A Tooth and a Banana Tree

One day, my host sister, 10, and I were eating lunch after school when she told me that her tooth was hurting. She used her fingers to pull up her lip and show off the hole in gums where a new tooth was growing in. I quickly reminisced about kid-life, waiting for the tooth fairy to exchange my baby tooth for cash. But, as it turns out the tooth fairy does not make stops on the tiny island of Kosrae.

In a few questions I asked her what she did with the missing tooth, did she give it to her ninac (mother) or did she throw it away? “No, no, no,” she shook her head and laughed at my questions. She explained to me that her tooth was outside in the yard. She had pressed her tooth into the trunk of one of many banana trees. After she put the lone tooth into the tree she sang a song in Kosraean. The song is a message for the sea snakes. The song asks the sea snakes to come take the tooth in exchange for one of their own durable and sharp teeth. Since the day my host sister’s tooth fell out, she has been going to the banana tree to check and see if the tooth had disappeared. If the tooth is gone from the tree, then a sea snake was able to successfully retrieve the tooth.

On the second day she noticed that her tooth disappeared from the trunk of the banana tree. Success! The a sea snake was able to find her tooth. She said it all made sense, hence, the pain of her new tooth growing in, a gift from the sea snakes.

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How to Make and Drink Sakau

Sakau 1Sakau is an herb drink that is harvested from a shrub, Kava or Piper Methysticum, which grows in the South Sea islands. The drink has a numbing and relaxing effect on the body and is commonly used throughout the week in place of alcohol, but, traditionally used to celebrate special occasions.

Kava originated in the Kosrae state of Micronesia. One version of the oral history says the plant was brought to the main island by a Kosrean woman who carried the Kava seeds in her “downstairs” to avoid agriculture inspection when she arrived at her destination of Pohnpei. Sakau in Kosrae is odorless while Sakau in Pohnpei has a strong oder, for the reason stated in the previous sentence. Therefore, when you drink Sakau in Phonpei, it has become tradition to close your eyes when you take a sip in order to prevent the smell from burning your eyes.


Preparation:
5-10 men for labor
1 Traditional pounding stone
4 People (preferably men)  to sit at the pounding stone located in the nahs (a traditional outdoor space where ceremonies and gatherings take place. )
1 Set of sphere pounding rocks

Ingredients
Kava Plant Roots
1 bucket of clean water
Hibiscus Bark

Instructions as told by my friend Mason, a local 12th grade student in Pohnpei.

Step 1:
Drive to up the mountains, ( 1-2 hour drive), Park car/truck below the mountain. Then hike up mountain and look for the kava plants that have the oldest branches. When you locate them begin digging up the roots, which will come up easily when using a shovel.

Step 2: Carry Sakau branches from the site to the car. The Sakau is extremely heavy, each person carries one Sakau plant. With 5-10 people carrying the sakau plants only one trip up and down the mountain is needed.

Step 3: Drive home with Sakau plants in the trunk.

Step 4: Arrive at home and unload Sakau plants near the nahs. Begin washing the dirt from the roots, it is important to insure that it is thoroughly cleaned. Then, take a machete and cut off the branches leaving only the roots.

Step 5: Wash the traditional pounding stone then put washed roots onto the stone.

Step 6: Two-four of the men take a sphere shaped pounding rock and then begin to pound the Sakau roots on the stone in order to break up the roots into smaller pieces.

Sakau 5

Step 7: Take the hibiscus bark and use the machete and shave off a long strip.

Step 8: As the roots are being pounded  begin adding water in the amount of a half  coconut shell to the crushed Sakau roots.

Step 9: Begin using hands to kneed the water and Sakau mixture together.

Sakau 4

Step 10:  Lie the hibiscus strip flat on the pounding stone and place Sakau root mixture evenly inside.

Sakau 4

11: Twist up the hibiscus while your partner holds the coconut cup underneath the hibiscus strip, as you twist the Sakau drink will leak from the hibiscus into the cup.

Sakau 2

Now you have Sakau.

Sakau 3

Drinking Rules:
First cup goes to the chief
Second cup goes to the next highest title
Third cup goes to the woman with the highest title
…And remember when in Phonpei close your eyes when you drink Sakau in order to prevent your eyes from burning.