December 29, 2010

Christmas Photos from the Motuha Homestead

THIS MORNING, Salesi left for Vava'u - the island group just north of Ha'apai.  He's meeting his mother's sister who lives there, and picking up a box that his mom put together for us for Christmas!  A box is like mana from heaven.  I think he requested candy, but I requested coffee and peanut butter - I couldn't help it, my vices run deep.  Not sure what else will turn up in Santa's ole tin can, but I can't wait.

In other news, here's a photo Mayone requested I post, as she is missing her best friend and eternal mate.  In this photo, he's on his way to a Makamaile Meeting dressed in the formal attire of a Tongan gentleman farmer, ta'ovala wrapped and walking staff in hand: 

The wharf is in the back to the left, and this big tree he's standing in front gives the most luscious shade known to man. 
In case you missed it, our tree worship this year was a piece of driftwood dressed with solar twinkle lights, and little pieces of red and blue cellophane.  Check the bike reflector as the top star, really only shines when high flash is on it.  =)

A big deal for us: PIZZA for Christmas Eve Supper

Me and a big green watermelon, courtesy of our very kind town neighbors.  It was so heavy Vaiokema couldn't carry it home.  Salesi rode the bike back to town to pick it up.  A load well-received

Needs no explanation: One of God's finest creations, the Pineapple.

 Christmass Portrait Salesi

December 24, 2010

Wassail, 'Uiha Style

CHRISTMASS EVE in 'UIHA... And some firecrackers are going off down the road in the village, the rain has stopped, and we're warm, with bellies full of pineapple wassail, recipe below.  In the spirit of conservationism, we didn't cut down a tree from our land.  Instead, I found this piece of triangular lumber that washed ashore a few weeks ago.  Makes a pretty beautiful statement, no?  The lights on it are solar powered.  I'm in the process of decorating it with pieces of red and blue cellophane from the wrappers of chop suey noodles.

Our Driftwood ChristMASS Tree
Dad and Fesi (our cousin) drinking wassail
Ever wonder what you should do with those leftover pineapple peels?  DON'T THROW THEM OUT!  Rather, cover with water in a pot and simmer them along with a squeeze of citrus (I used sour orange, or kola) and some mulling spices like Whole Allspice and Whole Cloves. 
 Simmer about 20-30 minutes or longer with spices, on low heat...its called "Mulling", I think...and I'm leaving mine overnight at room temperature...
 Add some sugar or honey, and what you get is a delicious, sweet, spicy, fruity hot drink - Perfect!  Tastes great cold too, with or without the mulling spices.  I did a little digging and found that the making of Wassail was originally part of a ritual to the Apple Trees.  It made me think  about Tree worship in general.  I mean, the Christmass tree, with its triangular shape does symbolize the Holy Trinity, but its also supposed to be a remnant of the so-called Pagan or nature religions.

"In the cider-producing counties in the South West of England (primarily Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire)or South East England (Kent, Sussex and Essex) wassailing refers to a traditional ceremony that involves singing and drinking the health of trees in the hopes that they might better thrive. The purpose of wassailing is to awake the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit in the Autumn.{"England In Particular", Common Ground 2007} The ceremonies of each wassail vary from village to village but they generally all have the same core elements. A wassail King and Queen lead the song and/or a processional tune to be played/sung from one orchard to the next, the wassail Queen will then be lifted up into the boughs of the tree where she will place toast soaked in Wassail from the Clayen Cup as a gift to the tree spirits (and to show the fruits created the previous year). Then an incantation is usually recited such as:
Here's to thee, old apple tree, That blooms well, bears well. Hats full, caps full, Three bushel bags full, An' all under one tree. Hurrah! Hurrah!"  

December 20, 2010

The Warriors Sia

OUR BEACH FOREST is home to an ancient sia  which is an earthen mound reinforced with coral rock walls.  Sia were used by the Tongans of old for a number of reasons, one of which was the ancient chiefly sport of pigeon snaring.  Don't ask me how the ancient Tongans used to snare pigeons, I haven't yet researched that part although it sounds fascinating, no?   Did they use rocks?  Ropes? Nets? Bows and arrows? (Did they have bows and arrows??) I wonder, what do pigeons taste like?  So many unanswered questions about the past...

Pigeon snaring aside, legend has it that our sia was a warriors' lookout pad and played a prominent role in the warrior culture emerging between the 15th and 17th centuries, a time of increasing civil war in the Tongan islands.  According to  legend, our sia was built by two high ranking warriors, who were also brothers.

For several decades now, our sia has been covered by overgrowth, and only a few of the  elder generation remember the days when it was once cared for.  Luckily, in 2010, Cyclone Renee uncovered this sia - otherwise we probably would not have ever stumbled across it..  It would have remained covered by brush, unbeknownst to us.  Lucky us!

One of our core projects is to restore and preserve this archaeological heritage site for future generations, and to pass on the story of the brother-warriors who once lived on this piece of land.   

Here are some recent photos of the sia's coral rock walls, which make up the 1'-2' high walls. The pics don't really do it justice, but here goes:
Western Wall

One of the larger stones, note our goat, Lula, in the background.  She loves coming on forest walks with me, she gets to munch on the vines along the way...

This seems to be a sort of ramp on the South side

North Slope: You can see the trees that are growing atop the sia, the roots of which push the stone wall out of joint.

Windward (liku) view of the sea from the sia
The interior of the squarish shaped sia is filled with shrubbery and trees. I haven't yet measured but I estimate it is approximately 40 feet by 50 feet.   We will slowly start cutting the top vegetation back so that only the large trees remain on the sia.  Once cleared, there will be a clear view of the ocean.  We're thinking about building a signpost and a shaded picnic and camping area near this spot, to rest and relax on hot days.

Here's a couple websites of interest regarding archaeology in Ha'apai
Vaipuna, 'Uiha Island dig finds Lapita pottery shards
Foa Island - Hawaiian-like petroglyphs uncovered in 2009

COMING SOON: Interview with Kisi, a 'Uiha elder who will recount the story of the Motuha Warriors for us...

December 18, 2010

Hunting Wild Honey

YESTERDAY, I was out in the forest looking for the endangered 'ahi (sandalwood) tree to collect their ripening purple seeds, when I heard an intense buzzing overhead.  Freezing in my tracks, I looked up and saw this:

Notice the hundreds of small black dots.  They are BEES!  There was a great swarm of honey bees and I crept closer to get a photo, risking life and limb for a good shot, which was hard to get with my little zoom lens, but the actual honeycomb is inside this tree hollow, as you can see:

After a few shots, it dawned on me that bees are known to bite.  And so I retreated and went to take photos of the Warrior's Sia, an archeological site in the forest which we're restoring (I'll blog about this later).  I was gone for about fifteen minutes, and when I returned the swarm of bees had vanished!  There were still bees doing their thing in the hollow of the tree, but where had the mass of buzzing bees hived off to?  I can only wonder, and now I'm kicking myself for not being patient and observing more carefully where they went, because I have been observing the hive there at 'Honeycomb Hideout' because I want figure out how to domesticate these bees and have our own apiary - part of the move towards finding sustainable sources of sugar (as an aside, right now a kilo of raw sugar costs us over TP$3).

Honey bees have been domesticated by humans for thousands of years. Ancient cave drawing depicting perilous bee hunters adorn rock walls in Spain:

"Estimates of age place the rock painting depicted above at approximately 15,000 years old. Discovered in the early 1900's in Valencia , Spain in the Cave of the Spider (Cueve de la Arana) situated on the river Cazunta, the painting speaks of man's long fascination with honey." -

Ancient Egyptians revered honey as well, one of the names for Pharaoh was Bee King.
Cylindrical hives like the ones in the picture above
from the tomb of Pabasa (7th century BCE)
were made of clay and stacked on top of each other.
Photograph is attributable to Dr. Kenneth Stein
and can be found at:
 And apparently, Ambrosia, the drink of choice amongst the Greek Gods and Goddesses in Olympia, was a concoction made guessed it: honey.

Pic from
 So, I'm reading up on bees now, and I've been thinking of climbing that tree and smoking out the bees and harvesting some of their honey.  What do you think? 

December 15, 2010

How to make Fish Burritos in 'Uiha

Over the past year, I've learned how to make life easier here by learning how to cook very basic flour items from scratch, like pancakes, breads, muffins, cakes and even crackers.  I've been slowly working up my skills to the point where I have enough skills to be able to create a variety of meals on-demand .  In the beginning, I pretty much stuck to making yeast bread and Navajo fry bread - a recipe that my mom has made for years.  But I needed something even more versatile - fry bread is great, but it isn't exactly low-fat once its been drenched in cooking oil, plus oil has to be imported and is thus a non-renewable resource.
Therefore, the most recent item I've been learning to make is tortillas, which consists of about the same ingredients, but which are superior to fry bread in many ways, the first being it requires less cooking oil, and the second being that tortillas are flexible and can be made to wrap around a range of fillings.  This has recently become one of our lunchtime favorites. 

Burritos are great on-the-go lunch foods, easy to pack, and easy to prepare.  Dad likes burritos because they're not too heavy on the stomach while he's working in the hot summer sun, and I like them because they're versatile and can use up leftovers.  Any leftover starch from the night before (like rice, breadfruit, taro or green bananas) can be added to a little bit of fresh or tinned meat, to make a tasty, but light, meal. 

To begin:
Start out with 2-3 medium fish.  Gut, scale & boil until done.  Drain water and de-bone.  Give bones to dogs, cats and/or pigs. 
Season with whatever's handy.  I used salt, black pepper, paprika and a tiny bit of cayenne pepper and one small chopped onion.  

 To bulk up the fish filling, I added cubed breadfruit from last nights' dinner, plus a salsa made from almost-ripe papaya and pineapple, to add a tangy, fruity freshness.  I mixed altogether, and added the juice from two small limes.


 Next, prepare the tortillas.  I got this recipe off the internet.

For 5-6 large tortillas
3 C flour
3 t. baking powder
1 1/2 t. salt
3 T oil
1 1/3 C lukewarm milk (or water) 
*The lukewarm-ness helps the dough to stay malleable

Stir dry ingredients together, then slowly add oil & milk a bit at a time while stirring.  When ball forms, knead briskly for 2 minutes with bare hands.  Let dough sit covered with damp towel for 20 mins.  Then, divide into 6 fist-size balls and let sit another 10 mins. (I usually cheat on the time, cutting it by half). Finally, using a floured board and rolling pin, roll out each ball into a large circular shaped tortilla - as paper thin as you can reasonably get it (its good to have a nice big flour board). 

Then, use a very small amount of oil to coat the bottom of a fry pan, set on medium high and cook the tortilla for 20 seconds, or until beginning to have brown spots.  Flip quickly and cook other side - its amazing how fast they cook. 

Finally, while the tortilla is still warm, assemble the burrito, placing a large dollop of fish & breadfruit filling on each tortilla.  I added a couple dressings: goat cheese (called "paneer" in India or queso blanco in Latin America) and a simple white sauce made from goat's milk, oil and flour, to give the burrito some moisture (in lieu of sour cream, mayo or guacamole)
(I'll do another post on these two condiments later) .   Wrap the tortilla into a bundle (an art in and of itself, I'm learning), and serve with whatever's handy - I had papaya dressed with lime juice. 
Delicious, simple, and best of all sustainable!  Aside from the flour, oil and seasonings (salt, pepper, etc.), this was a completely sustainable meal using foods we gathered - limes, papaya, pineapple, breadfruit - and best of all, fresh fish from the reef right outside our house, caught last night by my Salesi, the BEST fisherman in the WORLD =).  

December 13, 2010

Lady Passion, from the Virgin Islands

It never ceases to amaze me how islands just groove to that reggae rhythm, as if that reggae rhythm were some kind of organism that emerged out of the salty sea back when the salty sea was the primordial soup giving birth to the first creatures of this world.  Case in point: Lady Passion, who hails from the Virgin Islands, a reggae songstress who oozes the Oceanic vibrations.  I'm sitting here trying to figure out how to "tweet" my way around cyberspace, and listening to Lady Passion, and the breeze is coming through my window, and suddenly I'm transported to another level where only music exists and Lady Passions' voice has just taken command of the air, the light, the dust particles, everything.  Reggae will always be my favorite music, for its rhythm that drops and exaggerates and displaces that four-four syncopation and lifts up those unexpected moments.  Reggae will always sooth my soul and put my mind at ease, no matter what situation I'm in.  Its no wonder at all that passion for reggae is felt all throughout the Pacific.  So here's to Lady Passion, who carries on the reggae tradition of female vocalist, combining smooth and sultry vocals with an earth-laced lyricism.  Listen and enjoy, for she's transmitting Oceanic vibrations to you, wherever you are through the power of music - and modern technology.

Overcoming techno phobia.

Since becoming connected to the internet again last month, I've been recommitted to overcoming my techno phobia.  I've resisted for a long time now, but now the time has come to embrace and utilize new forms of media, as scary as they might seem.  In particular I'm trying to figure out just what the heck is Twitter.  My cousin was a great advocate of Twitter - he's a social marketing and internet marketing guru of sorts, and he first told me about Twitter about two years ago.  I logged on at that time, once - and never got back on, because I just didn't want to figure out what it was about.  Likewise, when it came to Facebook, I signed up about three years ago, logged on once, and never logged on again.  Then, last year, a friend was beaming about how wonderful Facebook was, and how exciting, and I tried to have her explain it to me, but again, I was just not into listening.  But I did sign up again, under my married name, and lo and behold, for the past year, I've slowly been exposing myself to the technocracy, and trying very hard to notice the positive aspects of new technology, while letting go of the phobia.
So I admit it, I've been techno-phobic and resistant for some time now, but being stranded on Gilligan's Island has made me more appreciative of the pleasure of being connected.  I don't suppose any of my dear readers will ever know what it feels like to be this disconnected - and remote from so called civilization.  At any rate, while I'm trying to figure out what I can glean and benefit from Twitter - we've also been benefiting from Skype, which is a Lifesaver with a capital L.  We signed up for the unlimited calling plan to the US cell phones and mobiles, all for $6.99/month and its saving us bundles on phone cards.  Dad can talk to Mom, which helps him stay sane, while he's working on the many projects here at Motuha.  Here's a photo of him chatting away.
Pops on Skype

December 12, 2010

December Sunset

I've always been more of a beach bunny than a snow bunny.  As the holiday season comes around, I try to remember the physical sensations of a cold wintry, snowy December in a place like.... northern Utah, where much of my family lives.  Its been so long since I've been in snow.  Auckland, while not snowy, was much worse: a bitter cold that was wet and chilled the bones.  Now, that was cold.  But Utah?  Hmm, I remember a dry cold, which wasn't so bad when compared to Auckland's wretched winter climate.  Oh, I remember the push of cold - the pushing feeling of needing to get out of the cold asap and into the warm car or building.  That drive that comes from cold.  And then the lovely wonderful comfort of entering a warm house, peeling off layers of parka, turtle neck sweaters, and long johns to relax in a hot shower, then into some flannel pajamas and downing hot chocolate in front of an electric wall heater.

Well, no such doing here. Here in the southern hemisphere, December here is right smack dab in the middle of Summer, which is now fully in effect.
Our front yard

Summer brings us radiant sunsets, along with the heat and humidity that characterize the subtropics.    Summer is so hot that around 3 in the afternoon, I must take a swim to cool down.  The water is so warm on top.  It gets cooler the deeper down I go and I love the feeling of skimming the top few inches and then taking a kingfisher dive down to the soft, sandy floor.

Wishing you were here!
These photos belong on a postcard. They were taken just last week from our front your heart out snow bunnies ;)

December 10, 2010

A year in Eternity...

I've been in a reflective mood this week.  Maybe it has to do with the time of year: its not only the end of 2010, but its also been a year exactly since Salesi and I started this adventure.  Last night I saw the sliver moon hung low across the western horizon where the blazing glorious sun had just extinguished into the black shadowed surface of the sea.  In a mist of reflection, I found myself looking at the roads not taken.  I took myself back to crossroads, where I chose a path which led to another crossroad, chose again, which led to another path, and so on and so forth.  My thinking reminded me of those books I read in elementary school, the choose your own adventure stories, where at the end of each chapter you had two or more choices which each had a different outcome; these stories were trippy to read because there were multiple possibilities and multiple endings.  I think maybe subconsciously, I templated the choose your own adventure style since I was in the fourth grade and have been living my life according to this strange narrative flow, where the plot not only thickens, but branches out in spindly spider webs of intricate and elegant design, befuddling the notion of temporal linearity.

How did I come to choose this path that led me here to live on a beach on this island of my ancestors?  

This finite piece of land surrounded by blue expanse gets to me in a deep subconscious way, sets my mind outside of time's indelicate teeth, where thoughts don't register and aren't even necessarily connected together.  In this mushy Oceanic temporality of overlapping dream space, I'm dazed that a year ago I had just finished a four year PhD degree, and rather than search for a career or job, came to live a dream.  Looking back I can't really account for the chain of events that led me here to this current state; neither does this current state feel like a dream imbued with otherworldliness.  Its got a texture and a taste that is seeping into my skin; I probably take for granted 65% of the magic, while clinging to my negative thought patterns, which in this isolation is easy to do try as I might to ignore my own mind chatter. 

So has it really been a year since we first arrived?  I don't count days, and the calendar keeps peeling its way off the wall, wilting like a flower with a weak stem.  I've counted days in bones, and feel the weeks in weather patterns not necessarily in groupings of sevens.  Rather, a unit will be the few weeks of sunny weather, then a rainy week, then a shift in more months, weeks, or days.

Coastal erosion

The black bowl looks to be an umu pit (earth oven)
Speaking of counting bones, I don't find many bones washing up the beach anymore.  Did I tell you I did?  
After Cyclone Renee on Valentine's Day 2010, for months after, I'd walk the beach and rebury bones that had been unearthed from the liku (windward) side of the island, the side that took the full frontal assault of the cyclone's fury, the same side that has hundreds of year's worth of burial grounds, sandy loamy burial grounds, that just got eroded away, shifting the remains of our dead, washing them out to sea, bleaching the bones in the blazing sun, salting them in the lapping of tides, to be gathered up by me, and buried once again - quickly, and with a prayer - before the spirit might look at us in time, and long for the days, the hours, the seasons of human life in all its fullness....Rest in paradise, and walk along the white sand beaches of eternity.  

For if eternity were to be a place, would not it be an island in the sea?  It does seem more than a year we've been here....seems more like an Eternity...
Cave towards Eternity

December 9, 2010

A garden grows in 'Uiha....

 Finding veggies on 'Uiha is a problem, since local Tongan diet does not include a lot of fresh veggies, nobody here grows them for market - they're meat and potatoes (or yam, rather) type of people and we, too, have become meat and potato types - here its called kiki (meat dish) and haka (lit. "boiled" but meaning boiled root crop).  Maybe the occasional pele leaf or lu (lu'au or taro) leaves make it in the pot, but on a whole, no veggie "side dishes" to be found on a daily Tongan table.  Hence, we started a veggie garden at our town lot, which is further inland and has much richer soil.   
Initially, I thought I could grow veggies right here at the house we're staying at which is on the water.  I planted a few tomatoes, and they withered and died, as did the beans.  It was my first attempt at growing anything, so I'm not surprised.  But I figure the soil right outside this house is suspect, its very very sandy.  Even the pele leaves which are usually troopers failed to thrive.  Maybe in time they will, with the application of compost once we get it (still in the process of making our pile, which will take about a year, and then a second year of curing).  At any rate, we started a veggie garden at our town lot (our Grandpa Vaiokema's house which is vacant), and this is what it looks like as of yesterday:
Sweet potatoes in the foreground, the veggie patch in the back where we've sown carrots, onions and radishes.  That's Grandpa Vaiokema's house, vacant right now.  We store our tools in it for the moment, but it is wired for electricity and has a fairly decent cement water tank, so it could very well be habitable with a little TLC fixing up. 

Hikilani (neighbor kid who helps out) and Dad take a break in front of Grandpa  Vaiokema's wooden house

A pretty, old mango tree in the yard. Dad reckons this tree is probably nearing 100 years old, and it appears that way - look closely at the roots, which are swollen up into gnarly toenails that serve as chairs during breaks from the sun.  The pic doesn't do the old tree justice - she really is bigger than appears.  We'll trim a branch back to allow more light to hit the sweet potatoes, which are off to the left of frame.

December 2, 2010

Uncle Sunia's burial

Sunia Pekipaki passed away November 16th 2010...

Wrapped in a fine mat...

carried on the shoulders of his sons....

Walking to the mala'e (cemetery)....

Uncle Sunia was 83 years of the 'Dons' of 'Uiha....Rest in Paradise.