Stalking the Elusive Palolo Worm

Worm Hunt.

Jerry, Margret, and Aslika Mala collecting palolo worms. Photo ©S. Combs, 1987.

In Vanuatu, the pre-contact New Year was heralded by "worm night", which occurs every year 5 days after the first full moon in October. Palolo worms emerge from the coral to breed; one woman told me they come out and go into the ground to help the newly planted yams to grow. Everyone wades out onto the reef with a scoop made from mosquito netting fastened to a loop of flexible branch, a plastic bucket, and a Coleman kerosene pressure lantern. At least now-days; I don't know what implements were used pre-contact. People scoop up as many worms as they can and then put them into laplap (made of ground root crop or banana, coconut milk, and meat - worms in this case and cooked in laplap leaves on hot stones in a pit).

Worm Hunt.

Mixed party of Canadians, Australians, and ni-Vanuatu closing in on the quarry. Photo ©S. Combs, 1987.

Here is an excerpt from a letter home:

"We found out it was the annual "Worm Night". We just had to "share the experience", so at 2100, there we were out with the neighbours wading around on the reef with our Coleman lantern scooping up hordes of disgusting, slimy, wiggly worms. Aslika kept telling us to throw out the shrimp because they would ruin the taste. Um, Um, Good! There were several species of worms that came out in turn, one after another. I caught a baby sea-snake, but Aslika tossed it, too. I hadn't realized you could have so much fun on a week-night. And nutritious, too. Fits right in with World Food Day on Friday, to say nothing about Thanksgiving (Celebrated on the second Monday in October in Canada)."


John Kamphorst, Australian Livestock Advisor, examines our worms. Photo ©S. Combs.

I gave our catch to Aslika, but she fried them up and sent them back. I gave them a try - they tasted fishy, like everything else from the sea. Nobody else in the family would eat them, so the remainder went out to the goat, who also refused them. Aslika's daughter Margret saw them out in the goat's dish and went running back home with the news, which probably didn't raise our stock with the neighbours much.

Return to Kastom Vanuatu page.

©Stan Combs 1997