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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga

Fats And Oil

page 100

Fats And Oil

The need for fat in the diet was evidenced by the fondness of the people for fatty foods. During the seasons when certain fish were fat, they were eagerly sought after. The oily part of the koveu (land crab) and the fat of the sea birds assisted in providing the necessary ingredients to the diet. An ever-present source of fat was the coconut, the mature flesh of which contains abundant fat crystals. The fat crystals were available not only in the mature flesh (katinga) but also in the coconut cream expressed from the grated flesh. In some food preparations the oily flavor was brought out by heating the coconut cream with hot stones. The uto (absorbing organ) also absorbs oil from the mature flesh and thus supplies it to the diet. Even in the preparation of coconut oil, the burned, grated material, after being strained and squeezed, is not wasted but is used in the food preparation known as romonga. As the coconut formed the staple food, it may be said that the atoll diet was fairly rich in oil.

Coconut oil was used medicinally and also for rubbing over the body. Three forms of oil were prepared:

1. Hinu takataka. As the name implies, the oil (hinu) is obtained from the mature nut (takataka), the flesh of which is very oily. It is obtained by chewing the flesh, and the chewed material is rubbed over the head and body. This is especially done by young people to render themselves attractive in the evening after the labors of the day have ended. Any extra material left over is put in the body belt (taoa) by young adults going out to keep love appointments (whakaturi).

The takataka oil is also prepared by grating the flesh on a slab of sharp coral or on the skin from the tail of the ray fish (hiku whai). The quantity required is small and is used immediately after its extraction from the grated nut. To rub is ukui, but the special grating process with the takataka nut is termed puoro or simply oro. The oil is contained, for the most part, in the middle of the flesh. As the pieces of flesh detached from the shell are ground individually, it is customary to rub off the outer and middle layers while the thin (angiangi) inner layer of flesh is being eaten. The oil may also be directly expressed by gathering up the gratings in a stipule strainer and squeezing the liquid through into a vessel. The oil may be kept in a coconut cup or container. This oil is also used medicinally.

2. Hinu romonga. The oil is procured from the hard flesh of the mature hakari kahatea and hakari uto nuts as well as from the growing nuts in the mata uto and uto pine stages. All these nuts are now used in making trade copra. The nuts are grated on a stand grater (kautuai) and the gratings fall on a pataro mat spread below. The gratings (ota) are exposed to the sun on the mat and turned now and again until the oil begins to show. This process is termed haumake. The mats are then drawn into the shade to prevent the grated material from becoming too hard. Stones heated in the oven are lifted with pingohi tongs, placed on the gratings, and the material at the sides is heaped up over the stones. The material is carefully watched and the stones are moved about to prevent the grated nut from becoming burned. When all is heated to the right appearance, it is transferred to a wooden bowl. The oil is expressed by squeezing (tatau) it through a stipule strainer into a coconut cup where it is allowed to settle. The grated material in which some oil still lingers is used as food in the ro page 101 monga preparation. The heating process is also termed romonga and gives its name to the oil.

3. Hinu pipiro. The oil is prepared by mixing the inner parts (tutae) of the tupa (land crab) with the grated nut prepared from the same stages of nuts as those used in the extraction of romonga oil. The mixture is wrapped in the leaves of the whano, nenu, or puraka and covered over in a basket, bowl, or coconut leaf. It is left for two or three days to become ripe (para), a state influenced perhaps by the decomposition of the tupa. The material is then heaped up on the two sides of the broad upper concave surface of the butt end of a coconut leaf. The oil runs down the middle clear space into a coconut shell container placed below. The shell full of oil is then stoppered for future use. It was stated that this oil was used for lamps after their introduction. Because of its unpleasant odor (pipiro), it was not likely to have been made for bodily use in ancient times. The dry gratings were eaten and the thick sediment in the oil was applied to ringworm (hune).