the palolo begin to dissipate as dawn broke into a stunning sunrise over Paradise beach. We take our bounty of palolo (about enough to evenly spread over two pieces of toast) and waded back onto the beach.
I took my time in the water and breathed in as much of moment as possible, appreciating the miracle of the morning sky thinking that yes… whether my palolo memories were in real time or dream time – I have been here before.