July 18, 2011

Leaving Motuha

Me on the last night at Motuha before the big trip to Fiji, we finally had a big bonfire to burn up excess wood
Salesi, son of Maui & the Man from Motuha

Gave the house a fresh coat of paint

The water tank gets a coat too.

The wood to board up the house

The Gates of Motuha, guarded by the Spirits of the Land
Looking back
Looking forward
Motuha, our beautiful island in the Sun

Direct Tongatapu to Suva


July 3, 2011

Fatu-Hiva by Thor Heyerdhal

 Thor Heyerdahl - yes of the 'Kon-Tiki' fame from the 50s - actually started his career studying the flora and fauna of Fatu-Hiva, one island in the Marquesas islands.  His 'experiment' was to leave 'civilization' (home was Norway) for a year and 'Get back to Nature' (the subtitle of the book).  This is his tale of that year. A good read, any way you look at it, but especially since this past couple years i've been thinking alot about sustainable living in Polynesia.  I read it with interest, especially as an autobiographical account of his & wife Liv's life as they played 'Adam n Eve' in their own Garden of Eden, and learned to appreciate - and speculate - about our ancestors' sustainable 'stone-age' ways of life in Polynesia.  However their romping tale of survival using the bare minimum ended for they could not live a lie anymore.  Although they had lasted one year, they knew they could survive, but they probably would never really have the know-how to thrive, and thus they returned to Europe.  (Of course Thor later returned many times to Oceania, in order to prove his South American migration theory in academia). In closing his book he writes something that I feel now as we get ready to leave Motuha:

"We hated leaving. We hated going back to civilization. But it was something we could not resist.  We had to do it.  We were sure then, and I still am, that the only place where it is possible to find nature as it always was, is within man himself.  There it is, unchanged, now as always...We cannot get away from ourselves. We have nowhere to retreat to, no choice but to help one another to build a durable civilization in harmony with whatever natural environment we have left.  What we can no longer find wild, we can cultivate. Nature itself is like a hearth: We can revive the fire wherever there are embers" (1974: 267-268).

July 2, 2011

June 10, 2011

Coming home

Its funny how quickly I get back into the groove here in 'Uiha, almost like no time passed.  See, I just came back home after being abroad for two plus months.  My travels took me to Hawai'i, then to Salt Lake City and all the way on to New York City, where I watched my cousin Ta'u Pupua graduate from Juiliard in Opera Studies.

Coming from a city of over nine million people that never sleeps to our island of less than 800 at full capacity, an island which doesn't really "have" time (at least not in the linear marching sense of time), its amazing to me how easy it is for me to get used to being in the no time zone, to just the sun rising and setting, and the sea moving in and out with the daily tides.  The big belching, moving cities slide along on a pace that leaves me with more want than satisfaction.
Its been nice being back home.  Salesi occupied his time while I was gone doing a bit of this and that, in between Skype calls to me.  He put up an iron gate that we had found washed ashore on the liku side after Cyclone Wilma earlier this year, and carried just the two of us about half a mile back home.  I'm so grateful he held the fort down while I was away.

The Garden! Its growing so sweetly.  The sweet potatoes that Pops planted were waiting for me and we're still eating them this week, they are soo delicious, beyond words how great it is to eat roots after a diet of rice, bread & french fries in America.  The garden is great, aside from the fact that the neighbor kids ate up all the peanuts & the other neighbor's pigs broke into and ruined the whole crop of tapioca that Pops planted.  The other neighbor said that that neighbor intentionally let his pigs in for a good feed, and somehow I totally believe this story.  Well, what can ya do?  Salesi mended the fence really well, or so he assures me, and planted 100 more tapioca.  If Pops comes back in October with our potential partner who is interested in doing sustainable living here, they'll have the taro to eat (in case the tapioca isn't quite ready), plus all the rows of pele leaves are growing really well, and for the first time in a year and a half, we have our daily greens, Praise the Lord!  Our daily soup is now 110% improved with these nutritious & easy leaves, and the great thing is they are simply so easy to grow, and almost need no maintenance or care.  Nature is wonderful...
Next week, we have a couple from France, who found us on 'Couchsurfers' come for a week visit, and they've volunteered to help us paint the beach house in exchange for staying here on the Motuha Homestead land.  I just joined Couchsurfers a couple months ago and already have had six people want to come stay, but these two are the only ones whose timing fit ours, since I've been traveling.  It will be fun to host them, and after that we're going to be getting ready to move to Fiji, where I'll be working for the next three years in a teaching position at the University of the South Pacific.  But we plan to come back on summer holidays, and hope that Pops and Mayone come back too, to live in their little beach cottage by the sea! 

I'd put up some photo's but will have to do later, as the computer doesn't let me do so right now, even though I've tried for about two hours now.  I guess I'll close by saying that we're in the middle of painting Kali's House, the house we're living in right now.  Kali Pekipaki, my uncle, who built this house, recently passed away in Tongatapu, where he was buried.  I'm not sure how old he was but he wasn't well for the past couple years.  So we're painting the house, and wishing Kali a magnificent journey to Pulotu, the mythic disappearing island to the west, where the souls of the dead are said to gather & await our return.  Rest in Paradise, Uncle Kali.

April 10, 2011

Restructuring the Motuha Project

The big news is that our project is currently undergoing some restructuring and search for the perfect land steward(s) to enjoy the upcoming year 2011/2012.  

Salesi and I are going to be spending a lot more time off-island, and we're talking with family about land stewarding in the case that someone is dreaming of living on a small remote island in the South Pacific...Salesi has been holding down the fort, Pops is in Utah visiting Mom and the families.  I'm in Hawai'i shipping some stuff to Fiji, where we'll be headed next.  So stay tuned as to what the happenings are for the Motuha Project....

In the meantime, since I'm in Hawai'i and I hear there's lots of snow in Utah and Arizona, here's some photos of Kahuku Nature Preserve area on the North Shore from this morning....it was a nice Sunday walk, watched birds and tried out this camera phone.
Kathryn stands on a huge weathered tree trunk that washed ashore...would have made a fabulous and long canoe.  Unfortunately its just wasting away....

Check out the upper left hand side, where there are about a dozen brand new wind turbines that generate power for the grid...interesting and they couldn't have chosen a better spot, lots of wind on this stretch of ocean to the mountains....

another view of the coast, Sue is my neighbor Kathryn's guest from Arizona who is on her way to visit Am. Samoa

March 13, 2011

A Quiet Tsunami Story

Well, its not much of a story...our cousin came over right before midnight a few days ago and told Vaiokema and I about the tsunami warning out for the whole Pacific after a large earthquake in Japan.  He said the peau kula (lit. red wave, or tsunami) was predicted to begin affecting the Tongan islands around 5am. I was, needless to say, fairly scared.  Firstly because Salesi is in Tonga, and its just Pops and I, so I was feeling scared just not having him around during an emergency.  But then again, last time we had a tsunami warning early in the morning, Salesi would not wake up to go to higher ground.  "Where we gonna run to??" because our island is completely flat.

So, saying "better safe than sorry" I set our alarm for 3:30 and woke up and called my sister Ofa in Utah, and had her look up the newest reports, which said that Hawai'i had seen some wave action, but nothing damaging.  I figured then that we were pretty okay, but Pops and I still packed our backpacks (mine had toilet paper, passport, matches, my laptop, stuff like that, plus a pillow and blanket) and we took our flashlights and walked to the LDS chapel - which is farther inland, and was open all night for people heeding the warning (its also the place the village goes to when the cyclones hit).  Anyways, we were walking past the mala'e lahi (royal cemetery) and Dad said, "If it were just me, I'd have stayed at the house", and I said, "Hey, me too!  I was just thinking if it were me alone, I'd just stay at the house too."  Well, I guess we were both making the journey for the sake of the other!  Then he said that he prayed last night.  "Prayed for the wave to not come?" I asked.  "No, prayed to be ready if it was my time to go".  I had been praying for the wave NOT to come, and had been too afraid of death to even consider being calm about its imminent arrival.  No siree, my prayers were in defense.  Earlier on the phone, Salesi had said he was praying hard for the safety of our house and our land and our island...even on Tongatapu he was praying for us. I love my husband.

We got to the church and I promptly laid out my blanket and pillow and fell asleep on the grass, while Dad talked to some of the kids who were lolligagin' about.  I woke up around sunrise and there hadn't been any damage in Tongatapu, and so around 8 or so, we walked back home, passing lots of our neighbors who had been watching the tsunami waves.  When we got home, I milked Lula our goat, then I opened up all the windows which face the sea, and made pancakes as I watched the sea go far out to past low tide mark, then back in just past high tide mark....The sea did this several times, like a slow but deliberate washing machine.  It was a subtle movement and not what you'd expect from the disaster movies, or from the word "tsunami" which has come to hold such fear...for good reason, and my heart goes out to the people who were hurt by this one.  Grateful we on our island simply saw the ocean "dance" as my friend Kathryn in Hau'ula said her ocean on the North Shore did.

The lesson I've learned is that the sea is our mother...a saying goes, "the sea giveth, and the sea taketh..." 

March 5, 2011

Cyclone Wilma, January 26th, 2011

Here are a few pictures taken on the day of the Cyclone.  I'll follow this blog up with some words....As far as our property goes, the forest was flooded, hence LOTS of damage to the ecosystem (trees fell, trees dying from salt water flooding, plants uprooted, soil and coastal erosion, etc.).  Look closely, the flooding from the east side of the property has come to our backyard...Lucky for us, it stopped right behind our bathhouse.

The pathway in our forest is soaked with excess seawater....Salesi doing Land Steward duty....

Flooding in Town, thirty houses flooded & damaged

Flooding can't stop the warm smiles....

Add caption

When the going gets tough, the tough go surfing!  This is the same "surfboard" (actually the top of an old freezer) that these two rascals use to fish with during last summer break....I saw them pull in a whole flour bag of large fish AND a huge stingray...

More photos on some of the tree and coastal damage from this newest Cyclone.  This makes it 2 cyclones in 1 year...Truly we are experiencing some traumatic events in our lifetime, and truly, mother earth is reacting to this modern civilizations' depradations...

January 18, 2011

What are you drinking tonight?

I AM LUCKY this evening.  Why? Because I'm drinking coffee with Coffee-mate creamer.  Salesi returned from Vava'u bearing gifts: ahhhh, nothing like drinking instant coffee and powdered creamer to make me totally unappreciative of fresh goats' milk and lemon leaf tea.  How easy it is to scoop powdered creamer vs. milking Lula by hand for that fresh taste of creamy goodness.  The coffee, creamer and many other consumable goodies came in a box sent all the way from California from my mom-in-law, full of foodstuff, clothes, medical supplies, and of course, peanut butter and candy, including a Chips Ahoy! jumbo3-pack which lasted just under a week.  Mind you, Salesi and Pops hardly ate any, so you can assume I ate almost the entire three packs...Is this part of PDS Syndrome (product deprivation syndrome)?  Why must I gorge the whole pack of pre-packaged, pre-processed, refined sugar-having, store-bought COOKIES?  I must confess, I came to the epiphany that clever marketing and taste professionals have worked on Chips Ahoy! cookies for generations, I'm sure, just to come up with that store-bought cookie flavor.  While not necessarily delicious, it is nonetheless, productive of a compulsory, addictive behavior that ends in having eaten an ENTIRE pack before I'm even conscious of it.  Thank Goodness the bulk packs have now been depleted, so I can go back to making my homemade Wacky Cakes once in awhile for my sugar rush (recipe forthcoming).  So, aside from the cookie binge, I've been happy to have some caffeine in my cup, and am using all resources including the powdered creamer.

On the other hand, while I'm drinking coffee this evening, Salesi is drinking kava.  He went to the kalapu - (men's kava club) at Maka Maile (one of three or four different clubs available in the village...these are clubs that are the main social activity for men) - to have a cup of kava-infused water with our island's reigning Nopele (chief) Malupo.  Here's some photo's from Salesi's afternoon kava session, where he spoke with Malupo, and was invited back again tonight to continue the faikava (literally to 'do kava'). 

The Noble of  'Uiha, Malupo, holding court via his kava circle
The Guy Who Mixes the Kava
The beverage the chap pictured above is making in that white bucket, is made from kava roots that are ground up into a fine powder, and sieved through some water, making a cloudy brown earthy liquid that steadies and expands the mind and slows the body down considerably. Kava, for those who might not know, is the traditional drink of Tonga, and indeed many Pacific islands grow this slightly-narcotic plant for making a slightly intoxicating earthy beverage.  In Fiji, women and men partake either formally or informally on social occasions; in Samoa, its more of a ceremonial beverage for special occasions in which rank is reinforced.  In Tonga, it is both ceremonial as well as a central, daily part of village life, and it is largely a mostly male-affair (except for the young maiden who serves the beverage, and tolerates/jokes with the kava circle while dishing out portions to each person; she is usually renumerated/tipped by the fees collected from the drinkers).  And sometimes, they do their own serving if no girl has been arranged to come.  This is, by the way, a perfectly respectable activity for the girls (I'm talking about 18+ out of school of course not younger ones!).
'Conversation Rules the Nation'
Coconut Cups ready for filling

Kava has been part of the Polynesian cultures since time immemorial - kava was one of the plants brought by the first peoples. There's so much history behind the kava circle, and so much meaning, that I'll have to do another post devoted to the Kava Circle.  It can be highly ritualized but also very informal.  More later - these photos took SO long to load, that my caffeine buzz has finally succumbed to a sleepy dozing state in which if I don't break away from this computer screen, I shall surely cause some sort of retinal damage to my eyes from staring so intently to the screen!  Ah, technology....

January 12, 2011

Abundant Lobster & Fish Pie

I WAS AWOKEN TOO EARLY this morning by our neighbor Vaimou'i who had just returned from tahi with a fresh catch.  He passed me four decent sized lobsters and a yea big parrot fish.
While grumpy at the early wake up call, I bit my tongue and decided NOT to tell him about my anger that two days ago their basketball team held a kai tunu (pig roast) on our beach just to the North of Kali's house, and had left rubbish, a smoldering BBQ stand, had cut some fao trees, and stripped bare the young baby coconut trees of their leaves in order to make a picnic blanket underneath the 'ovava fisi tree.  I didn't get angry - or even let him know about it which I had sworn I would next time I saw him - and all because he came bearing GIFTS.  How could I criticize and call to responsibility when I am feeling nothing but GRATITUDE and JOY at the prospect of making FOOD all day long.  In fact, such a bounty of food might last a whole week if carefully preserved.  But, seafood is BEST eaten FRESH.  So, I baked the four good size lobsters, slid the parrot fish up on the same pan, and placed in the oven. 

Due to the recent festive season - or shall I say FEASTING season - we had accumulated an excess of lard.  Uncle 'Apiesa brought us some big ole hunks of beef,  and before that Uncle Tevita Lutui and Vika brought some pork with BEAUTIFUL strips of fat on each piece, which I cut off, boiled down, added to half as much salted water, and boiled again then let it set over night. The result: Lard formed a cake/skin on top which I stored in a sterilized glass jar with lid.

Lard is exceptionally amazing.  I've been using it all week in meals.  My favorite has been the pie crust: flour, salt, lard, water.  Don't overmix and voila: Flaky pie crust.  I've also made crackers with it.  I even tried to make soap, it was an utter disaster. 

So here's the rest of the Lobster Fish Pie:

1. Make a white sauce.  (I used goats milk as base)
2. Shred lobster and fish, season.  (Hide from cats). Chop onions and your starch - I used a couple different varieties of green bananas, called hopa and siaina - boiled for 10 minutes before.

3. Shred the lobster and fish, season all, layer all in prepared pie crust, pour white sauce over all and BAKE until done.

Dad and Kitilani enjoy the meal

Smelled delicious and tasted even better.

January 8, 2011

Polynesian Spinach

I'VE STARTED A POLYNESIAN SPINACH PLANT - 3 to be accurate.   Its a green leafy vegetable that is related to the hibiscus family.  Its scientific name is hibiscus manihot, and in the Pacific its called pele or bele, and has been part of Pacific diets since time immemorial - maybe it was introduced by the first Oceanians, I'm not sure.  The adult plant can get tall and have a woody stem if not kept in a short bushy shape.  In keeping with my new years' theme, I'm posting pictures of the wee baby plants that I'm starting to grow....Our climate allows us to pretty much grow vegetables all year round, so I am slowly building up my gardening knowledge.  Mind you, I - like most of you - for the most part grew up on store bought food.  My dad was a bit of a hobby farmer so at times we had homegrown potatoes, corn, and watermelon, but he was not so keen on the vegetable plots/rows which, granted, take a lot of maintenance.  He is one of those old time Polynesian farmers, who focus on the root crops that one mounds up and are easier to keep weed free - crops like tapioca, taro, and sweet potato.  In Hawai'i, my dad had a five acre farm as a hobby - half of it was full of rows and rows of pele, which we harvested and froze in big gallon ziploc bags and sold to the small trickle of mostly Tongans who would buy, often to take in a cooler on a plane to the continental US, as a gift for family.  Pele leaves don't do well outside of the warm tropics and subtropics.  I know because Dad let some of his Hawai'i pele plants go to seed, collected them, and popped some seeds in Salt Lake City, where they failed to really thrive - must have been the altitude.  Anyways, last year when I was preparing to come here to Ha'apai, Tonga and do sustainable living, my mom sent me several old pill bottles full of pele seeds.  For some reason, I never popped them until now.  We have some pele plants growing that we got from local stalks but I've popped some of these Hawaiian variety.  Once these babies get bigger, I can transplant to the soil, and let them get large, then take cuttings from these, since pele plants are easiest grown from cuttings rather than seed.  I'm learning so much just by finally taking the time to watch plants grow.  Its really amazing, humbling, and puts life in perspective.  I sort of resent the fact that my whole formal education was bereft of the simple truths I've learned just by slowing down and listening to plants and seeds.  Their needs are really so simple: air, water, sun, soil....and they're programmed to do one thing: grow and bear fruits.  The simpleness of this amazes me, and it amazes me that for so long I've been detached from the truth of food.  What an awakening! 

January 1, 2011

Fresh Starts

 LAST YEAR, I CAME TO TONGA with a selection of herb seeds: lemon grass, oregano, chives, basil, cilantro, and out of all of them, the basil was the easiest to grow.  This handful of leaves (pictured above) is a second generation plant - the mother plant which I planted one year ago went to seed about six months ago, and from those seeds, this plant grew.  The mother plant is just now flowering and going to seed for the second time. I never much used the mother's leaves for cooking, so she got tall and spindly, but these next ones, I'm going to keep them manicured into a short round bush and in the vegetative growth rather than letting them flower - I think this will work, although I'm very new to horticulture, an herb garden here at the house is teaching me a lot about seeds, growth, cycles, stages, and the very lovely fresh starts. 
 This handful of basil sits on my table and reminds me that fresh starts are full of potential.  To plant a seed is a powerful thing. 

So here's to fresh starts (and I hope we are all planning on  planting something special this year, with its fun double digit 1-1). May our sowing this year bring us harvests of abundance. Happy Planting 2011!