Transforming ‘Umu’ - A traditional Samoan oven. “Suiga o le ‘umu’ Samoa”

John Eteuati
30 December 2015

Eteuati, P. A. F. J. (2016). Transforming 'Umu' - A traditional Samoan oven. "Suiga o le 'umu' Samoa". (A partially redacted project report submitted to meet the requirements of MDE501, Design-led Enterprise Project, and in partial fulfilment of the Master of Design Enterprise at Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand) [PDF 1.2 MB]


This report is part of a three-phase course known as the Master of Design Enterprise, MDE programme. 

A Samoan saying goes, “Empty the baskets and refill, rework the fishing net” which means, to re-evaluate and re-visit a situation or a series of events for insights to improve.

The purpose of this program is foster innovation by researching the impacts and costs of current practices. I saw this as an opportunity to improve products, equipment, processes and systems used by families and communities in their daily lives and so provide a better-quality lifestyle.

In 2013, I had completed my Engineering Degree, also at Otago Polytechnic. Developing an oven which uses biomass wood fuel to replace the traditional ‘umu’ was my graduate project. This design was informed by my own experiences as a user, targeting the most critical part of the process. Four prototypes have been built, one in Dunedin and three in Samoa.

Do the people know the impacts of using the traditional method?

So, my intention was to learn about the experiences of the Samoan people in using the traditional cooking method ‘umu’, compared to the use of my biomass wood fuel oven. I needed to know how much Samoans know about the health and environmental impacts of the traditional umu cooking, if they were receptive to my new technology and could recognise the benefits.

Why do they rely on Biomass wood fuel for cooking and heating?

The economy of Samoa is depressed, the cost of living is high and opportunities for employment are very slim. Many Samoans still use traditional ways for survival including the way they cook, using biomass wood fuel energy. Traditions and customs are important parts of being Samoan, so, introducing new technologies or changes to normal ways can be challenging.

This is a challenge I am committed to take on, as my improved sustainable oven will benefit the lives of all Samoans. 

Keywords: renewable energy, biomass wood fuel energy, human-centred design, new technologies, NGO partnerships, overseas aid

John's primary supervisor was Nick Laird.


This thesis is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International.

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