Bapai

        Bapai is the Kiribati word for taro, a large root vegetable that is part of the basic food. The grey gooey chunks that have been several times with the fish made us curious to the backgrounds of this product. So today we are going ‘into the bapai’. A cheerful elderly couple will take us to their bapai field. They are willing to demonstrate all the ins and outs around maintaining and preparing they root in front of the camera. We follow them over small mounts along the grounds which grow the bapai. They are not fields, they are ponds. Bapai likes to stand with his feed in sweet water. the roots take two to three years to grow to the size of a large coconut. The area has a nice atmosphere. The enormous light green bapai leaves filter the sunlight. It feels like we are walking through an intimate botanical garden. Mrs. Mwaketaake collects dry leaves and pushes them between the roots of the bapai. The old Mr. Mwaketaaker pulls the plaid palm fibre waist bands a bit tighter around the roots. With care the yellowed leaves are removed. Mwaketaake grabs a stick and starts to pry a big bapai from the pond. A giant muddy yellow root emerges. It will be cooked for us later on. But first the interview with the elderly couple. About the importance of the bapai and the status of the root. Cooked bapai is severed during community meals and especially weddings as symbol of status. Maintaining a field acquires care and attention. When the farmer shares his roots with others he demonstrates that he has the qualities to grow them. On top of that it is important to find the right spot for a bapai field. Not too close to sea and not to deep, otherwise the water will be too brackish. The couple sinks shoulder to shoulder at a root system in the pond. The wife gets a microphone pinned on, voice test and the interview takes off. ‘Can you tell us how the bapai grows?’ Sure, sais Mrs. Mwaketaake… and then our interpreter Claire and the couple shriek with laughter. Mrs. slides askew, Mr. roars bent over and Clair wipes the tears from her face. They cannot stop. We are grinning a little at loss. What is happening, what is so funny? Claire wants to translate but does not get beyond some hiccups. It takes a while but then between the shrieks and sobs we understand: ‘how the bapai grows?’ ‘Because we shit on it’, was the answer. Thank you Mrs. Mwaketaake. The Kiribati are not only the sweetest people on earth, they also have a sense of humor! Everytime we meet again in the village we laugh all over again. Joy creates a tight bond. Anne-Marie Boer          

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