Jun 182018

Today is Constitution Day in the Republic of Seychelles, celebrating the ratification by referendum in 1993 of its current constitution. Seychelles is a sovereign state in the Indian Ocean made up of 115 islands whose capital is Victoria. Ir lies 1,500 kilometers (932 mi) east of mainland East Africa. Other nearby island countries and territories include Comoros, Mayotte, Madagascar, Réunion, and Mauritius to the south. With a population of roughly 94,228, it has the smallest population of any sovereign African country.

The Seychelles were uninhabited throughout most of recorded history. Some scholars assume that Austronesian seafarers and later Maldivian and Arab traders were the first to visit the uninhabited Seychelles. This assumption is based in part on the discovery of tombs which are no longer accessible. The earliest recorded sighting by Europeans took place in 1502 by Vasco da Gama, who passed through the Amirantes (an archipelago within the Seychelles) and named them after himself (islands of the Admiral). The earliest recorded landing was in January 1609, by the crew of the Ascension under captain Alexander Sharpeigh during the 4th voyage of the British East India Company.

The Seychelles became a transit point for trade between Africa and Asia, and the islands were occasionally used by pirates until the French began to take control starting in 1756 when a Stone of Possession was laid on Mahé by Captain Nicholas Morphey. The islands were named after Jean Moreau de Séchelles, Louis XV’s Minister of Finance. The British controlled the islands between 1794 and 1810 during the Napoleonic Wars. Jean Baptiste Quéau de Quincy, French administrator of Seychelles during the years of war with the United Kingdom, declined to resist when armed enemy warships arrived. Instead, he successfully negotiated the status of capitulation to Britain which gave the settlers a privileged position of neutrality. Britain eventually assumed full control upon the surrender of Mauritius in 1810, formalized in 1814 at the Treaty of Paris. Seychelles became a crown colony separate from Mauritius in 1903.

Independence was granted in 1976 as a republic within the Commonwealth. In 1977, a coup d’état by France Albert René ousted the first president of the republic, James Mancham. René discouraged over-dependence on tourism and declared that he wanted “to keep the Seychelles for the Seychellois.” The 1979 constitution declared a socialist one-party state, which lasted until 1991. In the 1980s there were a series of coup attempts against President René, some of which were supported by South Africa. In 1981, Mike Hoare led a team of 43 South African mercenaries masquerading as holidaying rugby players in the 1981 Seychelles coup d’état attempt. There was a gun battle at the airport, and most of the mercenaries later escaped in a hijacked Air India plane. The leader of this hijacking was German mercenary D. Clodo, a former member of the Rhodesian SAS. Clodo later stood trial in South Africa (where he was acquitted) as well as in his home country Germany for air-piracy.

In 1986, an attempted coup led by the Seychelles Minister of Defence, Ogilvy Berlouis, caused President René to request assistance from India. In Operation Flowers are Blooming, the Indian naval vessel INS Vindhyagiri arrived in Port Victoria to help avert the coup. The first draft of a new constitution failed to receive the requisite 60% of voters in 1992, but an amended version was approved in 1993.

Seychelles was in the news in the US recently because of a secretly arranged meeting there between members of the Trump Administration and surrogates to form a secret back channel between Russia and the White House. The Seychelles are sufficiently remote to be off the radar of mainstream media. In the 1970s when the Seychelles opened an international airport, the islands became an international jet set destination, and tourism has been a major source of income ever since, essentially dividing the economy into plantations and tourism. The tourism sector paid better, and the plantation economy could only expand so far. Thus the plantation sector of the economy declined in prominence, and tourism became the primary industry of Seychelles.

In recent years the government has encouraged foreign investment to upgrade hotels and other services. Despite its growth, the vulnerability of the tourist sector was illustrated by the sharp drop in 1991–1992 due largely to the Gulf War. Since then the government has moved to reduce the dependence on tourism by promoting the development of farming, fishing, small-scale manufacturing and most recently the offshore financial sector, through the establishment of the Financial Services Authority and the enactment of several pieces of legislation.

Breadfruit is a staple on the Seychelles, and folklore, repeated in different places in different parts of the world I have visited (concerning a local product), says that if you eat a dish of breadfruit cooked on the Seychelles, you will return. I rambled on about cooking breadfruit here https://www.bookofdaystales.com/mutiny-bounty/  Another delicacy on the islands is curried fruit bat. There’s also shark chutney, which is not a chutney in the Indian sense, but a main dish. I can describe how these dishes are made, but I have never had them (nor visited the Seychelles), so my descriptions will be rather generic. Fruit bats are first boiled until tender, skinned and jointed, and then simmered in a curry sauce. Shark chutney is made by boiling skinned shark, mashing it well, and then simmering it with squeezed bilimbi juice and lime. This in turn is mixed with fried onion, pepper, salt and turmeric, and served with rice and lentils.

Oct 192016


In a document dated 19 October 1901, the “King” and Chiefs of Niue consented to “Queen Victoria taking possession of this island.” A dispatch to the Secretary of State for the Colonies from the Governor of New Zealand referred to the views expressed by the Chiefs in favor of “annexation” and to this document as “the deed of cession.” A British Protectorate was declared, but it was short-lived because Niue had already been brought within the boundaries of New Zealand on 11 June 1901 by the same Order and Proclamation that annexed the Cook Islands. The Order limited the islands to which it related by reference to an area in the Pacific described by co-ordinates, and Niue (19.02 S., 169.55 W) is within that area. So here we have a colonial paradox well worth exploring more fully. Niue is a rare case of a sovereign state willing to be annexed as a colony of an imperial nation, even though that willingness was largely irrelevant to what had already taken place.


Niue was settled by Polynesians from Samoa around 900 CE. Further settlers arrived from Tonga in the 16th century. Until the beginning of the 18th century, there was no national government or national leader on the island. Chiefs and heads of families exercised authority over segments of the population. Around 1700, the concept and practice of kingship appear to have been introduced through contact with the Tongan settlers. A succession of patu-iki (kings) ruled thereafter, the first of whom was Puni-mata. Tui-toga, who reigned from 1875 to 1887, was the first Christian king.

The first European to sight Niue was Captain James Cook in 1774. He made three attempts to land but was refused permission to do so by the inhabitants. He named the island “Savage Island” because, as legend has it, the natives who “greeted” him were painted in what appeared to be blood. The coloring on their teeth was hulahula, a native red banana. For the next couple of centuries, Niue was known as Savage Island until its original name, Niuē, which translates as “behold the coconut,” regained use.

The next notable European visitors were from the London Missionary Society, who arrived in 1846 on the “Messenger of Peace.” After many years of trying to settle a European mission, a Niuean named Nukai Peniamina was taken to Samoa and trained as a Pastor at the Malua Theological College. Peniamina returned as a missionary with the help of Toimata Fakafitifonua. He was finally allowed to settle in Uluvehi Mutalau after a number of attempts in other villages had failed. The chiefs of Mutalau village allowed him to stay and assigned over 60 warriors to protect him day and night at the fort in Fupiu.


Christianity was first taught to the Mutalau people before it was spread to all the villages, many of which had originally opposed the introduction of Christianity and had sought to kill Peniamina. The people from the village of Hakupu, although the last village to receive Christianity, came and asked for a “word of god,” hence, their village was renamed “Ha Kupu Atua” meaning “any word of god”, or “Hakupu” for short.

In 1889, the chiefs and rulers of Niue, in a letter to Queen Victoria, asked her “to stretch out towards us your mighty hand, that Niue may hide herself in it and be safe.” After expressing anxiety lest some other nation should take possession of the island, the letter continued: “We leave it with you to do as seems best to you. If you send the flag of Britain that is well; or if you send a Commissioner to reside among us, that will be well.” The offer was not initially taken up by the British. In 1900 a petition by the Cook Islanders asking for annexation included Niue “if possible.” Therefore the separate petition by Niue was unnecessary and the annexation of the Cook Islands included Niue. Of course, Niue and the Cook Islands did not want to be colonies but saw the writing on the wall. All of the South Pacific was being swallowed up by colonial powers which the various islands were unable to resists. So, Niue and the Cook Islands decided to take control of the situation and choose their colonial master rather than having one chosen for them.


Self-government was granted to Nuie by the New Zealand parliament in 1974 constitution, following a referendum in 1974 whereby Niueans were given three options: independence, self-government, or continuation as a New Zealand territory. The majority selected self-government and Niue’s written constitution was promulgated as law. Robert Rex, ethnically part European, part native, was appointed the first premier, a position he held until his death 18 years later. Rex was the first Niuean to receive a knighthood, in 1984.


Niue is one of the world’s largest coral islands. The terrain consists of steep limestone cliffs along the coast with a central plateau rising to about 60 metres above sea level. A coral reef surrounds the island, with the only major break in the reef being in the central western coast, close to the capital, Alofi. A notable feature is the number of limestone caves found close to the coast.


The island is roughly oval in shape (with a diameter of about 18 kilometers), with two large bays indenting the western coast, Alofi Bay in the centre and Avatele Bay in the south. Between these is the promontory of Halagigie Point. A small peninsula, TePā Point (Blowhole Point), is close to the settlement of Avatele in the southwest. Most of the population resides close to the west coast, around the capital, and in the northwest.


Some of the soils are geochemically very unusual. They are extremely highly weathered tropical soils, with high levels of iron and aluminium oxides (oxisol) and mercury, and they contain high levels of natural radioactivity. There is almost no uranium, but the radionucleides Th-230 and Pa-231 head the decay chains. This is the same distribution of elements as found naturally on very deep seabeds, but the geochemical evidence suggests that the origin of these elements is extreme weathering of coral and brief sea submergence 120,000 years ago. Endothermal upwelling, by which mild volcanic heat draws deep seawater up through the porous coral, may also contribute.


Agriculture is very important to the Niuean economy, and around 204 square kilometers of the land area are available for agriculture. Subsistence agriculture is very much part of Niue’s culture, where nearly all the households have plantations of taro. Taro is a staple food, and the pink taro now dominant in the taro markets in New Zealand and Australia is established as an intellectual property of Niue. This is one of the naturally occurring taro varieties on Niue, and has a strong resistance to pests. The Niue taro is known in Samoa as “talo Niue” and in international markets as pink taro. Niue exports taro to New Zealand. Tapioca or cassava, yams and kumara also grow very well,[45] as do different varieties of bananas. Coconut, meat, passionfruit, and limes dominated exports in the 1970s, but by 2008 vanilla, noni and taro were the main export crops.

Most families grow their own food crops for subsistence and sell their surplus at the Niue Makete in Alofi, or export to their families in New Zealand. Coconut crab, or uga, is also part of the food chain; it lives in the forest and coastal areas. In 2003, the government made a commitment to develop and expand vanilla production with the support of NZAID. Vanilla has grown wild on Niue for a long time. Despite the setback caused by the devastating Cyclone Heta in early 2004, work on vanilla production continues. The expansion plan started with the employment of the unemployed or underemployed labor force to help clear land, plant supporting trees and plant vanilla vines. The approach to accessing land includes planning to have each household plant a small plot of around half to 1-acre (0.40 ha) to be cleared and planted with vanilla vines. There are a lot of planting materials for supporting trees to meet demand for the expansion of vanilla plantations, but a severe shortage of vanilla vines for planting stock. There are of course the existing vanilla vines, but cutting them for planting stock will reduce or stop the vanilla from producing beans. At the moment, the focus is in the areas of harvesting and marketing.

Current plantations are mostly filled with manioc, taro and breadfruit, but banana trees can be found. The wide range of exotic plants in Niue includes taros, papayas, coconuts, bananas, yams, cassavas and breadfruits, and all are intensively used in the local cuisine. The most significant ingredient in Niue’s recipes are fish and vegetables. Fish is eaten roasted, grilled, raw, and in soups or stews. Main fish species include tuna (ahi), dolphinfish (mahi mahi), parrot fish (pakati), barracuda (ono), coconut crabs and crayfish.


Nane Pia is one of the few food specialties of the island. It is a translucent porridge made from arrowroot and coconut, and has a thick slimy texture. This is exactly the kind of dish I really don’t like partly because of the bland taste and partly because of the texture. Niue arrowroot is Maranta arundinacea which grows abundantly, and the rhizome is used to make a starchy flour. Arrowroot flour is reasonably easily obtained in Western health food markets. I use it as a thickening agent, but it can be made into puddings. I don’t have a recipe for Nane Pia, but this one that I have concocted will work even though it is not authentic. It makes two or three servings, and is meant to just give you the proportions and the idea. On Niue Nane Pia is a staple eaten with fish and other vegetables. Westerners would probably like it better as a pudding which would mean adding a little sugar.

Nane Pia


2 tbsp arrowroot flour


1 tbsp grated coconut


Put the 2 tablespoons of arrowroot and 100ml of cold water in a bowl. Whisk thoroughly to form a batter and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of water over medium heat in a pan and add the coconut. Simmer and stir for a few minutes, then turn off the heat.

Boil 100ml of water in a separate pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the arrowroot batter and the coconut. Simmer the mixture very slowly, stirring constantly until it has thickened.

If it were me, the next step would be to throw it out and eat something else. If you have got this far and are still interested, serve the porridge warm in a bowl to accompany fish or vegetables. Alternatively you can sweeten with some cane sugar and serve it cold as a dessert.

Nov 172015


On this date in 1810 Sweden was forced by Napoleon to declare war on Britain, but the so-called Anglo-Swedish War was a completely bloodless war because neither “belligerent” wanted it. They had been allies and trading partners and wanted to keep it that way. So the “war” existed on paper only. That’s the kind of war I can get behind 100%. Since the “war” did not happen I cannot present images. Instead I’ll intersperse some images of Swedish dishes that Brits might like.


During the Napoleonic Wars until 1810, Sweden and the United Kingdom were allies in the war against Napoleon. As a result of Sweden’s defeat in the Finnish War and the Pomeranian War, and the following Treaty of Fredrikshamn and Treaty of Paris, Sweden was forced to declare war on the United Kingdom. Britain was still not hindered in stationing ships at the Swedish island of Hanö and trade with the Baltic states.


The Treaty of Paris, concluded on 6 January 1810, forced Sweden to join the Continental System, a trade embargo against Great Britain. Since Great Britain was Sweden’s biggest trade partner this caused economic difficulties, and trade continued to take place through smuggling. On 13 November 1810 France delivered an ultimatum to the Swedish government demanding that within five days Sweden:

Seize all British ships in Swedish ports,

Seize all British products in Sweden.

France and its allies threatened to declare war against Sweden if it did not meet the French demands. So, on 17 November the Swedish government declared war against Great Britain.


No acts of war occurred during the conflict, but Britain stationed boats in Hanö, which had been invaded. Sweden didn’t try to hinder the occupation as it supported the continued trade. Nevertheless, fearing the possibility of a British invasion, the Swedish government began to conscript more farmers into military service. This led to the only bloodshed during the war on 15 June 1811, when Major-General Hampus Mörner with 140 men acted to disperse a group of farmers in Klågerup in Scania who objected to the conscription policy. In the Klågerup riots, Mörner’s soldiers killed 30 farmers. But this was internal only, and not aggression against Britain.


The Swedish Crown Prince Charles August had died on 28 May 1810, and on 21 August 1810, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte was elected crown prince of Sweden. Though he was only the Crown Prince and technically subservient to the King, he was de facto ruler of Sweden due to the deteriorating health and disinterest of King Charles XIII. Under Bernadotte’s rule, Sweden’s relationship with France deteriorated. When France occupied Swedish Pomerania and the island of Rügen in 1812, Sweden sought peace with Great Britain.

After long negotiations, the Treaty of Orebro was signed on 18 July 1812. On the same day and at the same place, Britain and Russia signed a peace treaty bringing the Anglo–Russian War of 1807–1812 to an end and also the Anglo-Swedish “War.”

I think Swedish meatballs makes a suitable Anglo-Swedish dish to celebrate the non-war. Swedish meatballs are better known in the U.S. than Britain, largely because meatballs in general are less common in Britain than the U.S. I’ll give a recipe for you but the idea is very basic (as is Swedish cooking in general). Make meatballs with a mix of ground veal and pork. Fry them and serve them with a creamed beef gravy. They are traditionally served with lingonberries or lingonberry preserve, slices of salted cucumber, and mashed potato. It’s best to serve them smothered in gravy, but have more gravy on hand for guests to help themselves.


Köttbullar (Swedish Meatballs)



4 tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs
4 tbsp milk
225 g/8 oz ground pork
225 g/8 oz ground veal (or beef)
2 tbsp grated (not chopped) onion
1 egg, lightly beaten
salt and freshly ground pepper

butter for frying


250 ml/1 cup beef stock
2 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch), mixed with a little water
freshly ground black pepper
200 ml/¾ cup single cream


Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk in a large mixing bowl for about 5 minutes.

Add the meat, grated onion, egg, and salt and pepper to taste. I always grate onions for meatballs, hamburgers, etc. because grating brings out the onion taste more. Mix everything with your hands (preferably), or a wooden spoon, until everything is evenly mixed.

Take a tablespoon of the mixture and roll it with your hands until it is round. Repeat until you have about 30 meatballs. They should be quite small.

Heat a tablespoon of butter in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Do not let it brown. Sauté the meatballs in batches, browning them all over by shaking the pan repeatedly, then turning the heat down to let them cook all the way through. Keep them warm.

Add the stock and corn flour mixture to the skillet. Turn up the heat and simmer the gravy until it has thickened and smooth. I usually use a whisk for this step. Add the cream plus salt and pepper to taste, and warm through.