The First Breadfruit Tree- Palau

Our next Pacific Islands legend comes from Palau and can be found in the book, Legends of Micronesia. The story is about the beginning of the breadfruit tree on the island. Breadfruit is a traditional staple throughout all of the islands in the Pacific and is sometimes called the tree potato for its potato-like consistency when cooked. When it is small and green, it tastes like an artichoke. When it is starchy and mature, it is the equivalent of a potato. When it is soft and ripe, it is dessert.

Enjoy the story.

The First Breadfruit Tree

There was once a small island called Ngibtal. It lay outside the reef near Ngiwal village on Babelthuap Island in the Palau Islands. On that little island, there stood a strange, large tree. People came from everywhere to see it. Whenever anyone cut off one of its branches, out came live fishes, large enough for food.

The people of Ngibtal Island didn’t have to go to the lagoon or outside the reef for fish. All they had to do was to cut off a branch from the tree and catch the fish in baskets. In that way, they got all the fish they could use. They were happy about their good luck.

Every time a branch was cut, there was heard the sad crying of a woman, somewhere on the island. She could be heard, begging the people not to cut off the branches of the tree.

“Who is this woman that cries when we cut the tree?” the people asked. “Let’s ask her why she does this.” They went around the island looking for her. At last, they found her. She was a wise woman who lived by herself. They asked why she cried when they cut a branch of the tree.

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“The First Breadfruit Tree”- illustration by Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2017.

“Because it’s a tree that will grow bread for you,” she said. “It’s the only one in the world. If you keep on cutting it, branch by branch, then one day, it will die.”

At that time, no one had ever eaten breadfruit or known a breadfruit tree. “A tree growing bread?” cried the people. “Can there be such a thing?”

“You already have that tree,” she said. You should keep it always.”

“What shall we do now?” asked the people.

“First of all,” replied the woman, “stop cutting the tree. Then, after a while, it will have large green fruit. It will be good food for you. Just wait and see.”

The people stopped cutting the tree. They went again to the lagoon to catch fish. Soon, the tree gave them breadfruit, and the people learned how to cook it and eat it. Since that time, breadfruit has been one of their best foods.

The little island of Ngibtal, on which grew the first breadfruit tree, can no longer be seen. It sank into the sea, a long time later. Some people say that it was covered by great tidal waves. Today, only part of Ngibtal Island can be seen in shallow water beyond the main reef of Babelthuap Island. Ships cannot pass over it, for the water is not deep enough.

Sometimes fishermen paddle their outrigger canoes over it. “There’s Ngibtal, the home of the first breadfruit tree,” they say, looking down through the clear water.

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About islandculturearchivalsupport

Island Culture Archival Support (ICAS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of records pertaining to the cultural identity of island peoples in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia whose national and public archives, libraries, cultural centers, and business organizations are underprivileged, underfunded, and understaffed. The specific purpose for which this nonprofit corporation was formed is to support the needs of these South Pacific cultural heritage institutions by helping to preserve and make accessible records created for business, accountability or cultural purposes. The organization will endeavor to add value by providing resources or volunteers to advise, train, and work among island residents to support their efforts in building their future and preserving their collective memory through the use of modern archival techniques.
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