Monday, March 31, 2008

Pig and Pandanus in West Papua

I just discovered this show on the Travel Channel Living with the Mek: The Adventures of Mark and Olly. The latter are Mark Anstice and Olly Sheeds, two British adventurers who spend three months with the former, the 3,000-strong Mek tribe of West Papua province, Indonesia (though the Mek are culturally more similar to the tribes next door in Papua New Guinea). Among the things these two do: get initiated, along with a 9-year old, as "men" in the village (even though they are both in their 30's); get their brand new penis gourds - and have to introduce themselves to the village wearing nothing but them (It was not dirty, but I still gott say: these two blokes fill out a penis gourd pretty well.); trying to intervene when a young woman was accused of being a witch, by trying to convince her to leave before "the village" took things into their own hands; and witness the funerary rites of an elderly man who died while they were in town.

One thing that Olly (who blogs about life with the Mek here) mentioned after that funeral stuck with me. These folks don't get a lot of flavor in their food, which consists of things such as potatoes, taro, yams, and (only on special occasions) pig. But the prep isn't too flavorful, so whenever they have a reason to inject flavor they do so.

The very somber day after the funeral, where the Mek burned the corpse in a pyre, they were much happier and threw a wake. Olly was one of the guys that was charged with the task of preparing bright red pandanus fruit* for the meal. This stuff is just about the only flavor the Mek, and many New Guineans, get at all. It comes in many different forms. The pandanus they used looked long and smooth; the one pictured at Wikipedia looks like a durian.

I found a Papua New Guinea Cookbook a very long time ago when I lived in California - it was in the cookbook section of the local university library (!). It's not the same one that's here, but I did xerox the hell out of it when I found it some eight or nine years ago. I have long since broken that New Year's Resolution to cook something from a different one of my cookbooks every week. Maybe I'll try this one next. I can get Mark and Olly and the Mek to mix the pandanus fruit for me. I'll just keep my eyes away from those penis gourds!

The top picture is of Olly and Mark with the Kombai, another New Guinean tribe. Below are gentlemen wearing penis gourds. Ow. UPDATE: Jeff at Tropical Designs just left a comment, asking to give credit where it is due. I got the photo of the pandanus from the Tropical Designs web site, Not sure why I didn't already because I usually do. Speaking of which: the penis gourd pic comes from and our buffed British blokes are from the Discovery Channel Asia web site for "Living with the Kumbai"


Anonymous said...

Hi, nice blog. Could you please do me the favor to identify the photo of the Pandanus fruit on your blog as having come from my website ?

Thanks, Jeff

John said...

No problem. Not sure why I didn't before. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Jeff, you're so anal.