Christmas Balloons

Matotea is just about getting old enough to enjoy celebrating things - not in any deep kind of a way, but we know what a 'cadeau' is and we've noticed the balloons in the local store and post office this week, yesterday I found her busy drawing away, when I asked her what she was drawing she told me 'balloons' - balloon after balloon after balloon
OK, so her cats and fish also look like balloons, but I think they're actually quite good for 26 months.... She's generally just a scribbler, so this is a marked advance.

I'm really looking forward to this Christmas, I think we're going to have fun. We haven't started decorating the house yet, Viriamu is typically low key about the whole thing, but we need to get moving on the whole thing, before the island's supply of balloons disappears from the stores.


Here but for the grace of Electra!

I've been offline for a while - we had a minor catastrophe with our internet connection. All service was suspended by a major thunderstorm last week, which left us without electricity (Electra is our tahitian service provider) the outage blew our high-speed router, our desktop PC and more disturbingly the surge-protector! So, I have been trying to cope once more without the luxury of internet on tap - awaiting a replacement router ordered from Tahiti, the local post office were out (my dad thinks it's hilarious that we can buy high-speed wireless routers at the local post office - and it is pretty remarkable).....anyway it has arrived and thanks to our wonderful post-mistress I was the first to get my hands on a replacement! It was a timely reminder that we are in fact living on a tiny island isolated in the Pacific, and that in fact it's pretty miraculous that we have electricity at all (the expats whine about the prices of life here, but in the end it's pretty incredible that we can enjoy this quality of life, for goodness sakes there's frozen foie gras, from France, in the local shop specially for Christmas). I can't lie it was a hard few days without my usual dose of websurfing, but now there are no more excuses, so it's back to the blog.....

Random, but rather cool, image of a lightning strike
on the Eiffel Tower in 1902, shamelessly pinched from Wikipedia


Taro - the food of (Rurutu) Gods!

Taro is easily the most important crop vegetable here in Rurutu. Each of the three major villages has extensive taro fields, with each family sharing the irrigated taro patches. I think the taro patch in Avera is one of my favorite places on the island, you can almost feel the history seeping up through the ground when you're there, and it's great to watch the men working away in the fields (women are not supposed to cultivate taro in Rurutu)

Taro fields, Avera, Rurutu - photo: A. Machado
At one point in Rurutu's history stealing taro was an offense that could be punished by death and several of the tribal wars started as a result of taro theft. This may date from a time when there were many more inhabitants on the island - Cook's records estimate that there may have been as many as 20,000 people living on Rurutu when he passed by (that's about 10x more than today!).

Our taro varieties - the red-stemmed bunches are 'mana ura' from Rurutu,
black-stemmed are a variety from Rapa
and the green-stemmed a variety from Rimatara.

Taro is a plant in the Aracaceae (Colocasia esculenta var. antiquorum), we eat the leaves (fafa - when cooked they have a delicate spinach-like flavor that I love) and most often the root or rather to be precise it's a corm (a bit like a super dense, violet, starchy potato). For some reason the soil in the Australs and particularly Rurutu yields a superior tasting/textured taro corm to Tahiti, so we often export to friends and family in Tahiti (even I can tell the difference, and I'm definitely a taro novice!). There are several varieties that are grown here, the most popular being 'mana ura' (translated literally it means 'red power', the variety has red stems and the corm has a good firm texture and purple hue).

Taro has been in cultivation for about 10,000 years in Papua New Guinea, making it one of the oldest crop plants. It's very easy to grow, you just re-plant the cut stem and top corm, after harvesting.

Viriamu demonstrating how to plant taro, photo:R.Gouiran
About 10% of the world's population is reliant on taro as a diet staple. The Polynesians brought the root with them when they colonized the remote central Pacific. It is also widely cultivated in Hawaii, and indeed used to be considered to be the noblest of the food crops there. In Hawaiian legend the firstborn child of the daughter of father earth and her husband father sky was stillborn, the child was buried and there at the grave grew the first taro plant. Their second child, a healthy boy, gave rise to the human race. Hawaiian royalty adopted taro-leaf designs on their livery. There is a taro festival held annually in East Maui, Hawaii, to honor this sacred root - I'd love to check it out someday! In Hawaii taro is primarily eaten as poi, a slightly fermented taro paste. Here we do have poipoi, which is pounded fermented cooked taro, but it is of a much thicker consistency and is eaten in hunks, or tiromi which is grated taro that has been cooked in the Tahitian oven. But we mostly just eat taro boiled in water, in place of bread or other starch. It's great with coconut milk, and we often eat boiled fish with coconut milk and taro, with a dash of salt and lime.

However, I've been discovering that taro is not just a Polynesian thing, it is eaten across the humid tropics (Southeastasia, the wet tropics of Africa and Egypt, the West Indies and parts of South America). The ancient Romans even used to eat the root, imported from Egypt! It has many different names, here are just a few - dasheen, eddoe, gabi, kalo, dalo, culcas, guagui, callaloo, keladi, sato imo, cocoyam, arbi. There are clearly a large number of different varieties with slightly different sized or colored corms stems or leaves. There are also many ways of preparing taro - I have a wonderful recipe/history book from my last trip to Hawaii: Hawaii Cooks with Taro, by Marcia Mager, Alvin Huang and Muriel Miura (the taro-corn chowder is just wonderful) and I have some traditional recipes from friends and family, but I'm always ready to try something new! I would love to hear from you if you have any recipes to share....


Happy Thanksgiving!

Not too many cranberries or turkeys over here in Rurutu. But, we do have pumpkins and sweet potatoes aplenty... Here's a nice soup recipe that I made from a conglomerate of recipes from the web - it turned out really well...maybe a bit too hearty for the tropical heat here, but ideal for a cold winter evening back home.

Pumpkin and sweet potato soup
1lb sweet potatoes peeled and diced
1lb pumpkin/squash peeled and diced
1 large onion diced
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp mixed herbs
5 cups stock (veg or chicken)
1 cup milk
nutmeg and lime juice to taste

Heat the butter and cook the onions until translucent, about 5 mins. Add the curry powder and herbs, fry another 1-2 mins. Add the pumpkin and sweet potato, stock, milk and seasoning allow to simmer for about 40 minutes, until the pumpkin and sweet potato are thoroughly cooked. Blend and serve with a dash of cream and fresh parsley (from the garden, if possible).

Happy Thanksgiving y'all!


Mmmmm mango lassi!

Talking about seasons of plenty.......

......more mangoes

Mango Lassi
1 cup yoghurt
1 cup mango puree
1 cup ice
sugar and lime juice to taste

Chuck it all in the blender and bingo there you have it....deliciousness in a glass


tau Matari'i i ni'a

Tomorrow, nov 20th, marks the beginning of the 'season of plenty' in the ancient Polynesian calendar and is signaled by the rising of the Pleiades on the horizon, the celebration occurs on the first new moon in November, and the constellation sets in mid to late May heralding the end of this season (Matari'i i raro) and the beginning of the cooler season. The arrival of the Pleiades heralded a favorable time for planting food, for fishing, marriage and also for travel (the stars were used by Viriamu's ancestors to navigate the vast Pacific Ocean). The Pleiades are a cluster of seven bright stars, also often known as the Seven Sisters or affectionately as M45, located on the shoulders of Taurus near Orion. I haven't yet tried to locate them, but I have remarkable trouble with the Southern Hemisphere sky....you can be sure I'll have my eye out for them....anyway they should look something like this....

The constellation was recognized by many ancient cultures and has many legends and stories attached to it. In Greek mythology the Pleiades were the seven daughters of Pleione and Atlas, handmaidens of Artemis and playthings of the gods (both Poseidon and Zeus had children with one or more of them!). Legend has it that they committed suicide with grief after the disappearance their brothers the Hyades and death of their father, Zeus honored them by transforming them into stars. Merope the youngest of the sisters was wooed by Orion, but she refused his advances, and it is said that Orion's constellation still pursues the Pleiades across the sky. One of the most beautiful legends I just found comes from the Kiowa, a native American tribe, and is linked to Devil's Tower national monument in Wyoming. It goes something like this, seven young maidens were out playing by the river when they were set upon by bears, they climbed upon a large rock and in fear they called upon the spirit of the rocks to help them, pitying the maidens he raised the rock high into the sky, and though the bears tried to climb it, they could not, their claw marks can be seen on the side of the rock today, now known as Devil's Tower. The maidens, unable to descend from the rock, ascended into the heavens and were transformed into stars.

Devil's Rock National Moument, Wyoming (photo:Colin Faulkingham)

Here in Tahiti the celebration of Matari'i i ni'a is focused on teaching and reviving traditional cultural practices, learning how to prepare and preserve food. Of course, with the missionaries, the celebration of this festival was forgotten and it has only recently been re-established. Along with kava drinking ceremonies, which were also forbidden by the missionaries. So to open the Matari'i celebrations there is a kava drinking ceremony. To see pictures and find out more about the festival (in French), click here.


Beach Babe

Today Matotea decided that she wanted to wear my bikini to the beach, a rather prudish move, as she normally prefers to be completely nude. And as soon as we got back from the beach she happily stripped off! This new-found self-awareness marks a new milestone in her journey from toddler to little girl. Over the past couple of weeks we've started using the potty, and though we haven't quite graduated to underwear yet, we're well on the way there. She's so wonderfully earnest, she puts her little heart and soul into everything she does, and sometimes it turns bad on her, but mostly she revels in the joys of new discovery from learning how to spin a top or some new balancing pose (the latest was a sort of downward facing dog with one leg extended). She's also very kind and compassionate - she always wants to share her food, with us or with the dog or cat, she's always ready with a kiss and a cuddle if Mummy's hurt herself. Last night she was convinced that her toy whale had hurt itself and we had to have several rounds of first aid, before we could happily take whale to bed!


Mango Madness

I love this time of year here in Rurutu, even though we're technically in the tropics we have two quite different seasons a 'cold' and a 'hot' season. As we're in the southern hemisphere now is the 'hot' season, or rather the 'fruit/flower' season. It's all relative, we have banana, limes and papaya all year round, but now we have mangoes, pineapples, avocado, passion fruit and lychees all starting to get ripe, we also grow a lot of watermelon, as opposed to the potatoes, carrots and cabbage grown in the 'cold' season. My absolute favourite fruit is mango, and in fact I'm finding it hard living here where mango is only available once a year, in Moorea there are two fruiting seasons a year - so you can just eat as much mango as you like! And it's the same for pineapples, which are grown fairly intensively in Moorea - mainly to sate the appetite of the pineapple juice factory on the island. Since we now live on a tiny island there are no fruit or vegetable markets to speak of, we grow most of our own fruit and veggies, so it's not always easy to buy things like mangoes. Last year I really didn't make the most of it, so I have been promising myself to really make an effort to take advantage of the mango fest this year, there are three huge mango trees a few kms up the road from our home and I've been making a point to stop there every couple of days and clean up the spoils, it's still a little bit early yet, but there's still enough fruit for me to get going with some of my plans.

The mangoes fall all over the place, so I've been diving into thickets of Lantana, picking up a fair few scratches on the way, but I just love gathering food, it's immensely satisfying to be able to use what nature has to offer and it reminds me of when I used to go picking blackberries off the mountain-side as a child.

Today I made a spicy mango syrup:
(recipe taken from the Mongo Mango Cookbook by Cynthia Thuma)
  • 4 small greenish mangoes (the variety I have here are very small, the recipe asks for two medium mangoes)
  • 3 cups water (750ml)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp. whole allspice
  • 6 whole cloves
Peel and coarsely chop the mangoes, add to a pan with all the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil and simmer for ~40min, until the mixture begins to thicken. Strain the sauce to remove the spices then return the fruit pulp to the sauce. Pour sauce into a glass jar.
Keep refrigerated. Delicious on crepes with home-made vanilla ice-cream.



Cultural identity is a very potent force, one that you can only really appreciate when you leave the comfort of your own culture for places new. It's something that I find myself thinking about and discussing at length with many of my wonderful friends, who travel far and wide across the globe (take a look at Mandy's blog: wonderful life). One of the most refreshing things for me, living in a culture so far removed from my own, is that I really am able to define myself as an individual, with my many strengths and weaknesses, outside of the distorting lens of cultural norms, I can even consciously decide what aspects of myself and my cultural baggage I would like to keep and what needs to be left well behind.

I'm not from Rurutu and let's face I never will be, and I'm not even French either, so I fall neatly in between. I've never been much of a conformer, so I'm OK with that, though I understand how troubling some people may find that. For me, my lack of roots does not stop me feeling a deep sense of belonging and even attachment, to my new found home, it just allows me to be different. Few people from Rurutu know where Wales is, and they have no sense of what it means to be Welsh. I don't fit into the traditional Rurutu gender roles, and certainly the ideas and opinions that I have differ dramatically from those of my relatives here. But it doesn't matter, there are no expectations that I should conform to their norms - something that is immensely liberating.....but which also leaves you floating somewhere out in the vacuum . I don't always have a good idea how I should behave and what is and isn't acceptable - Tahitians tend to be a lot more laid back on the whole social protocol thing, compared to us Brits (or Europeans in general) but there are still some limits! The other down side is that I don't always truly understand social interactions, or what motivates people here, which can be both frustrating and lonely! Of course I'm lucky, I have Viriamu to help me decipher some of this and Matotea brings me joy (and some frustration too, but mostly joy). Viriamu and I have always almost unknowingly shared deep-seated values and we both have so many dreams that we can realize together, these are bonds that tie us together, despite the gaping chasm of our differences. Our very strength lies in our very different abilities, Viriamu might not have enjoyed (nor wanted) the education that I have had (frankly, he's just not into the whole reading and writing thing), but together we can achieve so many things that would not be possible apart - though of course being so different does have its challenges too. It's often hard for people to understand our relationship. I've even had people tell me that "it couldn't work between us", most other people just look at us with a mildly confused expression on their face, others probably just think I'm slightly mad. I'm not sure, I feel saner than ever, but then that may be the first sign of madness! But I have always been one for a challenge.....


Think global act local

Today we headed up into the mountains here in Rurutu, with the committee members of our new society, 'Association Te Aru Ora' which aims to protect and promote respect for our environment. Getting this society going has probably been one of the most satisfying achievements of my time in Rurutu, so far. So many people were sitting around voicing their concerns about many issues on the island, but without actually doing anything about it, it was just a question of getting everybody to sit down together and agree that something needs to be done. So, in July we had our first 'unofficial' meeting and since then we've been working on getting registered and official! Now we can start planning our first fund-raising and outreach projects. We have A LOT of work to do here in Rurutu, the islands' population is growing, as is the appetite that the community has for imported foods and electrical goods - but we don't have any good way to deal with our waste. At the moment we are using landfills, but on small island like ours landfills are not a solution, we seriously risk contaminating our drinking water supply, and quite simply there is not enough room. Burning is also a possibility, though again hardly environmentally sound. Increasingly we've been seeing bags of rubbish and broken cars or washing-machines dumped by the side of the road or off the edge of steep cliffs, which is really sad, as the inhabitants of Rurutu have always been so very proud of how clean and tidy their island is. In the past the to'itu (committee of elders) regulated these kinds of things, but as we've become more developed and westernized the committee holds less and less sway with the community. One of our big projects is to get a recycling program going - part of our problem is that it's really not that easy to figure out the best thing to do with all of our rubbish, we can't recycle paper, plastic, glass or aluminium, which accounts for a huge proportion of the waste in our landfills, or at least not at the moment. While it will never be economically viable for us to recycle here in Rurutu, it's probably worth the expense not to be swimming in our own garbage! The great thing about living in a small close-knit community on a small island is that it's actually very easy to change things (for better or worse!), so I'm hoping that with a bit of support from the mayor we can get things moving. Once we've started to recycle the obvious bits and pieces the next step would be to reuse our organic waste, by starting a composting program, at the same time to also try and reduce the needless use of chemical fertilizers, which again risks polluting our drinking water and lagoon.....
Anyway today we went up into the mountains, to discuss the possibilities of establishing a managed natural area, around our highest mountain ridge - including Manureva (below far left), the highest peak in Rurutu, a whopping 384m high! It's beautiful up there, and we were all buoyed up by our great intentions to get things moving......only time will tell.......


Matotea is two!

October 15th was Matotea's second birthday - it's hard to believe that she's two already. While she still isn't really aware of what a birthday is and why it's special, she does like eating cake!!!!


A blog is born!

Since the beginning of the month we've had ADSL high-speed wireless internet here at home. I can tell you it is revolutionizing our life - or rather my life! It's just so wonderful to be able to talk to my friends and family over the internet, it just breaks down those distance barriers. Of course, I wouldn't have been inspired to get revamp my blog without it. With the dial-up I never really could enjoy being online because of the expense and the fact that it was clogging up our phone-line, so plain old web-surfing (that I took for granted in California) was kept to a minimum. Anyway, now I've re-posted many of the old blog entries I had on the old site and am busy back posting a lot of entries that I just never got around to writing or posting, from the last couple of years. Now I have renewed my good intentions to be a faithful blogger, particularly now it's so easy with blogspot! The other big advantage of high-speed is the opportunity for internet shopping - the delivery charges are pretty extortionate and you'd better not be in a hurry - but still hats off to sites like Amazon, for instance, who can deliver to French Polynesia! It's just these little things that make life just that bit less isolated, for all my good intentions to live simply and with nature I can't hide just how reliant I am on modern technology, maybe even more so now I'm here in Rurutu......


Amy and Dave tie the knot

On August 2nd my good friends Amy and Dave tied the knot in a beautiful spot surrounded by a huge eucalyptus forest in the Dandenong Hills, Melbourne, Australia. It was a really beautiful occasion and I felt privileged to be a matron of honor (even if it was a little bit chilly!!!). I got some friends of mine in Raiatea to design some black pearl necklaces for Amy and us girls, and I think Catherine and Eric did an amazing job. Amy just looked stunning!

There's actually a really nice story behind their wedding, and of course it involves Rurutu. Amy and I were at uni together and we enjoyed some fun adventures, I got to visit her in Australia a couple of times. Amy and Dave were even able to come to our wedding in Rurutu back in December 2006, Amy was one of my maids of honor. In fact Dave proposed to Amy while they were here with us, so it's all one beautiful full circle.

Dave was also almost singlehandedly responsible for our wedding video - and he did an amazing job, so hats off to him. The family and even some of our guests here in Rurutu still really enjoy watching the DVD.

I spent most of the time in Aus hanging out with Amy and Dave's family, doing some touristy things, lots of shopping and of course topping up on speaking english!


Heiva de Rurutu 2008

The heiva is a month long cultural festival celebrated every year across French Polynesia. In Tahiti it's a large and rather professional festival, but in the islands it remains charmingly rustic. This year was the first year that I've really done the whole heiva in Rurutu. The festival includes a huge variety of competitions ranging from sporting events like paddling,


and, of course, the bareback horse race along the beach.....

(Viriamu got third this year, but his little brother got first! It's supposedly a friendly race, but there's definitely some pride at stake)

There are also dance, singing, music, flower-arranging and weaving competitions, as well as the country-fair sort of things, the longest/heaviest bunch of bananas or taro root, coconut husking and taro-pounding competitions, all in all it's a lot of good fun for the whole family!!

manioc (tapioca) roots (above left), varieties of bananas and taro (above right)

a prize-winning bunch of bananas weighing in at >40kg

poi-poi making (taro-pounding)


St. David's day reflections

Today is the St.David's Day - patron Saint of Wales. Even though I'm far from home my roots are still important to me. I'm originally from South Wales, in the UK. I went to a welsh-medium school (my parents speak only English), so I was bilingual from the age of four and I identify very strongly with being Welsh. I'd even go so far as to say that I'm proud to be able to speak welsh, even if I don't get too much chance now that I live in Rurutu! It's strange, but while tahitian culture might, at first glance, seem to be so very different from my own, I find many parallels between being Welsh and Viriamu's tahitian roots. Granted there are a lot less coconuts in Wales, but all the same we are a people anchored by our history. In a similar way a friend of mine tried to explain tahitian culture to me - she said that Tahitians stand with their backs to the future, we can't predict it or see it coming so we don't worry about it, rather we look to our ancestors for guidance. I know it's a slightly strange concept, but I think this is a very profound difference, certainly I and many of my English, French or American friends and colleagues are very goal-oriented and are always looking to be in control of the future, while most of my Tahitian friends are much more able to let life happen to them - and I think this is something that I could learn from.

Like Tahitians the Welsh have our own culture, quite distinct from either the English, Scots or Irish. Tahitians are fiesty, fiery, proud and headstrong, with a strong oral tradition, not a million miles from the Welsh temperament, we also have our poets and mythology. We even have an annual cultural celebration, the Eisteddfod, paralleled by the heiva in Tahiti. Both languages and cultures were forbidden and threatened at certain points in history, and both cultures have rediscovered a new contemporary vibrancy, yet still need to be cherished and preserved. Rurutu, as French Polynesia, is currently undergoing rapid and major cultural paradigm shifts, the younger generation look to french and western culture as a model for the future and the 'old' ways are all too easily discarded. While Viriamu's parents speak only rurutu, and Viriamu likewise has trouble with french, his boys speak mostly french and many of the youngsters in Rurutu no longer speak their own language. We're trying to teach Matotea to speak rurutu, french and english (and maybe a little welsh too), in fact she is already able to understand words from of all of these languages. But this is not enough, we as a community Welsh or Rurutu need to work together to preserve our heritage, something that I hope we will be able to do!

R. S. Thomas, a famously cheery anglo-welsh poet, sums up the Welsh predicament in his poem:

Welsh Landscape
To live in Wales is to be conscious
At dusk of the spilled blood
That went into the making of the wild sky
Dyeing the immaculate rivers
in all their courses.
It is to be aware,
Above the noisy tractor
And hum of the machine
Of strife in the strung woods,
Vibrant with sped arrows.
You cannot live in the present,
You cannot live in the present,
At least not in Wales.
There is the language for instance,
The soft consonants
Strange to the ear.
There are cries in the dark at night
As owls answer the moon,
And thick ambush of shadows,
Hushed at the fields' corners.
There is no present in Wales
And no future;
There is only the past,
Brittle with relics,
Wind-bitten towers and castles
With sham ghosts;
Mouldering quarries and mines;
And impotent people,
Sick with inbreeding.
Worrying the carcase of an old song.

While I'm a bit more quietly optimistic, much of what he writes rings true to me.
Happy St. David's Day!