Palm tree as department store

The tropical atoll island Marakei was not always covered in palm trees. That is not only what the scientist say but also the storytellers of our village Raweai. The myth of palm tree starts with Tararei, the ugliest men who ever lived on the island. He lived in the south of Marakei. One day Taratei walked to the north of the island, about seven kilometres away. There he saw Nenepoo, the most beautiful woman he ever saw. He immediately went to her parents to see how his marriage potential was. His hideous looks made him chanceless from the start. Laughing they sent him back to the south of the island. But Tararei did not give up. The following years he kept on ‘fighting’ for the favour or Nenepoo. Without the desired results Tararei fell sick. On his deathbed he had one last wish: to speak with Nenepoo. Out of compassion for her “stalker” she came to the south of the island. When Nenepoo sat kneeled besides his bed Tararei asked her: ‘Please bury me next to your house when I die. Than I can be with you for always.’ That is what happened. Tararei got his eternal resting place next to his unattainable love. One day a funny plant grew out of the ground next of the house of Nenepoo. It was the beginning of the first palm tree on the island Marakei. In the following years the tree got a magnificent height. One day a nut fell out of the tree. Nenepoo discovered that there was something to drink in it. She pealed, made a hole and pressed her lips against the nut. On the moment she started to drink, she heard from within the coconut the stem of the deceased Tararei: ‘hmm, now I finally know how your lips taste…’             This lovely story about the origins of the palm tree is told by Bob Koburi, a 53 year old pensioned sailor annex police officer. He did not only tell us about the origins but also about the value of a palm tree in 2012. Together with fishing is the palm tree the essence of live for the community of Raweai. The leaves are woven into mats, used as roofing, and transformed into the most ingenious hats. This close to the equator the sun burns without mercy. the palm tree takes care of the refreshments. A young nut contains a lot of coconut milk, an older one is mostly filled with coir. It is part of our daily nutrition. On Marakei there is no other beverage available than, rain- ground- of coconut water (when we exclude the small shop, an hour walk away, which sells some dusty cans of coke). Besides the nut is also the flower stalk of the tree useful. The flower is cut off and the stalk is wrapped with palm rope and -leaves. Now the owner can on a daily basis drain the ‘toddy’ a delicious sweet, innocent, syrup like juice that slowly turns into a dangerous alcoholic beverage. It is this liquor which is strictly prohibited in Raweai, but which still seduced seven young men (you are young and dauntless; see our previous blog Crime and Punishment).         Climate change has a direct impact on the palm trees of Marakei. Erosion and a rising sea level result in increasing salt levels of the ground water. We see that this leads in some places on the island to yellow instead of green leaves and smaller nuts. “Coconut Bob” (see his shirt!) and his neighbours are not concerned yet about the palm trees, there are still many of them. To consider that the first palm tree grew from the ugliest men of the island… Diederik Veerman

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