11 September, 2016
Going to the taro patch! We met at our friend’s house to go by boat to his family’s taro patch. While we waited for family members to arrive, we sat on the beach and enjoyed the view.
Our first stop before the taro patch was a little piece of family land (tabinaw) for collecting betel nut and bananas. Arrival at the shore involved ‘plenty’ mosquitos before a hike up the hills to the sourcing site. Collecting can be a full day’s work and the food may last 3 days. It is a family affair, one of which even the young ones will go (as can be seen by our friend’s 8 year old daughter behind Devin).
Upon arrival, the mosquitoes swarmed at us! My friend’s wife indicated Devin and I could bail and go back to the boat. Devin and my friend’s wife’s father bailed on the excursion, leaving me, her, and her uncle to fetch the taro from the patch.
Our trek was over a stream, through swampy, marshy flats, under and over tree limbs and brush, through a poorly maintained taro patch belonging to someone else, finally to arrive at her family’s taro patch. During this trek, I painted myself with the mud from the swampy section to discourage the mosquitoes. It worked for a while but I sweated it all off of my body and needed to reapply.
Once at the taro patch, we had to cut the taro at a slight angle towards the tuberous roots so as to not damage the taro. After we cut into the ground to free the taro from its roots, we pulled the taro out of the ground. Then we replanted the smaller taro. My friend’s wife said “we always plant more than we take.”
Once the taro were gathered, we had to clean them and prepare baskets to carry the taro. It’s important to retain some of the taro leaves because they are used to line the inside of the basket where the taro will go. Also, the leaves are used to cover the taro once completely filling the taro basket.
After packing up the taro, we hiked with our bundles of heavy taro back to the boat. We couldn’t wait to get to the boat, to rinse in the salt water and put on coconut oil to alleviate the mosquito bites. The flower in the picture (right) comes from a mangrove, although I am not sure which kind.
Taro is one of the most valuable foods in Yap as it is a sturdy and hearty food, especially when breadfruit, mangoes, and other crops are out of season and fish catches are not as satisfactory. Taro are one of the healthiest foods, as well, especially those with diabetes as it is a low glycemic food. What hard work! Next time you see a taro for $2, don’t complain!
The taro patch is hard work, to the point doctors are discouraging elders from going to the taro patches. The elderly ladies would not have to go to the taro patch if more of the young ladies remained on island, as that is their kind of work in the traditional Yapese system. This is just one of the impacts from the Compact of Free Association… migration of the young ones off to school in the United States or China.