Hakupu elders teach their youth the making of the umu ti

Sustaining some of our cultural activities is often fraught with challenges, such as not enough people to do the work, many other competing priorities or just not enough interest especially if the task is quite time-consuming.

But every once in a while some people will just decide to try, which is what the young people of Hakupu decided to do in their last week of school holidays. Guided by their village elders they decided to learn what is arguably the hardest type of umu to make, the umu ti.

Making the umu ti takes a lot of time to dig for the roots of the ti (Cordyline Fruticosa), gather the large rocks, timber and leaves. Then there is the large umu pit, which is much much bigger than your normal home umu pit because the making of the umu ti is often a community event where groups of families or something a village will do together.

Brad Etuata BCN news that the idea for this holiday programme for the Hakupu young people was first suggested as part of the Boys Brigade activities by the pastor of the village, Reverend Arthur Pihigia and from there the village got involved.

Etuata says that this will be his second experience making the umu ti and he admits that this is one of the Niue cultural activities that has slowly died out over the years. So it was exciting to get the support of the village elders including the member of parliament Richie Mautama and support from the Ridge to Reef project to help them show their young people how to make the umu ti.

For several days, the boys took the bush and into the forest to dig for the ti roots which is a lot of hard work. Then on Thursday last week, they gathered all the woven baskets filled with ti roots around the large umu pit.

The boys who lit the fire for the umu Luka Mautama and Sikipa Tongia did not bathe for the next three days so that the umu will cook well. BCN news asked the boys if it was hard not bathing for three days, but they both said that it was great, because they had three days of not doing any chores at home. Sikipa’s mother Kyria Kulatea Tongia said that everyone else had to do chores that Siki would normally help with.

There really isn’t any scientific or practical reason for not bathing for three days but that is the traditional practice, and the superstitious belief is to so that the umu will cook properly.

On Saturday, the wet weather eased up just enough to open the umu ti and the village enjoyed the fruits of their labour (pictured). The cooked ti is sliced and made into otai or fruit cocktail made from the sweet juice of the cooked ti root mixed with coconut juice and cream, but for the most fun just chew on the sweet root mixed with dried coconut flesh.

As is customary with community activities, the cooked ti roots are shared around the village and BCN news team were also lucky to get some.

Hakupu village has certainly taken the school holidays programmes to a new level by successfully attempting the making of the umu ti. For Sikipa and Luka, they’re back to doing chores at home and bathing every day satisfied knowing that they did their part because the umu ti was a success.

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