... a part-Samoan ingenuity.
The bamboo cannon is made from the bamboo stem - or the culm (see picture). It’s usually about 6-7 feet long and about 5-6 inches in diameter. The inside solid node plates are hollowed out except for the last plate at the tail/back of the culm. About a foot from the back end, a small hole is cut/drilled and it is the main part of firing the cannon. Kerosene is used as fuel. The right amount is poured through the hole and with the front of the cannon raised at 10-15 degrees, the kerosene sits stagnant in the back end.
Once the kerosene is poured in, the cannon needs warming up before it fires correctly, effectively and consistently. The warming up phase - consisting of flame injections - takes about 3-5 minutes of mostly duds/misfires and backfires. When the cannon is hot it starts to operate normally, firing off loud bangs. Firing is done by passing the small flame of the lighting stick over the hole. Each firing is followed by the operator blowing fresh air through the hole clearing any smoke from inside the cannon at the same time. Basically, the more air and less smoke, the bigger and louder the explosion.
During normal operation, dangerous duds may occur. These often happen as a result of low fuel or retained and leftover smoke. Duds creating misfires and backfires cause flames to shoot out of the hole, often with a thump or thud. When this happens, and while the operator is bending directly over the hole, his face becomes vulnerable; eyelashes and/or eyebrows can be reduced to skin and pore level as a result. This unfortunate experience often becomes the most unpleasant - yet memorable - one associated with the faga’ofe anecdotes.
Overall, however, the faga’ofe are sources of fun and excitement for young Samoan kids during the Christmas holidays. There is implicit competition among the faga’ofe owners and operators of the same village and/or of neighboring villages. Winners are usually those who would garner the reputation of firing the loudest blasts.
More advanced versions of the faga’ofe made from galvanized steel pipes (faga paipa) and with similar specs as the culm - if not bigger - are coveted more because of their superior firing and explosive power. These can be heard from miles away. The commotion and cacophonous environment created by multiple cannon firings - simultaneous and sporadic - can be reminiscent of a war zone. Though festive and fun, the faga’ofe chaos can quickly become - to some people - an unpleasant paradox and pandemonium to the peaceful spirit and disposition of the Christmas season.
So while the American youngster creates dissonance and noise limited to the confines of his own home, a Samoan kid creates explosions that ripple through to his cousins two or three villages away. And while the American kid may suffer carpel tunnel later on in life, the Samoan kid’s eyebrows/lashes will have already grown back; if not, she - or he - can always borrow from the part-American ingenuity of drawing or lining the brows with a marker. LOL!