A Tale of Tra­di­tional Tastes

mailife - - Contents - By JOYCELIN SAHAI Photos AL­LAN STEPHEN

Tukuni! Uwe, uwe… And so the story starts.

Tukuni is the iTaukei word for a story, and ‘uwe, uwe’ is the re­sponse from the au­di­ence sprawled on the mat around the tale teller if they wish to lis­ten. But tukuni is a special sort of story – not a myth or a leg­end, not a fan­ci­ful yarn, a ro­man­tic saga or even a chron­i­cle of events. It is a tale of things past, of tra­di­tions and ways and even pos­ses­sions, of un­der­stand­ings and knowl­edge of ear­lier gen­er­a­tions, of ‘tabu’ mat­ters that are re­counted in story form, from the el­der to the younger, so that they may un­der­stand and value them. It could be a story about an old gar­den tool, or a fish hook, or a wild fruit, or a way of sur­vival af­ter a hur­ri­cane. To­day a new Tukuni brings a tale of tra­di­tional tastes. To un­der­stand it we must first fol­low the story of FRIEND, the acro­nym for the Foun­da­tion for Ru­ral In­te­grated En­ter­prises & De­vel­op­ment, a home­grown com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment non-govern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion based on the side of a hill on Kings Road, Tuvu, not far from the sugar city of Lautoka. The im­por­tant words in the foun­da­tion’s name are ‘ru­ral’ and ‘in­te­grated’. Ev­ery­thing they do is linked through their so­cial, health and economic pro­grammes so that what they grow on their farms and process into prod­ucts rang­ing from star ap­ple tea to cas­sava flour to mango pick­les and hand­made paper, is directed at the so­cial, health and economic well­be­ing of the com­mu­ni­ties in­volved to help them break out of poverty. So­cial em­pow­er­ment in­cludes learn­ing about gov­er­nance; sus­tain­able liveli­hoods in­volves in­come gen­er­a­tion; and sus­tain­able medicine is a health pro­gramme that tar­gets

life­style. For in­stance farm­ing is not just a good gar­den, it is also about food se­cu­rity, care of the en­vi­ron­ment, cer­ti­fi­able or­ganic farm­ing, nu­tri­tion for grow­ing chil­dren, getting health checks, keeping active, learn­ing ba­sic book­keep­ing, es­tab­lish­ing a co­op­er­a­tive and how to run an op­er­a­tion to sup­ply a mar­ket. It takes in youth ac­tiv­i­ties and train­ing and care and re­spect for the aged. All of it is directed at poverty al­le­vi­a­tion by build­ing com­mu­nity self con­fi­dence, use of tra­di­tional knowl­edge and al­low­ing peo­ple to de­velop with dig­nity. Which in­volves a lot of lis­ten­ing to peo­ple’s ideas, watch­ing the ways they find best to use, and re­spect­ing their knowl­edge – from grandma’s mango chut­ney recipe to when to plant cer­tain crops and how to make use of wild foods that have fallen out of mod­ern di­ets. New meth­ods of fi­nan­cial man­age­ment, food se­cu­rity, keeping healthy and how to con­vert avail­able re­sources into new ideas for gen­er­at­ing in­come are tai­lored to what in­di­vid­u­als and sep­a­rate com­mu­ni­ties re­quire and de­sire. The ex­act op­po­site of ex­perts telling peo­ple what to do and how to do it….”it’s not a one size/fits all op­er­a­tion,” founder and di­rec­tor Sashi Ki­ran ex­plained. A former jour­nal­ist turned com­mu­nity worker who had be­come an­guished over ru­ral poverty and re­source wastage, Ki­ran be­gan build­ing FRIEND from the ground up in 2001, al­ways with a vi­sion of a ru­ral based, in­te­grated op­er­a­tion. FRIEND started its com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment work in Ba and Lautoka, with Ki­ran work­ing part time as a Peace Fa­cil­i­ta­tor and us­ing the in­come to pay vol­un­teers, ad­min­is­tra­tion and es­tab­lish­ment costs. An early project was a schol­ar­ship scheme to help poor chil­dren at­tend school and in 2002 a sav­ing scheme in 10 com­mu­ni­ties in Ba was launched. The fol­low­ing year FRIEND’s fa­mous tamarind chut­ney, still a pop­u­lar prod­uct in the FRIEND Fiji Style brand range, be­came a start up for an in­come gen­er­a­tion project de­vel­oped with the Ba Se­nior Cit­i­zens Cen­tre and is now part of the Sus­tain­able Liveli­hoods pro­gram. Over the en­su­ing years, FRIEND’s ac­tiv­i­ties and reach ex­panded, with the help of a Royal visit in 2005 that gained use­ful na­tional and in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion and a num­ber of awards for the qual­ity prod­ucts that helped at­tract fund­ing. De­vel­op­ments in­cluded hand­made paper and cards man­u­fac­ture by hear­ing impaired youth, the be­gin­ning of Com­mu­nity Gov­er­nance train­ing and ex­pan­sion of the food prod­uct lines to in­clude more favourites such as mango pickle. In 2009 the foun­da­tion ac­quired a plot of land at Tuvu where their head­quar­ters now stand. The first build­ings opened there in Au­gust 2010. Also in 2009 FRIEND launched its Health Pro­gram to com­bat Non Com­mu­ni­ca­ble Dis­eases, which evolved into SMILE – Sus­tain­able Medicine Im­prov­ing Lives through Em­pow­er­ment. Med­i­cal work­ers con­ducted NCD clin­ics in poor and re­mote com­mu­ni­ties and will now op­er­ate a central clinic at Tuvu that will pro­vide med­i­cal, sur­gi­cal, phys­io­ther­apy, lab­o­ra­tory test­ing and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ser­vices. Trop­i­cal Cy­clone Evan se­ri­ously dam­aged the Tuvu cen­tre in De­cem­ber 2012. Although it lost its work­shop and Con­fer­ence Cen­tre and half the roof of its main of­fice, FRIEND bounced back in no time to re­build and ex­tend its of­fice space and de­velop a new state of the art Food Pro­duc­tion Cen­tre. It has also es­tab­lished a Profit Cen­tre in Tuvu, with space for craft work­shop, bou­tique shop, restau­rant and con­fer­ence cen­tre. The trad­ing arm is known as Tatadra Pasi­fika to sup­port liveli­hood ini­tia­tives. There is also a staff vil­lage be­cause the peo­ple of FRIEND are as im­por­tant as its vi­sion­ary pro­grams. From a group of just three peo­ple the core staff is now more than 40, with oth­ers in of­fices in Lautoka and Labasa. FRIEND’s team in­cludes pro­fes­sion­als in com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment, agri­cul­ture, live­stock, medicine, so­cial wel­fare, coun­sel­ing, data anal­y­sis, qual­ity con­trol man­age­ment, pro­gramme ad­min­is­tra­tion, food pro­duc­tion and me­dia and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. But they are not nec­es­sar­ily re­cruited on paper qual­i­fi­ca­tions, there are ded­i­cated work­ers who bring skills born of ex­pe­ri­ence and life­long learn­ing, even tra­di­tional learn­ing stretch­ing back many life­times. “For ex­am­ple we have a group who were em­ployed as se­cu­rity of­fi­cers. When we needed some new fur­ni­ture they turned out to be ex­cel­lent car­pen­ters and not only build the wooden pieces we need, but in­no­vate and de­sign all sorts of

pieces,” Ki­ran said, show­ing a bam­boo ‘take­away’ con­tainer, still in de­vel­op­men­tal stage. Their work is ev­ery­where in the cen­tre, from chairs and dis­play stands to dec­o­ra­tive ceil­ings and book­shelves. Now there is an­other Tukuni, a new tale to tell, of tra­di­tional tastes. Dr Jone Hawea spun me the tale while we strolled around the Tuvu prop­erty. Dr Jone, med­i­cal doctor and sur­geon who has served with Fiji’s peace­keep­ing force and worked through­out Fiji, New Zealand and else­where be­fore find­ing his life’s work with FRIEND, pro­vid­ing a free com­mu­nity out­reach health ser­vice since 2007 that is not only about di­ag­nos­ing ill­ness and ef­fects of non com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases, but help­ing peo­ple trans­form their lives to good health in all as­pects. He is now head­ing the Tukuni project that cen­tres on a restau­rant but ac­tu­ally in­cor­po­rates vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing that FRIEND is about. We be­gan the ex­plo­ration of Tukuni in the gar­den, sur­pris­ingly ver­dant given the gen­eral drought con­di­tions. Most plants, pot­ted or in the ground, bear an iden­ti­fy­ing la­bel. Th­ese are some of the plants that give their flavours to Tukuni foods and are avail­able from FRIEND as dried herbs and spices. Maybe a smart FRIEND staffer will even work up a nurs­ery for live plant sales…they are like that, able to spot an op­por­tu­nity where oth­ers might sim­ply see a strug­gle to keep a gar­den thriv­ing in tough con­di­tions. Next to an ar­bour of climb­ing veg­etable vines was a glo­ri­ous patch of marigolds, where if you wished you could pic­nic. Un­der a large shade tree nearby, the paper mak­ers were at work on their at­trac­tively tex­tured sheets. Veg­etable waste such as cane tops, dis­carded banana stems, onion peels and kava kosa (dregs) for high qual­ity en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly paper. But no time for that now, we pressed on to­wards the back of the two story FRIEND head­quar­ters build­ing to where the large pro­duc­tion cen­tre was in op­er­a­tion. This is where the pro­duce from the vul­ner­a­ble vil­lages and com­mu­ni­ties who are part of the FRIEND op­er­a­tions is brought. It works like this: fol­low­ing Trop­i­cal Cy­clone Win­ston, which dev­as­tated Fiji in Fe­bru­ary 2016, FRIEND was quickly there with dis­as­ter relief amongst the com­mu­ni­ties in ‘ground zero’ in Raki­raki area. But that was just the be­gin­ning. Then came the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion phase that in­volves dis­as­ter pre­pared­ness, plan­ning, ca­pac­ity build­ing and food se­cu­rity, and the pro­grammes that FRIEND has in place to help com­mu­ni­ties break out of poverty and live ful­fill­ing, healthy lives. It in­volves youth work, health, sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment train­ing us­ing their own So­cial and Economic Em­pow­er­ment Train­ing man­ual and agri busi­ness ini­tia­tives to help both women and men farm­ers (900 so far) to es­tab­lish cash crops that in­clude or­ganic farm­ing (50 so far), bee keeping and free range or back yard poul­try pro­duc­tion(about 300 so far). They have also supplied a boat to a fish­ing com­mu­nity. More than 1500 women have been trained in food preser­va­tion tech­niques and other as­pects of food se­cu­rity and agri busi­ness, with a gen­der fo­cus on women hav­ing an equal say in the busi­ness. FRIEND works with farm­ers in clus­ters to grow crops in large vol­ume for ease of mar­ket­ing, as­sist­ing with seed dis­tri­bu­tion, nurs­ery set up, ir­ri­ga­tion and mar­ket links and en­cour­aged to plan for high end and longer term crops such as or­chard fruits. They build on farm­ers’ ex­ist­ing knowl­edge to de­velop im­port sub­sti­tu­tion foods, for ex­am­ple pulses, ce­re­als, her­bal teas and root crops. Some of it ends up at the Tuvu head­quar­ters where it is value added and pack­aged in the pro­duc­tion cen­tre and sold through FRIEND’s Fiji Style brand…and now to also fill the pots and plates of Tukuni restau­rant. There are jams, pick­les, chut­neys, her­bal teas, spices, gluten free flours, des­ic­cated co­conut and dried fruits, made with no ad­di­tives in a whole­some and healthy way us­ing recipes used for gen­er­a­tions in Fiji homes…and now ap­pear­ing (and dis­ap­pear­ing rather quickly) on Fiji su­per­mar­ket shelves. Di­rec­tor Ki­ran said the point about all FRIEND prod­ucts is their qual­ity, es­pe­cially those or­gan­i­cally sourced: “We don’t want pity pur­chases, buy­ing to help the poor. Th­ese are good prod­ucts, worth what peo­ple pay for them.” At the back of the pro­duc­tion cen­tre in Tuvu there os an odd col­lec­tion of large ta­bles of cor­ru­gated iron, plas­tic and var­i­ous other ma­te­ri­als. They are the ex­per­i­men­tal, and work­ing, so­lar food dry­ers. “We are com­pletely so­lar pow­ered here,” Dr Jone said proudly, point­ing to 45 so­lar pan­els on the roof that sup­ply elec­tric­ity for ev­ery­thing on site, from com­put­ers and air­con­di­tion­ers to pro­duc­tion equip­ment and light­ing. It will even power the new health clinic with its doctor, nurse and surgery that is opening soon on the ground floor of the build­ing, next to the FRIEND ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fice, train­ing area and con­fer­ence room. It was time to go up­stairs to the Tukuni restau­rant, on the way passing the busy car­pen­try unit craft­ing chairs and

ta­bles for din­ner guests that are rem­i­nis­cent of the of­ten old and bat­tered but good, solid wood kitchen fur­ni­ture of many ru­ral homes. Din­ers can start with snacks on the mat, re­lax­ing on a scat­ter­ing of comfy cush­ions and sip­ping a cold drink while look­ing at what’s on the day’s menu or wait­ing for friends. In the same ‘wait­ing room’ nook, at­trac­tively rus­tic dis­play shelves show many of the FRIEND prod­ucts, from pow­dered gin­ger and mango jam to a cou­ple of items in the mu­seum col­lec­tion of tra­di­tional ar­ti­facts. Dr Jone is par­tic­u­larly en­thu­si­as­tic about the pack­ets of Satwa, a seven grain flour prepa­ra­tion that he be­lieves is the se­cret to how Fiji’s in­den­tured labour­ers trans­ported from In­dia had the en­ergy to work in the cane­fields from the early hours of the morn­ing un­til dark. The seven va­ri­eties of home­grown grains in the mix – maize, red rice, cow­peas, pi­geon peas, green gram, black gram and sorghum – are roasted be­fore blend­ing. They can be eaten for break­fast mixed with milk and honey, added to smooth­ies or to flour mix­tures for bak­ing and flavoured for sweet or savoury dishes, with a dash of Fiji salt that is still made by tra­di­tional meth­ods by a re­mote coastal vil­lage. The dis­play also holds a range of dried, pow­dered herbs, spices and flavour­ing with as­ton­ish­ingly fresh tastes, from gin­ger to tomato that has been picked de­li­ciously sun ripened and the sun dried and pow­dered to add taste and colour to pasta, sprin­kled on cur­ries, pasta and sal­ads or for thick­en­ing sauces and stews. The dried fruit in­cludes de­li­ciously sweet and chewy banana that re­tains the fa­mous Fiji flavour that is great for snack­ing and re­ally good in fruit­cake. What takes peo­ple’s at­ten­tion im­me­di­ately they en­ter the restau­rant, how­ever, is the all round view of Tuvu’s rolling hills, sun­burnt veg­e­ta­tion and big sky. It isn’t just an out­look, it’s a look into an is­land land­scape that pro­duced the lives and the foods that con­trib­ute their unique­ness to this Tukuni tale. In­no­va­tive use of Fiji’s nat­u­ral eco­log­i­cal dé­cor gives colour and in­ter­est to the restau­rant. There are wo­ven co­conut palm leaves and split bam­boo, a tall ceil­ing of masi show­ing in­ter­est­ing ev­i­dence of how dif­fer­ent peo­ple have worked to­gether to make the huge sheets re­quired, and a masi strip that il­lus­trates the Tukuni food story with pic­tures of tra­di­tional agri­cul­ture, fish­ing and prepa­ra­tion. In­ter­spersed with use­ful pot­ted plants around the room are an­cient im­ple­ments that make you want to taste a curry or a chut­ney like grandma used to make. The grind­stones a redo­lent of the spices and herbs that were made into pow­ders and pastes by the busy hands of former gen­er­a­tions, some still in use. It is not just the old im­ple­ments but the old ways of cook­ing that Tukuni uses, from open fire grills to pro­duce won­der­fully smoky flavoured egg­plant or the clay chula fire­place that is so eco­nom­i­cal with fuel and is brought aflame with a few puffs through a piece of pipe. Tukuni of­fers vis­i­tors demon­stra­tions and also cook­ing classes for those who would like to know the se­crets of Fiji’s tra­di­tional cuisines. The truly au­then­tic flavours of Fi­jian food are pro­duced in Tukuni’s kitchen, from the hand ground spices, fresh herbs and or­ganic pro­duce to the fi­nal fruit gar­nish on the dessert and the di­ges­tion-aid­ing tea, all made from scratch by ex­pert hands who have learnt from the old hands and their in­struc­tive tukuni. The menu changes with what is in sea­son and what is avail­able from farm and sea. It fea­tures dishes such as Ika Tavu (grilled fish in open fire), Kokoda (Fiji’s famed mar­i­nated raw fish in co­conut), free range chicken (jungli murgi) and duck cur­ries, maize roti and the much sought af­ter home grown red rice. Special del­i­ca­cies from the sea­side vil­lages that sup­ply FRIEND and now Tukuni restau­rant in­clude oc­to­pus, beche de mer and sea­grapes (nama). The veg­eta­bles are turned into the dishes Fi­jians re­mem­ber from the kitchens of their bubu or aaji (grand­moth­ers), and that oth­ers wish they did. Ev­ery dish brings an au­then­tic, home made, hand made taste, even though it may vary from cook to cook, who each bring their own flavours to the dhal soup or rourou (dalo leaves), the baigan (egg­plant) and the ku­mala (sweet potato). By the time you get through the vudi (cook­ing banana) or halwa (semolina sweet) it’s time to hit the out­door fit­ness ex­er­cise sta­tions strate­gi­cally placed around the com­pound. As believ­ers in prac­tis­ing what they preach, FRIEND staffers, from the di­rec­tor and doctor through to the gar­den­ers knock off early on Fri­days to do the nine sta­tions over 550 me­tres, at three lev­els to suit those of all ages and un­fit­ness. The equip­ment for the var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties is made from nat­u­ral and re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als. A lit­tle less vig­or­ous are the ses­sions for med­i­ta­tion, mas­sage (in­clud­ing tra­di­tional Fi­jian bobo) and yoga that are part of the health pro­gramme. There are also ac­tiv­i­ties that range from tra­di­tional danc­ing, carv­ing, weav­ing and char­coal face painting – and who could re­sist that. For those who truly can’t face any­thing active af­ter a Tukuni meal, out in the gar­den there is a swing, one of the tra­di­tional plea­sures of ru­ral house­holds.

For more in­for­ma­tion: Tukuni at FRIEND head­quar­ters, +679 6663181 www.friend­fiji.com

For reser­va­tions: Phone: +679 7773188 Email: tukuni@friend­fiji.com

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