A Christmas Memory- Missing the Motu in Solomon Islands

Our last Christmas memory and last post of the year is about Pacific Journalist, Koroi Hawkins, of Radio New Zealand and her best memory of Christmas food.

Happy New Year to everyone who visit and read these posts! Let’s hope things will be a lot better in 2021. I look forward to keeping you updated on the cultural news of the Pacific Islands. See you in January!

The best memories of Christmas food for me was growing up in Munda in the Western Solomons and it was all about the process. I remember as a very little person helping, (more like getting in the way of), my great, great grandmother, Joyce Kevisi who turned 100 this month, prepare the motu or earth oven, with glowing hot stones by woodfire and lamplight.


Where is Munda, Solomon Islands? Map from ethnobiomed.biomedcentral.com

Even the smells and sounds of all the prep work leading up to that point with my mum, aunties and older cousins crushing ngali nuts for the mamahi (rich layered slippery cabbage and nut cake) and grating cassava for the oremarihi (cassava pudding) with a touch of luzu vaka (kumara) for sweetness, her signature touch.

Of course, my least favourite part was slaughtering the animals. I remember being horrified the first time I found out the chickens I had been tasked with feeding in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and who I had inevitably befriended, were being plumped up for the feast to come. I would cover my ears to try and mute the horrible squealing of the pigs as my uncles secured them to enable them to deliver the killing blow.

Everything was organic either grown in my grandmother and grandfather John Kevisi’s garden, raised in pens and coops or pulled from the ocean.

At the business end under the eagle eye of Tai, as we call her, all the various dishes were prepared with ingredients sliced, pounded, marinated, lathered in coconut cream. They were wrapped in cooking leaves then placed in the earth oven which, with her decades of experience, she regulated the temperature and timing as accurately as any conventional oven.

1 Potato

A motu, Picture from tdriscollsi.blogspot.com

Then on Christmas Day, after lotu, the motu would be opened and with each layer of leaves peeled back came a fresh waft of delicious foody goodness only surpassed by the feasting to follow.

After dinner I would listen wide-eyed as this English trader’s daughter would tell tales of times long gone of the Americans and the Japanese and their noisy metal war machines.

And if we pressed her enough on her childhood and the stories passed down to her from before the church arrived, she would talk of days when fierce ebony warriors roamed the Roviana Lagoon and heads on stakes lined the beaches.

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