Daily Archives: 4 April 2004

Rainforest Gifts: Sago and Sago Grubs

This mouthwatering webpage describes some delicacies that the rice-loving Javanese who’ve resettled all over eastern Indonesia don’t seem fully to appreciate:

Easy meal: Sago Palm (Metroxylon) is far more productive than rice, producing four times more starch, 100-200 kg per palm, enough to feed a family of 4-5 for a month. And it is the least labour-intensive starch to harvest. It takes one person 10 days to process a palm, faster if a group works on it. Sago is the staple carbohydrate for many people in Southeast Asia, Oceania and Pacific Islands where Sago Palms are found.

Asmat sago rituals: For the Asmat, the Sago Palm is the only sure source of calories in their mudflat homelands. They treat the Sago Palm not merely as a human being, but as a life-giving mother, the sago being her child….

Sago grubs are the larvae of the Capricorn Beetle (Rhynchophorus ferrungineus/bilineatus). The Asmat celebrate special occasions, such as the consecration of a new ritual house with an elaborate party featuring the grub. A huge bark container is prepared in the centre of the house and each guest is required to deposit his share of the grub. Each person, however, tries to cheat by giving as little as possible without being caught. Once all have made their contribution, the container is opened, spilling out the grubs, signifying new life emerging from a mother. The grubs are then enjoyed raw or roasted.

The Korowai also have sago festivals. Preparations for such a party lasts for 3 months. The head of the extended family initiates the celebration by sending out invitations to all family members and others with close links to the family. They build a large party house with all the special features needed to enjoy the sago grub: a traditional fire which is always kept burning, special racks to store the grubs. They cut down Sago Palms, sometimes up to 200, and make holes in the trunks for the beetles to enter, then leave the trunks on the ground. The beetles are only attracted to damaged palms, and quickly lay their eggs in the starchy palms. In the meantime, the family also harvest sago in the regular way, in preparation for the party. In about 6 weeks, the beetle larvae are nice and plump and just about to pupate. Each palm may contain up to 100 sago grubs. The family then sends out invitations far and wide to join the party. The grubs are harvested by cutting through the palm. The grubs are eaten raw, or mixed with sago flour and steamed. Often with lots of dancing and merrymaking.

Sweeter than roasted marshmallows. Or so I hear. The related Arthropods: Bugs for Breakfast page is also highly recommended, though perhaps not at mealtime. Here’s a sample:

You probably regularly eat bugs, without even knowing it! Insects are a part of all processed food from wheat meal for bread to tomato ketchup. It’s impossible to keep mass-produced food 100% insect-free. There are regulations stating the maximum amount of bug bits that food can contain and still be fit for human consumption.

Red about it: the food colouring cochineal is extracted from the crushed bodies of scale insects that feed on the prickly pear. Cochineal is widely used in many popular food items–read the labels!

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Morobe Field Diary, November 1976: Demographics

The population figures of nearby villages I obtained from the kiap in Morobe [Patrol Post] follow:


Village   Total     Adults      Children    Adults outside province

Buso 108 24m 27f 23m 27f 3m 1f
Kui 333 81m 81f 88m 69f 8m 2f
Sipoma 294 84m 69f 69m 58f 12m 2f
Paiewa 276 69m 72f 70m 61f 4m 0f
Maiama 483


[The predominant local language of Kui & Buso is Kela.

Sipoma is the only village that speaks Numbami.

Both Kela and Numbami are Austronesian languages.

The predominant languages of Paiewa and Maiama are non-Austronesian (Papuan),

members Binanderean family.]

This confirms my impression that the eligible young men of this village far outnumber the young women.

More statistics: Two Sepiks are married into the village. They work at the timber co. and so are in the village mostly on weekends. Their children are too young to talk yet but will probably speak Nu. The fathers mostly don’t speak Nu. but understand some. One Wain man recently married in — also works for the timber co. — no children yet. Two Kui women married in — both speak Nu. and kids of both do also but I’m less sure about one family. One Kui woman doesn’t speak Nu.; neither do her kids though they may understand it fairly well. One Morobe woman speaks Nu., her kids speak Pidgin [Tok Pisin] and their father speaks T.P. to them most of the time too. Also one Markham woman speaks Nu. as do her kids I believe; her husband is Nu. & away a good bit.

Next year one young Nu. is off to do 5th & 6th form at the new national H.S. at Aiyura (where SIL headquarters is), one if off to Sogeri H.S. near Mosbi [Port Moresby], 2 off to Kerevat in Rabaul (brother to 5th form; sister to 6th). One girl and 2 boys will go to Junior High in town. Some people working away from the village:

1 agricultural inspector (Jack S.)

1 malaria service mosquitologist (Tom S.)

1 development bank clerk (Kaukisa S.)

1 N.S.W. bank teller (off to Mosbi for training)

1 teacher at Kaiapit

1 NCO in PNG Army (Igam Barracks)

1 in forestry service (Bing Siga, in Aust. for training)

1 radio repairman in Lae

1 cattleman (half Nu., half Sepik)

1 machine repairman in Wau (half Nu., Peter)

1 policeman at Rabaul (Marawaku’s son)

1 assistant kiap at Boana (__ Siga)

1 store clerk in Mosbi (__ Siga)

1 secretary at UniTech (Aga __)

1 medic at Morobe (Dei)

1 in fisheries (Lukas)

1 in transport co. (Panett)

1 teacher at Kui

In addition, Daniel/Siga said that everyone older in the village except his mother has gone to Yabem School (max. 4 years). Evidently they went thru in age cohorts: Abu Bamo’s, then Giyasa’s, then Yali’s, then Siga’s. The war disrupted people like Lukas, who claims he’s had only about 1 year of school but has a well-respected business head.

NOTE: Blogger doesn’t turn off the <pre> tag very predictably. It wouldn’t wrap the paragraph after </pre>, so I had to force linefeeds. I initially tried the <table> tag, but blogger added way too much white space above it.

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