Food for Thought (The ‘Importance’ of Kai) / 14 March 2012
Lunch onboard Hine Moana vaka one day © Natalia Tsoukala
As we near, the Galapagos Islands. Our next destination. We begin to plan for our next re-provisioning. It has been 27 days since our last big addition of ‘kai’ or food for the canoe. And we are running low or completely out of a lot of certain foods. Meat is a rarity; fresh fruit and vegetables have long since been consumed, and are now limited to canned supplies, bar a few onions and a pumpkin. And to top it off the fishing has been poor lately, perhaps due to the intensive long lining for shark fins and palagics in this area. As a game to torture ourselves we play ‘name the food’ from A to Z. The mere mention of a fat steak, of ice cream or the like, causes salivation to the mouth or neurons of the brain firing dopamine, bringing a slight thrill to accompany the thought. The reminiscing and discussions over kai can last hours, and last much longer in the mind.
For us, food is something to be appreciated, something to save and not waste, and something that holds value. It is the fuel that powers the crew just as the wind, drives the waka forward. In port our supplies are carefully stowed away in the hulls to preserve them as long as possible, certain crew members are responsible for checking and fetching food when needed. Our cook Liam is tasked with spreading out the kai to last the duration of the journey, while putting together hearty meals for up to 16 people 3 times a day. We offer karakia or prayer to say thanks for all that provided and made each meal possible. We make sure everyone gets their share and that we take only what we need to sustain ourselves until the next meal. Any left over’s are saved and kept for when people feel hungry during the night watch.
For our tupuna, or ancestors, food was also treasured highly. Moumou kai or wasting food was frowned upon, the preparation of plantings and food gathered was a highly skilled effort. Some of the kai was stored in Pataka, food storage houses which were highly adorned with whakairo, traditional carving. During planting season our tupuna took great care in observing the right times to sow seeds, the right places to plant, even considering the direction to place the roots of seedlings. Correct protocol was followed, including special ruruku, or incantations, koha, or offerings to the correct atua, and of course the use of kaitiaki, guardians, to protect the plantations from theft and other pests. Kai was much more than a commodity only there to be eaten. It was a symbol of Mana (prestige) a reflection of ones prosperity.
These values, both old and new are sometimes lost as soon as we walk inside a supermarket or our favourite takeaway joint. Perhaps with the abundance we experience in our modern lives we loose sight of the importance of our kai. For many of us it is not until we are deprived of something that we realise that we miss and appreciate it. For many of our people through out the Pacific Ocean who depend on the oceans bounty for survival and sustenance, the lack of certain species due to climate change, pollution and over fishing is a far more drastic situation. One which we hope to highlight throughout and beyond this Voyage
As we reflect on a whakatauki (proverb) from Hawaii. ‘He va’a he moku, he moku he Va’a (Our canoe is our island, our island is our canoe) words now familiar to us as we voyage across Te Moana nui a Kiwa. (The Great Pacific Ocean) we endeavour to do our part. To care for, and conserve, to share and appreciate. With the hope, that our voyage and actions, bring a greater awareness to those we meet, and those that hear our message. Words that echo the obvious. Take care of what we have now, so that we may continue to enjoy it in the future.