Jun 052018
 

Today is the birthday (1646) of Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, also called Helen Cornaro, a Venetian philosopher of noble descent, who was one of the first women to receive an academic degree from a university and is sometimes claimed to be the first woman in the world to receive a Ph.D. degree. At the time, the Ph.D. or equivalent did not exist in Italy, so we have to approach the claim with a little caution. In fact, the equivalent degree to the Ph.D. (dottorato di ricercar) did not exist in Italy until the 20th century. This state of affairs can lead to a great deal of quibbling. Piscopia held a laurea which I will describe more fully below. For a laurea, a student had to complete 4 to 6 years of university courses, and also complete a thesis. Laureati were customarily addressed as dottore (for a man) or dottoressa (for a woman), i.e. “doctor.” Until the introduction of the dottorato di ricerca in the mid-1980s, the laurea constituted the highest academic degree obtainable in Italy and gave the holders access to the highest academic positions. Nobel prize winners such as Enrico Fermi, Emilio Segrè, Giulio Natta, and Carlo Rubbia held it as their highest degree. The quibble comes in given that for centuries the laurea was the only post-secondary degree in Italy and the standards for obtaining one varied enormously. You will have to decide for yourself whether Piscopia’s degree was equivalent to a modern Ph.D.

Piscopia was born in the Palazzo Loredan in Venice. She was the third child of Gianbattista Cornaro-Piscopia, and his mistress Zanetta Boni. Her mother was a peasant and her parents were not married at the time of her birth. As such, Lady Elena was not technically a member of the Cornaro family by birth, as Venetian law barred illegitimate children of nobles from noble privilege, even if recognized by the noble parent. Her mother probably fled to Venice in order to escape starvation, and soon became the mistress of a member of one of the most powerful noble dynasties in the Republic. Gianbattista and Zanetta married officially in 1654, but their children were barred from noble privilege, which galled Gianbattista.

In 1664, her father was chosen to become the Procuratore di San Marco de supra, the treasurer of St. Mark’s, a coveted position among Venetian nobility. At that point, her father was second only to the Doge of Venice in terms of precedence. Because of this connection, Lady Elena was prominent in the annual Marriage of the Sea celebration focusing on the power of the Doge and the maritime dominance of Venice, even though she was born illegitimate. Her father tried to arrange betrothals for her several times. She rebuffed each man’s advances, as she had taken a vow of chastity at the age of 11. In 1665 she took the habit of a Benedictine Oblate without, however, becoming a nun.

As a young girl, Piscopia was seen as a prodigy. On the advice of Giovanni Fabris, a priest who was a friend of the family, she began a classical education. She studied Latin and Greek under distinguished instructors, and became proficient in these languages at the age of 7. She also mastered Hebrew, Spanish, French and Arabic. Her later studies included mathematics, philosophy, and theology.  Piscopia also became an expert musician, learning to play the harpsichord, the clavichord, the harp, and the violin as well as composing music for these instruments.

In her late teens and early twenties, she concentrated on physics, astronomy, and linguistics. Carlo Rinaldini, her tutor in philosophy, and at that point the Chairman of Philosophy at the University of Padua, published a book in Latin in 1668 on geometry and dedicated it to Piscopia. When her main tutor, Fabris, died, she became even closer to Rinaldini, who took over her studies. In 1669, she translated the Colloquy of Christ by Carthusian monk Giovanni Lanspergio from Spanish into Italian. The translation was dedicated to her close friend and confessor Gianpaolo Oliva. The volume was issued in five editions in the Republic from 1669 to 1672. She was invited to be a part of many scholarly societies when her fame spread and in 1670 became president of the Venetian society Accademia dei Pacifici. Upon the recommendation of Carlo Rinaldini, her tutor in philosophy, Felice Rotondi, petitioned the University of Padua to grant Cornaro the laurea in theology. When Gregorio Cardinal Barbarigo, the bishop of Padua, learned that she was pursuing a degree in theology, he refused on the grounds that she was a woman. However, he did allow her to sit for a degree in philosophy and after a course of study received the laurea in Philosophy. She was examined for the degree on 25th June 1678, in Padua Cathedral in the presence of the University authorities, the professors of all the faculties, the students, and most of the Venetian Senators, together with many invited guests from the Universities of Bologna, Perugia, Rome, and Naples. Piscopia spoke for an hour in classical Latin, explaining difficult passages selected at random from the works of Aristotle. When she had finished, she received plaudits as Professor Rinaldini awarded her the insignia of the laurea, the book of philosophy, placing the wreath of laurel on her head, the ring on her finger, and over her shoulders the ermine mozetta. This scene is illustrated in the Cornaro Window in the West Wing of the Thompson Memorial Library at Vassar College.

The last seven years of her life were devoted to study and charity. She died at Padua in 1684 of tuberculosis and was buried in the church of Santa Giustina in Padua. A statue of her was placed in the university.

Piscopia’s death was marked by memorial services in Venice, Padua, Siena, and Rome. Her writings, published in Parma in 1688, include academic discourses, translations, and devotional treatises. In 1685 the University of Padua struck a medal in her honor. In 1895 Abbess Mathilda Pynsent of the English Benedictine Nuns in Rome had Elena’s tomb opened, the remains placed in a new casket, and a tablet inscribed to her memory.

Venice is home to a huge variety of dishes made with rice. When you talk about risotto in northern Italy in general you can get into pretty deep waters with locals who all have their own preferences. But Venice by itself has scores of restaurants that specialize in a particular risotto (often with local fish), and watching the chefs at work is a wonder. Risi e bisi (rice and peas) is a somewhat more ubiquitous marvel that appears in spring when peas are freshly harvested. As with many, many regional specialties, I suggest you fly to Venice in the spring and sample the offerings. You won’t be able to recreate them at home. I can’t either if it’s any consolation. My risotto passes muster with some of my Italian friends, but it is far from the best. I’ve been working on technique for about 15 years. I can share the general idea with you, but the practice is up to you. For risi e bisi you should be using broth made by simmering fresh pea pods. The whole dish should be redolent of fresh peas. That means that the dish will work out best for you if you grow your own garden peas (or have a friend with a garden). You can also do reasonably well if you make a broth by simmering fresh Chinese snow peas. Anything other than pea broth will miss the mark. Likewise, you must use freshly picked peas. If you come across a recipe for risi e bisi that uses frozen peas, throw it away. You could use Venetian Grana Padano for your cheese to have a more fully local flavor if you want, but, in fact, Venetians usually use Parmigiano-Reggiano because it has a slightly more complex flavor (and Parma/Reggio Emilia, is not so far from Venice anyway).

Risi e Bisi

Ingredients

7 cups fresh pea broth
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
⅓ cup minced onion
¼ cup diced pancetta
2 cups arborio rice
4 cups shelled fresh peas
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

Bring the pea stock to a gentle simmer in a small saucepan and keep warm. Having the stock near boiling while cooking the rice is critical.

Melt 2 tablespoons of  butter with 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft, but do not let it take on color. Add the pancetta and continue to sauté for about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir it in the hot oil and butter until the individual grains are coated.

This is the part that needs constant attention. Add 1 ladle of stock to the pan, and start stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. The temperature of the stock is the key factor. It should not be boiling too vigorously nor off the boil. When the stock is almost absorbed, add another ladleful. You want to keep the stock in the skillet at a constant temperature, so keeping it warm in a pan is essential. Continue adding the stock one ladleful at a time, letting it be almost absorbed before adding the next, until the rice is almost tender (that is, after about 4 ladles you need to start biting the rice to test it). When the rice is almost cooked add the peas and a last ladleful of stock. Continue stirring. If all has gone well the rice should be creamy and tender but still firm to the bite.

Remove the skillet from heat. Stir in the remaining butter and olive oil along with the cheese and parsley. Season the dish to taste with salt and pepper. Serve straight from the skillet with crusty bread.

Nov 252013
 

suri4

Today is Independence Day in Suriname. Suriname (or Surinam), officially known as the Republic of Suriname (Dutch: Republiek Suriname), is a country on the northeastern Atlantic coast of South America. It is bordered by French Guiana to the east, Guyana to the west, Brazil to the south. Suriname was colonized by the English and the Dutch in the 17th century.

Suriname is the smallest independent country in South America. It is situated on the Guiana Shield and lies mostly between latitudes 1° and 6°N, and longitudes 54° and 58°W. The country can be divided into two main geographic regions. The northern, lowland coastal area (roughly above the line Albina-Paranam-Wageningen) has been cultivated, and most of the population lives there. The southern part consists of tropical rainforest and sparsely inhabited savanna along the border with Brazil, covering about 80% of Suriname’s land surface.

The two main mountain ranges are the Bakhuys Mountains and the Van Asch Van Wijck Mountains. Julianatop is the highest mountain in the country at 1,286 metres (4,219 ft) above sea level. Other mountains include Tafelberg at 1,026 metres (3,366 ft), Mount Kasikasima at 718 metres (2,356 ft), Goliathberg at 358 metres (1,175 ft) and Voltzberg at 240 metres (790 ft).

suri5

In 1667 Suriname was colonized by the Dutch, who governed Suriname as Dutch Guiana until 1954. At that time it was designated as one of the constituent countries  of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with the Netherlands and the Netherlands Antilles (dissolved in 2010). On 25 November 1975, the country of Suriname left the Kingdom of the Netherlands to become independent. A member of CARICOM, it is often considered a Caribbean country and has had frequent trade and cultural exchange with the Caribbean nations.

At just under 165,000 km2 (64,000 sq mi), Suriname is the smallest sovereign state in South America. (French Guiana, while less extensive and populous, is an overseas department of France.) Suriname has a population of approximately 566,000, most of whom live on the country’s north coast, where the capital Paramaribo is located. The official language is Dutch. It is the only independent entity in the Americas where Dutch is spoken.

suri7  suri8

Beginning in the 16th century, French, Spanish, and English explorers visited the area. A century later, plantation colonies were established by the Dutch and English along the many rivers in the fertile Guiana plains. The earliest documented colony in Guiana was an English settlement named Marshall’s Creek along the Suriname River. Disputes arose between the Dutch and the English, however. In 1667, during negotiations leading to the Treaty of Breda, the Dutch decided to keep the nascent plantation colony of Suriname they had conquered from the English. The English got to keep New Amsterdam, the main city of the former colony of New Netherland. Already a cultural and economic hub in those days, they renamed it after the Duke of York: New York.

In 1683, the Society of Suriname was founded by the city of Amsterdam, the Van Aerssen van Sommelsdijck family, and the Dutch West India Company. The society was chartered to manage and defend the colony. The planters of the colony relied heavily on African slaves to cultivate the coffee, cocoa, sugar cane and cotton plantations along the rivers. Planters’ treatment of the slaves was notoriously bad, and many slaves escaped the plantations. With the help of the native South Americans living in the adjoining rain forests, these runaway slaves established a new and unique culture that was highly successful in its own right. They were known collectively in English as the Maroons, in French as the Nèg’Marrons (literally meaning “maroon neg[roes]”, that is “runaway black slaves”), and in Dutch as Bosnegers (literally meaning “forest negroes”). The Maroons gradually developed several independent ethnic groups  through a process of ethnogenesis, as they were made up of slaves from different African ethnicities. Among them are the Saramaka, the Paramaka, the Ndyuka or Aukan, the Kwinti, the Aluku or Boni, and the Matawai.

suri10

The Maroons often raided the plantations to recruit new members from the slaves and capture women, as well as acquire weapons, food and supplies. The planters and their families were sometimes killed in the raids; colonists built defenses, which were so important they were shown on 18th century maps, but these were not sufficient. The colonists also mounted armed campaigns against the Maroons, who generally escaped through the rainforest which they knew much better than did the colonists. To end hostilities, in the 19th century the European colonial authorities signed several peace treaties with different Maroon groups. They granted the Maroons sovereign status and trade rights in their inland territories.

Slavery in Suriname was abolished by the Netherlands in 1863, but the slaves were not fully released until 1873, after a mandatory ten-year transition period during which time they were required to work on the plantations for minimal pay and without state-sanctioned discipline. As soon as they became truly free, the slaves largely abandoned the plantations where they had worked for several generations in favor of the city, Paramaribo.

As a plantation colony, Suriname was still heavily dependent on manual labour, and to make up for the shortfall, the Dutch brought in contract laborers from the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia) and India (through an arrangement with the British). In addition, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, small numbers of laborers, mostly men, were brought in from China and the Middle East. Although Suriname’s population remains relatively small, because of this history it is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse countries in the world.

On 23 November 1941, under an agreement with the Netherlands government-in-exile, the United States occupied Suriname to protect bauxite mines. In 1954, Suriname became one of the constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with the Netherlands Antilles and the Netherlands. Under this arrangement, the Netherlands retained control of defense and foreign affairs. In 1973, the local government, led by the NPK (a largely Creole, that is, ethnically African or mixed African-European, party) started negotiations with the Dutch government leading towards full independence, which was granted on 25 November 1975. The independence package was substantial, and a large part of Suriname’s economy for the first decade following independence was fueled by foreign aid provided by the Dutch government.

SFA001005424

Dutch is the sole official language, and is the language of education, government, business, and the media. Over 60% of the population speak Dutch as a first language, and most of the rest speak it as a second language. In 2004 Suriname became an associate member of the Dutch Language Union. It is the only Dutch-speaking country in South America as well as the only independent nation in the Americas where Dutch is spoken, and one of the two non-Romance-speaking countries on the continent, the other being English-speaking Guyana.

In Paramaribo, Dutch is the main home language in two-thirds of households.The recognition of “Surinaams-Nederlands” (“Surinamese Dutch”) as a national dialect equal to “Nederlands-Nederlands” (“Dutch Dutch”) and “Vlaams-Nederlands” (“Flemish Dutch”) was expressed in 2009 by the publication of the Woordenboek Surinaams Nederlands (Surinamese–Dutch Dictionary). Only in the interior of Suriname is Dutch seldom spoken. Sranan Tongo, a local creole language originally spoken by the creole population group, is the most widely used language in the streets and is often used interchangeably with Dutch depending on the formality of the setting.

Surinamese Hindi or Sarnami, a dialect of Bhojpuri, is the third-most used language, spoken by the descendants of South Asian contract workers from then British India. Javanese is used by the descendants of Javanese contract workers. The Maroon languages, somewhat mutually intelligible with Sranan Tongo, include Saramaka, Paramakan, Ndyuka (also called Aukan), Kwinti and Matawai. Amerindian languages, spoken by indigenous peoples, include Carib and Arawak. Hakka and Cantonese are spoken by the descendants of the Chinese contract workers. Mandarin is spoken by a few recent Chinese immigrants. English, Spanish and Portuguese are also used. Spanish and Portuguese are spoken by Latin American residents and their descendants and sometimes also taught in schools.

Surinamese cuisine is highly varied because the population originates from a variety of cultures, and is unlike the cuisines of other South American countries . Surinamese cuisine is a combination of many international cuisines including Indian, African Creole, Javanese, Chinese, Dutch, Jewish, Portuguese, and Amerindian. Common ingredients are chicken, salted meat and fish (bakkeljauw), rice, cassava, tayer, long beans, okra, and eggplant.

For a spicy taste, Madame Jeanette peppers are used. Madame Jeanette (Capsicum chinense) is a hot pepper originally from Suriname.The fruits are shaped like small bell peppers but with fierce heat (100,000-350,000 on the Scoville scale [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scoville_scale]) . The peppers ripen to reddish-yellow. Often this pepper is mixed up with the yellow Adjuma, which is less elongated and said to have more heat and less aroma. Madame Jeanette peppers are used in almost all of Surinam cuisine. The plant is very prolific. It grows fairly small and dislikes cool sites. It will grow indoors.

suri1

Tayer is a species of Xanthosoma, a genus of flowering plants in the arum family, Araceae, related to taro. The genus contains about 50 species that are native to tropical America. Several are grown for their starchy corms, an important food staple of tropical regions, known variously as malanga, otoy, otoe, cocoyam (or new cocoyam), tannia, tannier, yautía, macabo, macal, taioba, dasheen, quequisque, ?ape andSingapore taro (taro kongkong). Taro can be substited.

suri3

Pom tayer, of Jewish origin, is the national dish of Suriname. It is a baked casserole of layers of tayer and chicken.  It is considered mandatory to serve pom tayer at all celebrations.

suri2

Pom Tayer

Ingredients

1 whole chicken (2 to 3 lbs)
1 lb chicken sausage, sliced
2 ½ lbs tayer (or taro root)
1 lb can diced tomatoes
2 onions, peeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, diced
chicken stock
1 tbsp of nutmeg
juice of one orange
juice of 2 lemons
3 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 hot chile (Madame Jeanette or as hot)
1 tbsp sugar
½ cup of vegetable oil
salt and pepper

Instructions:

Cut the chicken into pieces. Traditionally it is chopped into chunks bone and all, but you can cut the meat from the bone. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat and sauté the chicken pieces and chicken sausage in batches until lightly browned. Set aside.

In the same pan, sauté the onions for 7-8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, garlic and celery.

Add the chicken, chicken sausage, and hot pepper and cover with stock.

Cook covered over medium low heat for 25-30 minutes. Drain the cooking liquid into a bowl and keep it aside.

Peel and rinse the tayer. Grate the tayer. Mix it with some of the cooking liquid from the meat as well as the orange and lemon juices to make a sticky dough. Add sugar.

Spread half of the tayer mixture in a well greased covered baking dish. Spread the chicken mixture on top and then cover with the rest of the tayer.

Pour the remaining juices over the top and bake for two hours: one hour covered at 425°F/230°C, and one hour uncovered at 350°F/175°C, until the top is brown.

Serves 8-10

Sep 162013
 

png7

Today is Independence Day in Papua New Guinea, officially named the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, a nation in Oceania that occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and numerous offshore islands.

PNG2

Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. According to recent data, 841 different languages are listed for the country, although 11 of these have no known living speakers. There may be at least as many different traditional societies, out of a population of about 6.3 million. It is also one of the most rural nations in the world, as only 18% of its people live in urban centers. The country is one of the world’s least explored, culturally and geographically, and many undiscovered species of plants and animals are thought to exist in the interior of Papua New Guinea. The territory has long been an anthropologist’s dream. Although dated, and a bit contrived, the documentary “Dead Birds” by Robert Gardner, about the Dani who live(d) in the central highlands, is worth a look to get an idea. “Trobriand Cricket” is also a good window into traditional culture and colonialism.  Here’s an excerpt: Trobriand Cricket

PNG1

After being ruled by three external powers since 1884, Papua New Guinea established its sovereignty in 1975 after the demand of the United Nations that Australia cease to administer it. It became a separate Commonwealth realm on 16 September 1975 without incident.  It is now fully independent but, like all Commonwealth nations, Queen Elizabeth II is the nominal Head of State.

Human remains have been found which have been dated to about 50,000 BP although this is an estimate only. Agriculture developed in the New Guinea highlands around 7000 BCE, possibly indigenously, but more likely brought by immigrants.  A major migration of Austronesian speaking peoples came to coastal regions in roughly 500 BCE. This has been correlated with the introduction of pottery, pigs, and certain fishing techniques. More recently, in the 18th century, the sweet potato was taken to New Guinea, having been introduced to the Moluccas by Portuguese traders. The far higher crop yields from sweet potato gardens radically transformed traditional agriculture; sweet potato largely supplanted the previous staple, taro, and gave rise to a significant increase in population in the highlands.

png4

Little was known in Europe about the island until the 19th century, although Portuguese and Spanish explorers, such as Dom Jorge de Meneses and Yñigo Ortiz de Retez, had encountered it as early as the 16th century. Traders from Southeast Asia had visited New Guinea beginning 5,000 years ago to collect bird of paradise plumes. The country’s dual name results from its complex administrative history before independence. The word papua is derived from an old local term of uncertain origin, and “New Guinea” (Nueva Guinea) was the name coined by the Spanish explorer Yñigo Ortiz de Retez. In 1545, he noted the resemblance of the people to those he had seen earlier along the Guinea coast of Africa. The northern half of the country was ruled as a colony for some decades by Germany, beginning in 1884, as German New Guinea. The southern half was colonized in the same year by the United Kingdom as British New Guinea, but in 1904 with the passage of the Papua Act, it was transferred to the newly formed Commonwealth of Australia who took on its administration.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Papua New Guinea is part of the Australasia ecozone, which also includes Australia, New Zealand, eastern Indonesia, and several Pacific island groups, including the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu (see post 30 July). Geologically, the island of New Guinea is a northern extension of the Indo-Australian tectonic plate, forming part of a single land mass which is Australia-New Guinea (also called Sahul or Meganesia). It is connected to the Australian segment by a shallow continental shelf across the Torres Strait, which in former ages was exposed as a land bridge, particularly during ice ages when sea levels were lower than at present. Consequently, many species of birds and mammals found on New Guinea have close genetic links with corresponding species found in Australia. One notable feature in common for the two landmasses is the existence of several species of marsupial mammals, including some kangaroos and possums, which are not found elsewhere.

png22  SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Many of the other islands within Papua New Guinea territory, including New Britain, New Ireland, Bougainville, the Admiralty Islands, the Trobriand Islands, and the Louisiade Archipelago, were never linked to New Guinea by land bridges. As a consequence, they have their own flora and fauna; in particular, they lack many of the land mammals and flightless birds that are common to New Guinea and Australia.

png9  png10

The indigenous population of Papua New Guinea is one of the most heterogeneous in the world. Papua New Guinea has several thousand separate communities, most with only a few hundred people. Divided by language, customs, and tradition, some of these communities have engaged in endemic warfare with their neighbors for centuries. The movie “Dead Birds” documents such warfare among the Dani.

png30

The isolation created by the mountainous terrain is so great that some groups, until recently, were unaware of the existence of neighboring groups only a few kilometers away. The diversity, reflected in a folk saying, “For each village, a different culture,” is perhaps best shown in the local languages. Spoken mainly on the island of New Guinea, about 650 of these Papuan languages have been identified; of these, only 350-450 are related. The remainder of the Papuan languages seem to be totally unrelated either to each other or to the other major groupings. In addition, many languages belonging to Austronesian language group are used in Papua New Guinea, and in total, more than 800 languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea. Individual native languages are spoken by a few hundred to a few thousand, although Enga language, used in Enga Province, is spoken by around 130,000 people.

pnglang

Tok Pisin (Melanesian Pidgin), a creole of English and some Austronesian languages, serves as the lingua franca for Papua New Guinea. English is the language of business and government, and all schooling from primary Grade 2 is in English. However, only a small percentage of the population speaks English fluently. The overall population density is low, although pockets of overpopulation exist. Papua New Guinea’s Western Province averages one person per square kilometer (3 per sq. mi.). The Simbu Province in the New Guinea highlands averages 20 persons per square kilometer (60 per sq. mi.) and has areas containing up to 200 people farming a square kilometer of land. The highlands have 40% of the population where the people are subsistence farmers.

png23

The Trobriand Islands are part of the nation of Papua New Guinea.  The first anthropologist to study the Trobrianders was C.G. Seligman, who mainly focused on the Massim people of mainland New Guinea. Seligman was followed a number of years later by his student, the Polish born Bronis?aw Malinowski, who visited the islands during the First World War. Despite being a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was at war with Australia who then controlled the Trobriand Islands, he was allowed to stay provided he checked in with authorities every now and then. Technically he should have gone to an intern camp in Australia. His descriptions of the kula exchange system, gardening, magic, and sexual practices are now all classics of modern anthropological research.  It was during his stay in the Trobriands that Malinowski created the, now normal, practice of participant-observer fieldwork. Previously anthropologists like Seligman had used interpreters, and paid local people to talk to them on the verandahs of their lodgings in order to learn about their customs.  Malinowski lived and worked sided by side with the Trobrianders, learning the language and participating in daily activities.

png31  png15

It is the supreme “otherness” of Papua New Guinea which attracts the interest of anthropologists: the kula ring in which decorative armshells and necklaces (of no economic value) are endlessly traded around a series of islands in counter-rotating circles; warfare which is perpetual but which stops if someone is killed or if it is raining (because the warriors’ decorative hair feathers will be ruined); enocannibalism – the ritual eating of relatives when they die; Trobriand cricket (introduced by an English missionary) in which competition is fierce and yet it is predetermined that the home team always wins. The indigenous cultures of Papua New Guinea are an enigma which defy the norms of Western culture.

png12

Probably the most traditional and widespread dish in Papua New Guinea is roast pork, slow roast in a pit or over hot coals as in most of the South Pacific. Otherwise recipes are blends of local ingredients and European methods of cooking (or else wholesale European imports).   So to celebrate you could either have a nice piece of roast pork (crisp skin essential) with mashed sweet potatoes (nothing wrong with that), or try this dish from Port Moresby, the capital. The peculiarity lies in the separate cooking of the vegetables using the same cooking water.  It does make a difference to the final taste. Sometimes cooks add a little curry powder.  Naturally this makes a good side dish for roast pork also.

png13

Papua New Guinea Vegetables in Coconut Sauce

Ingredients:

6 cups mixed vegetables (whatever is available, for example, you can use any of the following: carrots, fresh beans, sweet potato, zucchini, green or red peppers, eggplant, potatoes, and peas)
1 crushed clove garlic
2 fresh small hot chiles, seeded and chopped
½ cup fresh coconut milk
½ cup grated coconut
2 tbsp oil
curry powder to taste (optional)

Instructions:

Bring a cup of water to the boil in a medium sized saucepan.

Boil each vegetable separately in the same water.  When each is al dente, remove it with a slotted spoon and reserve. Top up the water if necessary as the cooking progresses. Reserve the cooking liquid when finished.

Add the garlic, chile, coconut milk, coconut, and oil (and curry powder if desired) to the vegetable cooking liquid, and bring to a simmer.  Add the vegetables and warm through for about five minutes.

Serve with boiled white or brown rice.

Serves 4