Posted by: Carol | April 25, 2009

Milkfish Picnic

PHOTO GALLERIES
2009 South Pacific

cbparker_d700_20090425_tetautua-149For Saturday afternoon’s activity, our village patriarch (named OJ) had also invited us to join his family on a milkfish outing which we later realized was an event put on especially for us (and all visiting yachties) to introduce outsiders to the Cook Island way of life. Shedding our church-going clothes and getting back into our familiar swimsuits and shorts we joined together again, this time on the beach, to take part in a big family picnic.

Three boats full (including our dinghy) took off down the reef to a beach location adjacent to a stagnant inland pond, shallow and red ochre in color with a sulfurous odor and a knee-deep soft mud bottom. Apparently that is the ideal environment for milkfish as the pond was absolutely teeming with them. The villagers arrived loaded with supplies including an umbrella to shade the babies, stacking plastic chairs, a bouncing chair (again for the babies), a large woven mat for spreading out on the sand, coolers of cold beer and water, and containers full of every imagineable picnic supply including china plates and cups, salt, island-style bread, bakery bread, rice, vinegar, utensils and diapers! We brought our own culinary offering of a big skillet of Philippine fried rice and some beef kabobs, figuring they would enjoy something different from their usual fare.

cbparker_d700_20090425_tetautua-170After the campsite was set up and organized, with the mat and palm fronds spread on the ground for seating purposes, the first order of business was to build the cookfire. A hole was gouged out into the sand and filled with dead branches, dried coconut fronds, shells, stones (brought from the village as there were no stones to be had at this particular beach), and then piled high with small dried coconut husks which we all gathered up from the thousands littering the ground under the palm trees.

Then it was off to gather in the main course – two Tetautua men and Rod waded into the slimy pond with a gill net, spread and dragged it through the water, and shortly returned with a catch of maybe fifty or so of the 8-10“ long fish. The fire was lit and everyone went to work cleaning fish, first scraping off the scales with the edge of a sharp shell, then cleaning and slicing. The offal was tossed into the water where several baby reef sharks enjoyed a feast.

cbparker_d700_20090425_tetautua-234First course was raw milkfish dipped in vinegar, eaten while the remaining milkfish, along with some of our tuna and the kabobs, grilled on the fire. Although there was water and beer in the coolers, we drank coconut juice from the shell and nibbled on the coconut meat lining the shell for dessert. The coconut remains were gathered up to feed the pig later in the day.

We ran out of time to snorkel into the lagoon and dive for oysters, another source of food (and also upon occasion a golden natural pearl). And the chief bemoaned the fact that the moon was not right to go fishing for red snapper. However I suspect the opportunity will come around over the next several days of our visit.

When dinner was done and we were all stuffed full – our host welcomed us with a speech, introducing every member of his family. And then it was time to head home before the light went and we couldn’t see the lurking coral heads waiting to ding the outboard motors on our vessels!

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