Lifou Island Taro and Yam New Caledonie
The taro and yam are two tubers that have always been a part of the staple diet in New Caledonia, and their cultivation has played a central role in Kanak society. However colonization and globalization of food habits have gradually eroded their long-standing position. Many varieties of taro and yam are no longer grown or are almost impossible to find; in their place people eat rice, potatoes, bread and even pasta. The consequences of this development are serious: obesity and diabetes are spreading and native gastronomic culture is increasingly relegated to a minor role.
The taro (Colocasia escolenta), a plant with large leaves and strong stalks, has corms which provide starch for many populations living in the Pacific. Rich in calcium, iron and plant proteins, the taro is boiled before eating, has a floury consistency and chestnut odor. It has a symbolic association with women.
The yam (Dioscorea) is a climbing plant with a starchy tuber. In the Caledonian archipelago, 6 species and as many as 120 varieties are still cultivated. It is planted in June and harvested between February and April: the start of the harvest is a time for big community celebration. It has a symbolic association with men. The pulp, which is boiled before eating, can take various colors (purple, white, beige) and sometimes has a sweet taste.
The yam is a symbol of Lifou (Drehu in the local language), the largest island in the Loyalty Islands. Here, traditions and customs still remain strong and yams continue to be exchanged during the rituals marking Kanak social life. The situation is different for everyday meals. Taro and yam are no longer served in school canteens: instead, the children are offered a “French” style of diet.
The Presidium was created in 2009 to gain more detailed technical knowledge about the two tubers and circulate it among the local population. The group of producers involved in the project aim to promote the two tubers because of their importance for Kanak culture and to support their use as an everyday food. To achieve their goals and develop a local market for these products the Presidium is studying how to improve cultivation methods in different parts of the island (by the sea, in the forest and on stony ground), how to improve preservation and how to extend gastronomic uses. The Presidium products are presented and described in schools during lessons on local food, and will soon be sold at the weekly market in Wé, the main town on Lifou.
The Tjibaou Cultural Center, located in the capital Numea and founded to promote Kanak culture, is supporting the Presidium producers in this project.
Island of Lifou, Loyalty Islands
Centre Culturel Tjibaou (Numéa)
12 producers members of Drai ne Xen association
tel. + 687 414576
fax +687 4145 71