Isn’t fast food amazing? I know the cool thing to do is slam fastfood and how unhealthy it is; but wow do we miss it. If you hang around with missionaries for long enough you’ll be sure to experience the group fast food daydream. At some point a missionary will mention a food they miss, and soon the whole room will be chipping in with all the decadent, unhealthy foods that they miss and everyone daydreams. Well daydream is all we can do, here in Kovol it’s all slow foods.

Today’s Culture event was making ‘Mamuni’, which kept us occupied from 9:30 to 12:45 🙂 Having invested a bunch of time into eliciting and analysing verb endings in 4 different tenses for 6 different actors (I, we, you, yous, he, they) we’re starting to engage with what we can series activities using photo books. A series activity is what it sounds like, an activity that has steps that you get a photo of. Then you show the photos and ask “What are they doing?”, to get a (hopefully) simple clause that introduces you to being able to actually string vocabulary together in a grammatically correct and natural sentence.

Audio recordings are then listened to intently, the photos are rehearsed with other people over and over, and then when you start getting it you can mix it up by changing tenses, changing actors or altering the sentences in all kinds of ways. These picture activities are able to take us a long way language learning wise, and people love them! People are always excited to see photos of themselves (or people they know), which is great! They’re having fun and you’re learning. It also sits ready in your bag to be pulled out whenever they’re needed.

Mamuni is basically grated taro that’s mixed with edible greens and then steam cooked in a bamboo. It solidifies in the bamboo to become a starchy sausage to become one of the main Kovol foods. The other two being taro cooked on the fire, or taro boiled in a pot (do you see a pattern there?).

Step 1 is to peel the taro. Step 2 is to take a particular reed (a silim ot) which is basically a natural jungle cheese grater (….daydreams about cheese). Intense grating results in a gloopy taro slop in a bowl.

The slop is placed on an (inedible) leaf and mixed with greens. Here’s where we found out that the word for leaf changes. “Sog” (leaf) becomes “mondog” (a leaf that has been picked and has work to do), not to be confused with “mandagas” which is the type of leaf it is. Once it’s all nicely spread it gets wrapped up in the mondog, and shoved in a bamboo.

Trust us, this will become food…
Samuel’s a man – his work is to do manly things, like cut bamboo down

The shoving part took a bit of skill, you have to be careful not to overfill the mamuni so it doesn’t slide in. Bashing the bamboo on the ground helps it slide in.

45 minutes on the fire should cook the mamuni nicely. They occasionally need to be turned. Notice the bamboo is burned and blackened, these are one time use pots basically!

The original disposable pot

Finally the protective leaf needs to be removed revealing the goodies. 3 hours after starting there’s enough mamuni for 15 people, and they taste Ok. A little salt helps (but salt here has to be processed from a particular tree, so it’s rare). It doesn’t taste of much really, starchy, greens. You can’t tell from this picture, but they hold together like a sausage so they’re finger food.

I took 94 pictures in the morning, which I slim down to 30 and print out 5 pages of pictures. Then we sit with people and go through the pictures one at a time. We’re particularly interested in the verbs right now as the nouns and pronouns are all familiar. Once every one is written down we get a recording of someone explaining each of the pictures. The result wasn’t great – but this is just the first take.

We sat with the people we’d been with all morning and so we’d been asking them all kinds of things. We’d asked in depth about every picture, we’d written down alternative constructions for many of the actions, we’d investigated grammar and tried to pull a sentence as long as we possibly could, we’d attempted to link clauses with things like “first we did this, then we did that”. While fun at the time it kind of ruined the recording. We got a very specific, academic version of events (with all our language investigation being in our helper’s recent memory.

It’s still good material though. We can pull the verb roots from it to familiarize ourselves with the vocabulary to help with next time, and we have a good recording for ourselves when we’re further on and can handle the variation and extra. Next step is to take the pictures to a fresh audience to see what they make of them, that should result in simpler, more natural language that will be good for us at this stage.

So that was today. We participated, we processed our audio/video and we’ve created practice materials that will help us for the coming months. Bring on tomorrow – I want to understand all this material I just got!

Categories: EnglishStanley


Lois · 28/05/2020 at 5:46 am

Thanks for writing and explaining your language learning process, (and cooking process!). It is interesting that the word for “leaf” changes after it is picked, and has a job to do. In English, this happens to animals (cow–living animal. Beef–“harvested” animal becoming food for humans.). But I don’t think for vegetables. In Spanish it even happens for fish, (pesca–living, pescada–food) but not for plants. But it makes sense. We use that illustration (living leaf, leaf removed from plant and in process of dying) to explain the spiritual death of Adam and Eve after the Fall.

I’m sorry there’s nothing we can do – ReachKovol · 02/06/2020 at 3:50 pm

[…] another of the Kovol villages, about a 2 hour hike away. In Kovol style, we hung out all morning (it was the morning of making mamuni), hours passing until there was zero activity for at least 10 minutes before bringing up the fact […]

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