It is always really difficult to sum up a human adventure in a few lines, even if it lasted for only three days. But if just one image could do the job, it would be a picture of the pulaka pits of Nui or Nukufetau.
Our trip started on the 4th of March, a particularly important day for Lan Marie, considering that it was her birthday. At 4 pm, all the passengers were on the two decks and in the cabins of the Manu Folau. Manu Folau is one of the two boats of Tuvalu assuring the liaison between all the nine islands. This time it was going to the central islands: Nui, Vaitupu and Nukufetau.
A few things made me really surprised on all these islands. Firstly I was struck by the enormous hospitality of the people who hosted us on the different islands. Then of course the beauty of these tropical landscapes, and above all the traditional food: the incredibly soft taro, the breadfruit mixed with coconut milk and the fresh fish. However, we can find all of these different things on Funafuti (the capital island), even if they are not that common. The incredible experience was to actually see these impressive pulaka pits and their meanings in terms of imported food dependency and sustainable living.
On Nui and Nukufetau, we discovered with a great surprise the pulaka and taro pits. On Funafuti, there is only one pulaka pit and it is just a demonstration project funded by the GEF (Global Environment Facility), UNDP and few other partners. The international donors probably wanted to remind the Tuvaluans how to grow pulaka – the traditional vegetable…
On the outer islands, the pulaka pit, a place dug in the ground where the men of the village grow this traditional root vegetable, is a symbol of power. In addition the pits also show that the people here have not yet lost their ancestral and sustainable way-of-living. To become a member of the Falekapule (the elders council and traditional governing organ), the men over 50 (55 or 60 – depending on the islands) have to be able to provide a certain amount of pulaka to the community. On Nukufetau, you will have to give 40 pulaka in order to become a Falekaupule member. Considering that each pulaka needs to grow for 1 to 4 years, it is a lot of work for these old men. However, these pulaka pits are delightful signs showing that a sustainable living is still possible on Tuvalu.
On Nui, the first island of our trip, the woman of the family exceptionally cooked rice because she was not sure that we would like to eat the food that they use to eat. The rest of the meal was a bonito fished by a friend, coconuts from the tree in front of the house, breadfruit of the tree at the corner and taro cultivated by her father. When did you ever eat such a locally produced meal?
The biggest lesson we got from this trip was that sustainable livelihoods are still possible on Tuvalu. This way of living is also the only way to save the country from pollution, oil dependency and external debts…