A Legendary Papuan Food: Sago is Us

goodmorningpapua.com – “Khui-khui mea-mea, Tuhan Mokhowoyea, meai wali pe Tuhan Mokhowoyea, binura yauda Tuhan mokhowoyea, meai wali pe Tuhanm Mokhowoyea.”

That’s the Kenambai choir chanting songs of nature and life under the lee of the sago palm tree. The lyrics of this song tell the story of God’s abundant blessings to humans. The blessing is in the form of water as well as the mountains. God created them perfectly.

“Sago is kitong (us), kitong are sago. Sago is the basic food of the coastal Papuan. Long before rice, it was sago that supported the coastal people, as well as bananas and tubers. They don’t really feel to be dependent on rice. In mountainous areas, for example, I remember when living in Beoga for a year, sweet potato became a meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The sight of children eating grilled sweet potatoes while leaving for school was also something common.

It is different from the areas of Manggroholo and Sira Villages at the Saifi district, South Sorong, where the local people like processed sago in the form of Papeda. It is a location in which I often work, Papeda is the daily food of the people. How could it not, there are a lot of sago palm trees growing around of the house. If need to eat, you just cut down and process it into Papeda. They only need take the side dishes in the form of shrimp, fish and vegetables to the forest and sea behind the house. Everything is available at the vicinity of their residence. 

Not only that, some of the sago they harvested was also sold to get Rupiah. Not a few of their children succeed to be graduates thanks to the cost from selling sago. Now, with the support of Indonesian Greenpeace facilitators, they have also started to produce sago starch for sale to nearby cities. Noodles and cakes made from sago are also produced to increase the variety of products.  Only In the last 3 months, they were able to produce about 1 ton of sago starch which was then sold to Kota Sorong and Manokwari.

When visiting Lereh, Jayapura Regency in 2007 and 2008, I saw the oil palm company that at the time was clearing land in a forest area. There I saw so many sago palm trees collapsing as such and immediately turned into palms. Last year, I witnessed the same thing happening to Sorong, Boven Digoel, to Fakfak. Several forest areas and sago hamlets were turned into oil palm plantations.

Supposing sago in Papua was preserved, processed, and made into one of the staple foods in Indonesia like in the past, those Sago is certainly able to fulfill the food needs of the Indonesian people, without having to worry about food stocks during a pandemic like at present. We need to spend state cash to import rice, even less destroying broad forests to be converted into rice fields.

We all certainly hope that this pandemic will end soon, conditions return to normal, and we can return to our normal activities. Moreover, I also hope that from this condition, we can all learn to appreciate what nature has provided to support us all. The condition of several villages in Papua that do not forget the original staple foods hopefully become a great lesson for us to maintain and cultivate what is in our nature.

While it’s not too late, let’s conserve the remaining sago forest together. We take care of nature, then nature to take care of us.

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