13 March 2014

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Mostly this week’s Report is dedicated to covering the most detailed ritual I have ever attended, but first I’ll share a little bit of this and that around here.    I was taking the Valley Road bus and some critter banged into the side of my head, crawled down my neck, on top of my dress and sat by my knee.  A big grasshopper, photo above.  My new camera turned the freak-out moment into a fun memory (thanks, Cousin Ashley, for the camera lesson).
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GUTSY GUESTS –   We have a sweet-faced young couple here from Canada (she is a very pretty flight attendant).  They like chicken and had never had fresh organic chicken and were eager to help.  I thought they might pluck one.   When I got home, I found out they had each done a whack job!  Man!  I’m impressed. They were also impressed.   Happily the roosters were still young enough to be fairly tender.  Yum.
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WISH I’D HAD MY CAMERA –  Today there was a toad sitting on top of a coconut by the pond.   The scene was framed with leaves from the living fence.  I have no idea what that toad was thinking about.
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FEEDBACK FROM LAST WEEK
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A cousin said the “clean bucket” for fermenting the coconut oil didn’t look all that clean in my photo.  She was right, but it was clean on the inside.   She also said it sounded like a lot of work – she just doesn’t know how yummy the cheese is.
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And my Indian lady friends were all excited about seeing the photos from the Day 10 ceremony.  They have never seen it, because women don’t get to go.    Surprise, surprise.
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And with that we will go on to …
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DAY THIRTEEN of the SANATAN HINDU FUNERAL
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The pit for ceremonial fire (hawan) is dug, bordered with feedbag mats, and then decorated with powders (turmeric, flour and the red one for the married woman’s hair-part), and with flowers (marigold and hibiscus).   The pundit sits on a fine mat, on the south side, facing north.

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On the opposite side a banana leaf is laid out with 4 pairs of leaves –  4 piper leaves (see 12 September 2013 post) closer to the pundit  and 4 jackfruit leaves behind them.

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To the pundit’s left, on the west side, a piece of banana leaf is laid with 3 nutmeg seeds, and a “lota” (vase).    He goes through a number of steps preparing the lota, which represents the Vedas (Scriptures).

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Now you can see yellow string around the nutmegs, and ghee (clarified butter) in the lota.

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There were many steps between these pictures.  The close male relatives were given the koos grass to sit on.  A yellow string was stretched out across them.  Mango firewood was brought.   Nutmegs were put on the piper leaves.  Now the men are gathering handfuls of torn flowers and spices and even coins when the pundit tells them.  (If I understood Hindi, I might know why.)

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Each man is given a little ring of koos grass.  Later on, the eldest son is given a second one for his other hand.

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The firewood is moved and coals are brought.  The men pour ghee onto the coals.

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Here is the part of the ceremony I always noticed and never understood.  The eldest son forms a little loaf of  a rice mixture with his right hand and tips it over his thumb onto the jackfruit leaf.  He does this again for every jackfruit leaf.    According to my friend, this represents (and I quote carefully) “I don’t know!”  She finally adds,  “But it is called pind पिन्द and it is being offered for the person who died.”

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The pundit makes circles of white string and tosses them to the eldest son who put them around each nutmeg.

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One of the loaves is cut into 3 pieces, and a piece is added to each of the others.   Then the loaves are decorated with yogurt, ghee, water and honey.   Flowers are added.  Camphor pieces are added and lit.

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All of the rice offering is rolled up in the cloth, and then a basin is brought for milk, which is blessed with flowers, spices, and lots of ghee.

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The eldest son pours the milk handful by handful into another basin.  He does this facing north, west, south and east.

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The pundit puts yellow string around a mature coconut.   The coconut represents Ganesh, the elephant headed deity.

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Then slowly, slowly the ceremonial fire gets laid.  Burning squares of camphor are put in the bottom of the pit.  Pieces of dry mango wood have their ends dipped in ghee and are laid carefully inside.   (This is where my camera battery gave out,  dangnabbit,)    Finally there is a burning lattice in the pit.  The coconut is laid into the fire.    The roof of the temporary shed is opened and the ceremony, the funeral, is now complete.   The family then treats all the guests to another magnificent vegetarian meal.

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The roots of this ceremony go back nearly five thousand years, so to me, the funeral is like a little pine cone on a giant redwood of human ritual.

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6 March 2014

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Thank you, Agriculture!   They sent Austin home with two big hauls of trees:  breadfruit, lemon, orange, vutu  (tropical almond) and ivi (polynesian chestnut).  And I bet they didn’t even know it was Ayyam-i-Ha.
 
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GUAVAS AGAIN
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I’m a little smarter than I was last year when I saw half-eaten guavas and first thought it was my neighbor leaving them (13 June 2013).  But the return of guava season still took me by surprise.   I found guavas on the Cardiac Hill trail and floating in the hole that will someday be a pool – I didn’t even realize we had guava trees in either of those places.

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Here is the trail to my neighbor’s house – yes, plenty of guavas here again, too.  What to do with all these guavas but to make jam?    Akka did the honors this time, and the jam is YUMMY – very much like a soft version of the guava paste we used to eat in Puerto Rico.
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 I will only show one photo:  Akka and Junia wringing the guavas out in strong vegetable netting attached to two sticks.   Please remember this shot.
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MAKING COCONUT OIL
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The bigger production early in the week, while it was still rainy, was making coconut oil.  Austin bought a lot of husked coconuts at $5/dozen on the road during his last trip to Suva.   We make oil from 2 dozen nuts at a time.
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The nuts each get whacked with a cane knife, opened and drained of their water.
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We bought an electric grater last year because grating 24 coconuts with a scraper takes forever.  
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Warm water is added to the scraped coconut and then it is like doing hand laundry – squeezing the water and coconut together to coax all the milk out of the flesh.
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THE MISSING PHOTO – the coconut getting wrung out in the contraption that the boys used for the guavas above.   (It was so dramatic.  I’m sorry I didn’t make them stop while I went to find my camera.).
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The coconut milk is then put into a clean biscuit bucket and water is added to just below the bottom line.  The lid is put on, and the liquid is left to ferment.  (This one was filled to a little over the bottom line – oops – and so it started overflowing, which is why it is in the aluminum basin.)
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The “waste coconut” – the defatted flesh – can be used in cookies, but mostly Austin uses it for chicken food.   The shells are excellent firewood.
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 In 24-48 hours, the fermenting liquid naturally divides into vinegar, foam and oil.   The vinegar needs a lot of work to become tasty – not worth it.  The foam – what everyone else considered a waste product – actually cooks down into a delicious vegan cheese.   And the oil – well, that’s the main purpose of the whole exercise.  The oil is skimmed off and gently cooked until all the vinegar has boiled off.
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You can see the oil we got from this batch in the olive oil bottle   – more than 3 times the commercial bottle that sells for $8.25.   
 
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DEAD MAN’S LUNCH
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Yesterday was Day 10 of my neighbor’s funeral.  The family is Sanatan Hindu, and the funeral takes 13 days.  On the 10th day from cremation,  there is a ceremony at the river where the close male relatives on the father’s side of the family shave their heads.   When they come back, there is another ceremony at the house, and then the family provides the first of 3 big meals they will serve to guests.  These are photos from the ceremony at the house.
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Some men are preparing leaves for various purposes.  Two are making a special tray (thalli) out of jackfruit leaves, sewn with coconut leaf ribs.  Another is cutting banana leaves to be used as dish covers and the ceremony ground cover.  There are mango leaves – one of which ends up in the pundit’s little brass vase (lota).  They also collected a long grass that looked a bit like lemongrass, but isn’t.  It is called koos – and I never could get a consistent story for what it was needed for.   (Did you notice that the fellows are sitting on a feedbag mat, like the one we were making recently?)
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This is the ceremonial place all staked out and set up.  You can see the pundit’s white plate with marigold flowers and the lota with the mango leaf.  He will use the leaf to sprinkle water later.  You can see a tray with a glass of juice, a glass of water and a bowl of grog (kava, yaqona), and another plate with rice and roti – all this is going to end up in the thalli.  Each man whose head has been shaved takes his turn putting some of the food into the thalli.
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Now the trays of all the foods that are being served have been uncovered.   If you look closely, you will see that the thalli has little “pockets” formed along the edge, and some of the grog is still in there as if it was a cup.   All of the dead person’s favorite vegetarian foods are served.  Balloo’s favorite foods were baigan (eggplant) and dhal (split yellow pea).
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Here is all the food in the thalli – even a lit cigarette.
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When all the food is in, marigolds are strewn around.  The camphor blocks on each corner are lit.  Incense is lit.  And all the men follow the pundit in a prayer.
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Afterwards, ladies serve the food to all the guests, starting with the shiny-headed men who carried out the ceremony.   Happily, in the case of this funeral – the deceased was a very old man who miraculously cheated death about four years ago.  He had served his family very well and was really ready to go.   
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Remember, a Sanatan Hindu funeral is thirteen days long.  So wait, there should be more.
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7 November 2013

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The rain is back, and life is beautiful.
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BEAUTY IN MINIATURE
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I was smitten this week with tiny flowers.
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This is the only tiny flower that I notice while standing – it is about 3 times the size of the others.   The others I have to crouch down to see.
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Teeny tiny purple ones – you can use the blade of grass for perspective.
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This tiny yellow one.  I noticed that the yellow ones all tend to fall apart once they fully bloom.
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This impossibly small white flower – sitting on what looks like its own little cactus pad.
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You need to know they might be there – then you can look and see them.
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Now, looking UP….
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I WAS WRONG – BUT NOT REALLY
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A few months ago I said the mangoes never set fruit on Valley Road.   Well, our mango set fruit – 3 of them – undoubtedly because of the intense dry season this year.   One mango is in the photo above.   One is in the photo below if you look closely.
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The other mango?  I am taking Junia’s word that there was a third one.
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Now for fauna….
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NEW CRITTER
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This a Polynesian rat, the first we have ever seen at the farm.  Austin and I both kind of liked it because of its rounded ears and soft fur.    It got into the mongoose trap and Austin was just playing taxidermist here.
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A final note about the rain.  Looking to the west the other afternoon, the rain was so beautiful – almost 3-D as we saw big drops in the foreground, medium drops farther off and mist in the distance.  The camera couldn’t pick that up, but the picture was a beauty shot nonetheless.
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