20 miles northeast of Tarawa lies a serene atoll that has all the appeal of a vacation resort island. The culture is simple and oriented around family values. The clean beaches are lined with coconut, bandanas and Palm trees, fine white sand are adorned with ornate seashells, coral and dried leaves. Clear emerald water gradually turns dark blue as the massive reef falls away nearly 100 yards from the beachside in some areas.
Homes are built entirely with coconut tree beams and sawn lumber thatched with palm fronds tied with twisted coconut twine. There are no nails or tin used.
Platforms under the thatched roofs are built in various heights – ground level to 12 feet providing a small 2nd story level. The siding is made from the buttend of the palm fronds – very thick and hard, hand sawn into long thin strips and attached to the bigger lumber. Some siding has intricate patterns cut away for air circulation, some homes have only Palm fronds laced together, or perhaps fabric hanging down. All unique and several homes are built in a small group allowing families to live together and still have their individual sleeping abodes.
Babies and toddlers have their own small day maneba similar to the doll houses built at home. With the ocean side being within easy walk of a toddler, the parents are able to go about their chores of fishing, cleaning and drying fish, laundry, gathering coconut fronds for mat weaving. They are busy all day just to gather and cook their food on open fire pits, and wash clothes in large tubs. The dish pans and washing stands are next to the “house”.
Unfortunately the toilet – nothing more than a giant stone as a base with a hole chiseled away leading to a pit underneath may be too close to the water wells. They bathe out in the open wearing a sarong. At least they understand the consequences and boil their water. There are several above ground cisterns that capture rain water but when those run dry they resort back to the well water.
The school is comprised of several small huts, each hut represents segregated ages and class, with the same home construction. The finer coral and shell floors are covered with palm fronds. There is 1 small desk and chair also built from coconut lumber for the teacher, a table for books and papers, a couple of 2 X 3 foot small tables for students to sit at while studying, but they mostly sit on the floor to write or read.
We walked through the school lane and were an immediate distraction to the younger students. They are so eager to latch onto you, give high-fives, girls want to hold both hands.
The last day of school for the term was on Thanksgiving day and we were invited to join their “cultural day”.
There was traditional Kiribati singing and dancing competition performed by the students, and the parents brought palm baskets filled with only traditional foods. There was no “imatang” (white/foreigner) food allowed. After the student competition the judges walked around to each group of parents to count the number and ways of food presentation. I, being a true “foodie” person was very curious to see how many ways to cook taro root, breadfruit, papaya, sweet potato and coconut. I duck-walked barefoot throughout the giant school maneba covered with nothing more than coral and shells – it’s rude to walk when everybody is sitting – to speak with the parents and view their hand woven Palm baskets. Amazing food! Most everything included coconut is some form – cream, water, or grated. There was boiled scrawny chicken with feet and necks still attached, shell fish, small reef fish and octopus all cooked in various ways. Bandanas fruit was most interesting to eat. Looks like giant 3″ candy corn shape but unimaginably opposite in terms of texture. The “fine-thread” fruit is boiled with or without coconut, then chewed and twisted between your teeth to suck out the pulp and juice. One of those and I had a mouthful of threads stuck between all of my teeth. Not very graceful to pick at your teeth, but I did anyway just to be able to speak again. Not wanting to be in second place, a young girl offered me one that she had helped prepare. Not able to refuse I warmly accepted and she beamed with pride. I chewed and nodded my “delicious thanks” and waddled back to our mat with a mouthful of string.
The head school master’s wife prepared us an eloquent platter – she won the food prep competition. We and the other yachtie couple who attended the festivity were the only ones eating with plastic bowls and spoons. Our food platter had delicious coconut balls very similar to coconut macaroons that exploded with flavor and natural sweetness, crispy taro chips – similar to potato chips, smoked clams on skewers, boiled shellfish, reef fish fried in coconut oil, slices of papaya, chunks of fresh coconut, young coconut spouts, breadfruit, taro all cooked in coconut milk or just boiled in salt water. So delicious, we ate our fill several times over just like thanksgiving dinner at home.
Unfortunately after sampling the different recipes of all the starchy coconut laden food I paid the price in the middle of the night with a double dose of meds. Cast iron stomach John slept peacefully with dreams of thanksgiving pies.
We rented motor bikes and toured the island yesterday. There is only 1 dirt road that runs the entire distance of the island. We saw only 1/2 of the northern atoll about 10 kilometers. The beaches, villages are the same. All clean and beautiful. Groups of thatched homes, fire pits, wash stands, community manebas. Families with friendly smiles greeted us as we passed by. Kids eager to interact with Imatangs waved, yelled and ran after the bikes. Some stood in the middle of the road with their arms stretched out to give passing high fives.
We have enjoyed our stay here at the village anchorage but we’re off to the remote part of the island to paddleboard and hang out with our new cruising buddies from New Zealand. Their boat is very similar to ours and we get along very well. Perhaps too well, we’re being encouraged to move on to the Marshall Islands with them. We had originally planned on the Marshall Islands but the timing wasn’t seeming to work out. Guess it’s better to sit in the M.I. Than in Tarawa for another 4 weeks though. Still thinking it through, we’re not impulsive… Mmphm.
We will keep you posted on our next adventure!