Famaoni Toafa (right) of Nukufetau unpacks the fekei utanu for the last stage of preparation of the traditional dish. ©Tuvalu R2R Project


Funafuti, Tuvalu - On the menu was a range of traditional dishes made from local ingredients, cooked by women from communities in Tuvalu’s capital, Funafuti. The women are gathered at the Fakaiaiamanu Falekaupule to show the youth why their recipes and traditional food are still relevant today.

The event was a first for the Department of Environment during national celebrations in June to mark Environment Week and World Biodiversity Day.

“This is the first activity of its kind for the Department of Environment with a hope that we may be able to document all these traditional dishes. The Department also aims to establish a traditional network where islands can share this traditional knowledge, not only with traditional dishes but extending it to other traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources, on managing their resources (Locally Managed Marine Areas), explained Tilia Tima, the Assistant Environment Officer (Biodiversity) with the Department of Environment.

Tima was responsible for coordinating this event, selecting participants residing in Funafuti but from different islands in Tuvalu, targeting youth with a two-pronged approach - to encourage them to learn how traditional Tuvaluan food is prepared and the health benefits they bring compared to the reliance on imported canned food.

“We promoted traditional dishes and the vegetables dishes as they are nutritious which could minimize non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension. Our target audience was youth and it was also open to the public as we try to ensure that they are aware of the choices they have in order to stay healthy.”

Five women participated sharing their recipes of how to make various bread/pastry dishes such as fausi (local bread); solomei (using breadfruit) and fakapulu (using coconut); fekei utanu and ikamasima or salted fish.

For Fonolahi Kiula, a housewife who is originally from Nanumaga, her dish – fakapulu – provides a source of income for her and her extended family. She used flour, toddy and coconut, mixed and wrapped in pandanus leaves to make bread that can last from up to 3 to 5 days.

“This traditional food is good for big families, you save money. You can cook food, it lasts for the family. These days people depend more on imported food which is expensive. This is also important for the youth to learn how to cook traditional food. Encourage them not to spend money, use local food because of the health effects of imported food,” she said.

Toddy is a common ingredient, used as a substitute to sugar, when making fausi or local bread in Tuvalu.

“This generation doesn’t know the traditional Tuvaluan food. It’s a good idea to have this training so they can learn. When Tuvaluans eat their traditional food they hardly get sick, we were brought up with fresh traditional food,” said Talasuni Talava of Vaitupu.

Breadfruit is used as a key ingredient for solomei along with toddy syrup and coconut cream. The breadfruit is cooked, skin peeled before it’s added to the mixture along with flour.

On average, these three dishes take one hour to cook in a traditional type oven.

Fish is a staple food in the islands and it was part of the five traditional dishes on display.

64-year-old Melesete Taoa, of Funafuti, sat and prepared ikamasima which translates to salted fish – the two main ingredients.

She said, “We have a boat, we make ikamasima and sell it. I’d like to come and share my skills and knowledge and to learn from others.”

Also serving as a method of food preservation, Taoa said when packed it can last for two months.

For Famaoni Toafa of Nukufetau, preparation time saw her extracting coconut sprouts used to make fekei utanu. Once the coconut sprouts are mashed, added with flour and toddy syrup its wrapped in banana leaves and cooked. The cooked product is then brought out of the oven and mixed with coconut cream to make what is known as fekei utanu.

The dishes were all served for lunch but not before organisers took note of the recipes, thanked the women for sharing their knowledge with the hope that these skills are passed on through generations.

In a parting message, Tilia Tima said, “The younger generation tend to rely more on imported products and most of these are either canned food, processed food and food packed in plastics. Even cooking at home, most of us rely on plastic wrappers to wrap their foods.”

Tima added “In the traditional demo, we notice that they wrap their foods in different leaves to be cooked in the oven. This shows that in the olden days when plastic was not available, our Tuvaluans have used alternatives, locally available products, in place of plastic. So, we need to encourage and raise more awareness to the public to minimize the use of plastic, especially single use plastics as this contributes to pollution of our environment.”

The Tuvalu Ridge to Reef (R2R) project assisted with this event and others during Environment Week in Funafuti in June. The R2R project is supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Department of Environment.

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