The preparation of 'Te Bekei'. A sweet mix of, Babai, which is similar to
taro, syrup, coconut milk and coconut, which the women scrub against a sharp stick to
produce fine scrapings.
Photo: Chris Johnson
January 26, 2001
Onotoa Family Celebration
This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the South Pacific.
Today, we were invited to share a meal with a family on the outer island of Onatoa, who were celebrating the return of a long absent family member. We sat under the cool shade of a thatched hut with the men of the family. We talked, laughed and shared stories, while the women busily prepared a meal of breadfruit, tuna, moray eel and Te Bekei for us. Te Bekei is a sweet mix of, Babai, which is similar to taro, syrup, coconut milk and coconut, which the women scrubbed against a sharp stick to produce fine scrapings. We were told this was a treat reserved for special occasions. When the meal was ready, we as the honored guests took our places along side the men, sitting cross-legged on the elevated floor of the Te-Mwenga or home. The women and children sat on the ground below us, laughing and playing games. It wasn't until we had had our fill of the food laid out, that the bowls were passed down to the women and children to eat.
The traditional role of women in Kiribati is that of the 'homemaker'. At a young age, girls are taken aside by their grandmothers and taught how to cook, clean and raise a family. This is done in preparation for marriage. However, this does not mean that women are subservient to men at all. They are seen as equals, who bind the family together.
What was most apparent to us was the number of children, not just in this extended family, but running and playing in all the villages we have visited so far. The women told us that each couple has an average of eight children. Meaning the majority of their lives are dedicated to the support of their husbands and the rearing of their children. The women told us of the many taboos that go along with carrying a child. For instance, when a woman is pregnant there are certain foods that must be avoided in order to safeguard the baby, these include turtle, crayfish, stingray and sharks. We were told that if a woman were to eat a stingray while with child, then her baby would be born with eyes on top of its head like a stingray. They explained how they do not always accept and believe stories from our modern world, and it is alright for us not to believe all of theirs. However, they did go on to explain how a child had been born to a women in their village which had very short arms and legs, and large round eyes, it was later discovered that this women had eaten turtle, and her baby died soon after.
The roles and boundaries of men and women here are strongly adhered to, with ancient beliefs and customs playing an important part in the daily lives of the I-Kiribati. The I-Kiribati believe their way of life and pride in the family unit gives them a unique identity which distinguishes them from all others.
Log by Genevieve Johnson