Day 4: Mesei, Monoliths, and Monster Fish

Throughout the trip we have learned various ways to use the plants that surround us. Today, we started out braiding betel nut fibers into bracelets to either use on our baskets we made last night or just to wear.

Handmade basket woven from coconut

“A taro field is the mother of life.” – Palauan Proverb

Hilary, Veronica, and Dustin holding Taro that they harvested

Last night we had an honorary guest, Anne Marie, come and speak about her taro garden. She explained the history of how taro is grown and its significance in the Palauan culture. A point that has been stressed every time we learn about taro is that this is a plant that grows on Palau and is Palauan. Rice, and many other foods, are imported, but taro is always here. “Taro is our staple food” is a phrase that comes into conversation often.

There is a legend of how taro is easier to grow in some areas and is not so easy to grow in others. It is said that there was a woman who lived all over Palau, in each place she lived she planted taro. In areas where the taro is harder to grow, the wife liked the husband she had, so she spent little time in the fields and lots of time at home. In areas where the taro is much easier to grow, the woman did not enjoy time with her husband, so she spent more time in the taro patches. This story is used to explain why taro is so difficult to grow in this part of the island. This morning, we walked about 15 minutes to the taro patch that is owned and farmed by the local women, just down the road. Anne Marie showed us the process of harvesting the taro plant, it’s uses, and how traditionally women were the ones who would work in the taro fields. While the women worked the taro patch, the men would set off to catch fish for the day. The taro patch is a source of food through all times, good and bad. It is an anchor that allows for food independence and security.

Taro field from aerial viewpoint using drone
Drone video of the class working in the taro patch

While washing our taro plants in the river, Anne Marie showed us a rock that lay by the roots of a tree next to the taro patch. We were told that this was a sacred rock that fell from the sky called “Emeraeche” which is Palauan for “North Star”. It made the river by rolling down through the forest. She said the rock was unusually heavy for its size, and when it was moved from the river to rest by the tree it took five men to pick it up.

The sacred rock at the base of the tree

Midner showed us how to climb the betel nut tree. A number of us tried, but we will have to make sure we practice a bit more to master the technique.

Midner climbing the betel nut tree

After our lesson on taro, we helped her clean up debris from last night’s storm at the construction site downstream of the taro patch. The buildup of the debris was contributing to higher water in the taro field and a subpar drainage. We managed to get much of the debris removed from the dam quickly by working a team to pull debris and carry it away. The water quickly started to flow again and we expect the water level to be lower by tomorrow.

Clearing the debris down below the taro field.
The finished product

After lunch we decided to visit the historical stone monoliths or Badrulchau. We met up with Cristopher Kitalong who told us the legends of the monoliths. This was presumed to be the foundation for a large structure or Bai which was typically the local meeting house for men within a village. The legend goes that the gods were building this structure were only active at night. One god from the south wanted to keep his village powerful, so to stop the building of the house he shot fire into the sky to make a rooster crow. This fooled the gods in the north into thinking that day had come; they thought it was morning and dropped the stones where they lay on the ground today.

Everyone listening to Christopher Kitalong telling the story of the stones

After the monoliths, we made our way back to the Ebiil Society. Many went paddleboarding, fishing, and snorkeling, while some took a much-needed nap. To conclude our day with a sweet treat, Bryan brought us ice cream and sodas. In a few minutes we’ll be eating yesterday’s catch, doing our dishes, and falling asleep.

Noah’s fishing update:
Noah went out to the outer reef with the rest of the paddle boarders, he reeled in another, bigger, Giant Trevally after having a fierce battle with the 25 pound big boy.

(This blog entry was written by Garrett, Haley, and Alex.)

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