Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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palolo a strange marine delicacy of the South Sea islands, well described by Hornell (1950):

On the occurrence of one particular phase of the moon towards the close of the year, incredible numbers of a sea-worm, known as palolo in Samoa and Tonga and as mbololo in Fiji, rise to the surface of the sea from the submerged coral reefs which encircle these islands. This swarming is limited to two particular days, one usually in October, the other in November. The natives know from experience exactly when to expect them … When the signs are recognized, every available canoe is manned and paddled out to the reef shortly after midnight; here they eagerly await the coming of the worms. If their calculation is correct, as it generally is, the swarm begins to appear on the surface about 2 hours before sunrise. Work is carried on with feverish haste. All are armed with hand-nets of some sort or other. Almost anything will serve, so dense are the writhing, wriggling masses of worms. Every canoe and receptacle must be filled before sunrise, for the moment the flaming rays of the sun strike the water, the worms, which are mere delicate-walled tubes filled with eggs or with sperm, burst and shed their contents into the water. Within a few minutes the swarms have vanished like smoke before the wind; no sign remains except a thin whitish scum floating on the surface.