Komba: A Maring Specialty
An afternoon harvesting and cooking with
|Allison: "One of
favorite local foods
the steamed fruit of
pandanus. Even before we arrived in the Simbai Valley, the Rappaports
us about the delicious red sauce made from the flesh that surrounded
hard seeds lined up on what looked like a huge corn
cob. They described it with difficulty, concluding that
it was something like a salty chocolate sauce. We were
both eager to try it."
|The marita pandanus grew in groves
steep lower slopes below Gunts.
049-05: Minme, Kum and Tukume in a komba
|One day I accompanied
her daughter, Kum, down to their grove. Tukume came along with
us. As soon as we arrived, Minme climbed a nenk
tree to pick the edible
leaves. Kum was already looking upward into the pandanus trees to spot
a ripe fruit. A huge bamboo pole had been left in the grove
specifically to be used to knock down the fruit. Unlike most of
the trees whose leaves the Maring used for food, pandanus protected
itself not by height, but by the almost thorny texture of its
bark. It was impossible to climb and not at all easy to dislodge the
two-foot long fruits.
049-19, 049-23: Kum pokes a marita
fruit high above her head and then fetches it from the undergrowth when
it finally falls.
|Tukume, meanwhile, had been
sticks from the forest floor to take home for firewood.
049-26: Tukume tops off her load of firewood with
|Allison: "When I had first arrived, it
never occurred to me that
I would not soon be carrying my own belongings in a bilum like all the
other local women. My first try was strongly discouraged, however, not
by the Maring themselves, but by Annie and Cherry. They had heard that
women who had not grown up with this practice usually suffered from
neck problems if they insisted. Seeing the practiced twist whereby a
heavy bilum was slung from the top of the head, I decided not to fly in
the face of this advice. I was used to the twist needed to get a
backpack over my shoulders, but in the hot climate, backpacks were
uncomfortable. I settled for a very small bilum in which I could carry
my notebook and
extra film, and I slung it over one shoulder - like a Maring man."
in Minme's yard, Tukume had a brief smoke
after the long
hike uphill. Gomb, Minme's younger daughter, had been sent to fetch a
huge k9m9r (the character "9" represents the sound of "uh" as
in "the" and as in "but") from a neighbor. The k9m9rs
were made of light-weight, flexible bark and provided a surface for
working with the leaves both before and after they were steamed.
050-25: Gomb brings a k9m9r
into her mother's yard.
|Allison: "I often
think back about
Maring food and cooking while
washing salad and greens in the sink of my European kitchen, and I am
amazed at how carefully the Maring greens were bundled. Although they
were never washed, and food preparation took place at ground level,
there was never any grit in the food."
050-28: Gomb and her little brothers look on while the older girls
begin to sort leaves.
|After a few puffs, Tukume had passed
the cigarette on to Kum and
they both set about to get the leaves ready to be steamed in the earth
oven pit inside Minme's house. Later the leaves would be mixed
with the komba sauce.
Across the yard, Kum's older brother,
Gonda, was preparing his own food. He was newly married and still wore
the full head of hair of a young
man, neatly covered with a barkcloth cap. His wife, Kant', was
from Fogaikump and belonged to the Kono lineage. As he had to
follow the food taboos separating his lineage from the Kono lineage, he
cook his food separately from the rest of the family.
051-11: Gonda shakes komba
seeds into a banana leaf carefully propped up with a stick of firewood.
The seeds, steamed the day before, were now to be used to
make a sauce for the greens.
051-12: Gomb and Kum return with water from a nearby stream.
051-17: Mbera and Danigi transfer water into the smaller nink mung
- water bamboo.
|Allison: "Pouring water from one
requires patience and
skill. If the tube were tilted ever so slightly too much, all the water
would slosh out in a quick flood. The boys helped their mothers do this
chore, but could be roundly scolded if they spilled any. As I was
always busy with the camera, it never occurred to me to even try my
051-18: Numbi waits for the water so he can start mixing the komba
seeds with water and salt.
051-23: Behind her father, Kum snacks on a hot tuber that has
just been roasted over the fire in Minme's house.
051-21: Numbi mixes water, salt and komba
seeds to get as much sauce
off the seeds as possible.
052-22: He squeezes handfulls of dripping wet seeds over the pile
The result is komba aruk
greens with komba
time the komba aruk was mixed,
the whole family had gathered at
Minme's house. Numbi and Gonda built a small above-earth
oven to cook Gonda's food separately.
Minme came to the front of her house
and sat by the center pole
with her two youngest boys, Danigi and Para. Kum was petting the
young pigs that had
wandered home from their day of foraging in the forest.
has come to the front of her house
and is sitting by the center pole
with her two youngest boys, Danigi and Para.
Kum pets the
young pigs that have
wandered home from their day of foraging in the forest.
|Allison: "Mbera teased me by
a piece of komba
- the bright red, delicious, oily, salty tissue at the core of the komba fruit."
051-37: Mbera offers Allison some komba waq
while Para looks
hopefully in the family's one enamel cup. Mbera has mixed his own
small portion of komba, using
water from an empty cocoa tin.
knew perfectly well that I
wouldn't accept anything to eat as long as I was taking pictures. He
also knew that Marek would never eat any komba.
very first time Marek had seen komba
being eaten, he took a permanent dislike to it. The procedure involved
taking a mouthful of the oily seeds, sucking the oil off, and then
spitting the now white seeds out
into one's hand or onto a leaf. The seeds would then be thrown to an
appreciative pig waiting eagerly for the treat.
"But Marek couldn't get it out of his mind that the white seeds looked
just like a mouthful of teeth being spit out. He
never did learn to enjoy this
delicious food. It was really too bad!"
|Completed on July 5, 2011
1999-2011 Allison Jablonko.
All Rights Reserved.