Mar 012019
 

Today is Yap Day, a legal holiday in Yap State, one of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). It is a celebration of traditional Yapese culture. In 1968, the Yap Islands Congress created Yap District Day to preserve Yapese culture. The date March 1 was chosen because it falls in the dry season and so is expected to be a pleasant day. The event’s name was changed to Yap Day in March 1979. In 1990, Yap Day activities included running, bicycling, juggling, tug of war, coconut husking, and basket weaving. Five dances were also held. Most of these activities and dances were aimed at preserving the culture of Yap proper.

In 1999, Yap Day was held as a three-day celebration starting on February 28. This was reportedly to accommodate the children’s school schedule, though it was also noted it also coincided with Yap’s tourist flight schedules. The opening ceremony was conducted almost entirely in Yapese. Different dances were held for the boys, girls, women, and men, including standing dances, sitting dances, and stick dances. Activities also included children’s cultural games such as target shooting and basket weaving. Booths around the dance arena represented the outer islands of Yap, and international organizations such as the Peace Corps. Other booths sold food.

Each year a different village hosts the Mit-mit (“meet meet” = gathering for dance) and provides both traditional and Western food. Before Yap Day, the villages rehearse traditional dances, which serve as a mode of storytelling. Outer islanders are prohibited from participating in dances, though they may attend. Competitions include traditional tattooing, fresh produce contests, and traditional games. The Yap Tradition Navigation Society holds an event where participants build and sail traditional canoes. On the last day, the Yap Visitors Bureau hosts a welcome reception to honor guests who have traveled to the island.

Coconut features prominently in traditional Yap food as does seafood and breadfruit. A common festival dish that can easily be replicated is taro in coconut milk. You do not really need a formal recipe. Scrub taro roots and boil them in salted water until completely cooked (1 ½ to 2 hours). Let cool and peel. Cube the taro and place in a saucepan. Barely cover with coconut milk and simmer until the coconut milk has reduced and thickened. Serve warm or cold.

Jan 312014
 

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Today is Independence Day in Nauru. Nauru, officially the Republic of Nauru, and formerly known as Pleasant Island, is an island country in Micronesia in the South Pacific. Its nearest neighbor is Banaba Island in Kiribati, 300 kilometres (186 mi) to the east. Nauru is 21 square kilometres (8.1 sq mi) in area, with 9,378 residents. It is located almost on the equator northeast of Australia.

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Nauru was originally settled by Micronesian and Polynesian peoples and then annexed and claimed as a colony by the German Empire in the late 19th century. After World War I, Nauru became a League of Nations mandate administered by Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. During World War II, Nauru was occupied by Japanese troops, who were bypassed by the Allied advance across the Pacific. After the war ended, the country entered into trusteeship again. Nauru gained its independence in 1968.

Nauru is a phosphate rock island with rich deposits near the surface, which allowed for easy strip mining operations. It has some phosphate resources which, as of 2011, are not economically viable for extraction.  Nauru boasted the highest per-capita income enjoyed by any sovereign state in the world during the late 1960s and early 1970s. When the phosphate reserves were exhausted, and the environment had been seriously harmed by mining, the trust that had been established to manage the island’s wealth diminished in value. To earn income, Nauru briefly became a tax haven and illegal money laundering centre. From 2001 to 2008, it accepted aid from the Australian Government in exchange for housing the Nauru detention centre.

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Nauru was first inhabited by Micronesian and Polynesian people at least 3,000 years ago. There were traditionally 12 clans on Nauru, which are represented in the 12-pointed star on the country’s flag. Traditionally, Nauruans traced their descent matrilineally. Inhabitants practice aquaculture: they catch juvenile saltwater ibija fish, acclimate them to fresh water, and raise them in the Buada Lagoon, providing a reliable source of food. The other locally grown components of their diet include coconuts and pandanus fruit. The name “Nauru” may derive from the Nauruan word Anáoero, which means “I go to the beach.”

The British sea captain John Fearn, a whale hunter, became the first Westerner to visit Nauru in 1798, naming it “Pleasant Island”. From around 1830, Nauruans had contact with Europeans from whaling ships and traders who replenished their supplies (particularly fresh water) at Nauru. Around this time, deserters from European ships began to live on the island. The islanders traded food for alcoholic palm wine and firearms. The firearms were used during the 10-year Nauruan Tribal War that began in 1878.

Nauru was annexed by Germany in 1888 and incorporated into Germany’s Marshall Islands Protectorate. The arrival of the Germans ended the civil war, and kings were established as rulers of the island. The most widely known of these was King Auweyida (or Aweida).

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Christian missionaries from the Gilbert Islands arrived in 1888. The German settlers called the island Nawodo or Onawero. The Germans ruled Nauru for almost three decades. Robert Rasch, a German trader who married a Nauruan woman, was the first administrator, appointed in 1890.

Phosphate was discovered on Nauru in 1900 by the prospector Albert Fuller Ellis. The Pacific Phosphate Company began to exploit the reserves in 1906 by agreement with Germany, exporting its first shipment in 1907. In 1914, following the outbreak of World War I, Nauru was captured by Australian troops. Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom signed the Nauru Island Agreement in 1919, creating a board known as the British Phosphate Commission (BPC) that took over the rights to phosphate mining.

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The island experienced an influenza epidemic in 1920, with a mortality rate of 18 per cent among native Nauruans. In 1923, the League of Nations gave Australia a trustee mandate over Nauru, with the United Kingdom and New Zealand as co-trustees. On 6 and 7 December 1940, the German auxiliary cruisers Komet and Orion sank five supply ships in the vicinity of Nauru. Komet then shelled Nauru’s phosphate mining areas, oil storage depots, and the shiploading cantilever.

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Japanese troops occupied Nauru on 25 August 1942. The Japanese built an airfield which was bombed for the first time on 25 March 1943, preventing food supplies from being flown to Nauru. The Japanese deported 1,200 Nauruans to work as laborers in the Chuuk (Truk) islands. Nauru, which had been bypassed and left to “wither on the vine” by American forces, was finally liberated on 13 September 1945, when commander Hisayaki Soeda surrendered the island to the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Navy. This surrender was accepted by Brigadier J. R. Stevenson, who represented Lieutenant General Vernon Sturdee, the commander of the First Australian Army, on board the warship HMAS Diamantina. Arrangements were made to repatriate from Chuuk the 737 Nauruans who survived Japanese captivity there. They were returned to Nauru by the BPC ship Trienza in January 1946. In 1947, a trusteeship was established by the United Nations, with Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom as trustees.

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Nauru became self-governing in January 1966, and following a two-year constitutional convention it became independent on 31 January 1968 under founding president Hammer DeRoburt. In 1967, the people of Nauru purchased the assets of the British Phosphate Commissioners, and in June 1970 control passed to the locally owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation. Income from the mines gave Nauruans one of the highest standards of living in the Pacific. In 1989, Nauru took legal action against Australia in the International Court of Justice over Australia’s administration of the island, in particular Australia’s failure to remedy the environmental damage caused by phosphate mining. Certain Phosphate Lands: Nauru v. Australia led to an out-of-court settlement to rehabilitate the mined-out areas of Nauru.

Following independence in 1968, Nauru joined the Commonwealth of Nations as a Special Member; it became a full member in 2000. The country was admitted to the Asian Development Bank in 1991 and to the United Nations in 1999. Nauru is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, the South Pacific Commission, and the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission. The American Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program operates a climate-monitoring facility on the island.

Nauru has no armed forces, although there is a small police force under civilian control. Australia is responsible for Nauru’s defense under an informal agreement between the two countries. The September 2005 Memorandum of Understanding between Australia and Nauru provides the latter with financial aid and technical assistance, including a Secretary of Finance to prepare the budget, and advisers on health and education. This aid is in return for Nauru’s housing of asylum seekers while their applications for entry into Australia are processed. Nauru uses the Australian dollar as its official currency

Nauru had 9,378 residents as of July 2011. The population was previously larger, but in 2006 some 1,500 people left the island during a repatriation of immigrant workers from Kiribati and Tuvalu. The repatriation was motivated by wide-scale reductions in the workforce in the phosphate mining industry. The official language of Nauru is Nauruan, a distinct Pacific island language, which is spoken by 96 per cent of ethnic Nauruans at home. English is widely spoken and is the language of government and commerce, as Nauruan is not common outside of the country.

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The major ethnic groups of Nauru are Nauruans (58%), other Pacific Islanders (26%), Europeans (8%), and Chinese (8%). The main religion practiced on the island is Christianity (two-thirds Protestant, one-third Roman Catholic). There is also a sizeable Bahá’í population (10%) – the largest proportion of any country in the world – as well as Buddhists (9%) and Muslims. The Constitution provides for freedom of religion. However, the government has restricted the religious practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, most of whom are foreign workers employed by the government-owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation.

Literacy on Nauru is 96 percent. Education is compulsory for children from six to sixteen years old, and two more non-compulsory years are offered (years 11 and 12). There is a campus of the University of the South Pacific on Nauru. Before this campus was built in 1987, students would study either by distance or abroad.

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According to Kosmonauta.net, Rosskosmos wants to use a rocket launching platform, which is being build on Nauru for Soyuz rockets. The high rotational velocity of the Earth near the equator is apparently advantageous for launching big rockets, and base costs on Nauru are low. The Russians want to launch a Soyuz-FG first, followed by an older N-1 rocket. The Nauru government is hopeful that this project will boost the economy and create jobs. The image is an artist’s rendition of what a launch would look like.

There is precious little information about cooking on Nauru, and no recipes published that I can find.  However, there is general agreement that, as in most of the south Pacific, cooking is an eclectic mix of styles focusing on fish and rice with coconut as a common flavoring.  Here is a recipe from Chuuk which is undoubtedly similar to Nauruan recipes.  It is no more complicated than poaching fish in a mix of coconut milk and cream served over rice.  The cooking liquid can either act as a sauce or can be drunk separately as a soup.  When I made it I went with the latter option.   You can use any firm white fish filets.  You really don’t need a formal recipe for this dish because it is so simple.  The only choice is whether to make the cooking liquid a sauce or a soup.  If the former then use coconut cream rather sparingly; if the latter (as here) use a mix of coconut milk and coconut cream.

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Chuukese Fish in Coconut Milk

Use one good sized filet of white fish per diner.

Place the filets in a heavy skillet and add a 50-50 mix of coconut milk and coconut cream to just cover.  Add salt and white pepper to taste.

Bring to a slow simmer, turning the fish once.  Do not overcook the fish.  It should flake easily but not be dry.

Serve the fish over white rice with a little of the sauce to flavor the rice.  Serve the remaining sauce as a soup to accompany the fish and rice.

Jul 122013
 

Kiribati

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Today is Independence Day in Kiribati (a local pronunciation of “Gilberts,” by which the islands may be better known in the Western world.   The islands are located roughly halfway between Hawaii and Australia in the tropical Pacific.  They were first inhabited several thousand years ago by Micronesians, and the dominant language, Gibertese, (spoken by 97% of the inhabitants) is a branch of the Micronesian family.  The islands were never especially isolated. Invaders from Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji at some point (no dates are exact) introduced Polynesian and Melanesian cultural traits.  But constant intermarriage between Micronesians and newcomers maintained a level of homogeneity of culture.

The islands were first sighted by British and American ships in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The main island chain was named the Gilbert Islands in 1820 by a Russian admiral, Adam von Krusenstern, and French captain Louis Duperrey, after a British captain named Thomas Gilbert, who crossed the archipelago in 1788 when sailing from Australia to China.

From the early 19th century, Western whalers, merchant vessels, and slave traders visited the islands. The first British settlers arrived in 1837. In 1892 the Gilbert Islands consented to become a British protectorate together with the nearby Ellice Islands which became the crown colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in 1916.  The Gilbert and Ellice Islands gained self-rule in 1971, and were administratively separated in 1975. The Gilbert Islands became fully independent of Britain as Kiribati on 12 July 1979.

Almost all of the plants and animals of Kiribati are non-native.  The only endemic land species is the Bokikokiko (pictured). Coconuts are plentiful and were available in large numbers before the first Micronesians arrived.  Otherwise the heavily salinated soils do not support much in the way of plant life.  Pandanus palms and breadfruit trees are most common wild plants. The five most cultivated crops are Chinese cabbage, pumpkin, tomato, watermelon and cucumber.

There are 600–800 species of inshore and pelagic finfish, some 200 species of corals and about 1000 species of shellfish. Fishing mostly targets the family Scombridae, particularly the skipjack tuna and yellowfin tuna as well as flying fish.

Naturally fish and shellfish have dominated the economy and cuisine of Kiribati for centuries.  Rice is the main staple.  Coconut flesh and milk are also fundamental ingredients.  So, a common dish is rice cooked in coconut milk and mixed with flaked fish (sometimes all given a final grilling in palm leaves).  But the cuisine of Kiribati, like all the island cultures of the Pacific, has come under numerous influences – Chinese, Filipino, U.S., Britain to name a few.  SPAM is a popular ingredient (as it is in Hawaii), because of the lack of reasonably priced fresh meat.  So, another common dish is rice with coconut milk with a fried egg and some fried SPAM slices on top. Or, one could be a bit more imaginative using local ingredients and make Te bua toro ni baukin. If you do not like SPAM use canned corned beef.

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Te bua toro ni baukin

Ingredients:

1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
6 tbsp. powdered milk (or 10 tbsps soy milk)
1 ½ lb grated pumpkin
1 ½ lb shredded Chinese cabbage (napa)
1 lemon
salt and pepper
1 (12 oz) can SPAM

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mash the SPAM so that it resembles ground meat.

Put the pumpkin, cabbage, flour, milk, SPAM, and baking powder into a mixing bowl and toss the ingredients well. Season with the juice of a lemon, plus salt and ground black pepper to taste.

Put the mixture into a greased baking dish, and bake until the top is golden brown (35 to 40 minutes).

Serves 4

May 102013
 

micronesia

Today is Micronesia Constitution Day in the Federated States of Micronesia.

The Federated States of Micronesia is a republic located in the Pacific Ocean, northeast of Papua New Guinea. The country is a sovereign state in free association with the United States.

It consists of 607 islands extending 1,800 miles across the archipelago of the Caroline Islands east of the Philippines. The four constituent island groups are Yap, Chuuk (called Truk until January 1990), Pohnpei (called Ponape until November 1984), and Kosrae. These four states are each represented by a white star on the national flag. The capital is Palikir, on Pohnpei.

Like in most Asian countries, the most important dish is rice which is served with most meals. Micronesian food is heavily based on fish and seafood, such as fresh shellfish, crabs, and shrimps. In addition to these dishes, in the Federated States of Micronesia, people use distinctive sauces and spice mixes. Micronesian cuisine uses elements from various cooking traditions borrowed from their neighbors and then developed into their own traditional dishes.  Using the right amount of spices is essential – either for spicing up the taste or for coloring the dish.  Each traditional dish has a special cooking method. Meat is also an element in Micronesian dishes, and cured and smoked hams are often used.

Micronesian Pepper Chicken

Ingredients:

1 small chicken, cleaned and quartered

1 cup carrots, julienned

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

1 medium or large onion, cut in medium chunks

¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

3 Tablespoons soy sauce

9 Thai Peppers, capped & split lengthwise

1 small cabbage (Not Napa or Chinese) cut in 6 or 8 wedges

cooked white rice

Instructions:

Clean and quarter the chicken. Place the chicken pieces in an 8-quart pot and add just enough water to cover the chicken, about 4 quarts. Add salt and heat the water up to a light boil.

Add chunks of onion, black pepper, and split peppers. Then add carrots, Italian seasoning, white pepper, and soy sauce.

Cover the pot and allow the contents to simmer over medium heat for about 70 minutes. Add the cabbage wedges and continue simmering (covered) for another 10 minutes, or until the chicken is fully cooked.

Serve chicken and vegetables over white rice. Season the rice with a bit of the stock and additional soy as desired.