Saturday, October 16, 2010

It’s mango season in Rabaul

by Geoffrey Heard

Is there any more superbly luscious fruit than the mango? Any fruit that gives rise to such extravagant passion? I know, I know -- a freshly picked snow apple can bring tears to the eyes, the old fashioned pears we had in their short season when I was a child ran with sweet juice, fresh grapes off the vine positively sparkle on the tongue as the sun reaches out its first warm fingers on a brisk Mildura (north-western Victoria) morning.

That’s all fine and good, but really, everything considered, there is nothing like a ripe mango straight off the tree, and right now, it is mango season in paradise, aka Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.

You won’t find it in standard dictionaries but you need to realize that “Rabaul” is a short form of “Cornucopia”. About three degrees south of the equator with a moist climate and rich volcanic soil, Rabaul has more food and more variety than you could possibly poke a stick at in a month of Sundays. All that food is as fresh as the day and so often of unmatched flavour. I’ve eaten pineapples here that in the instant of consumption were peerless, and pawpaws galore that (with a little lime juice and sprinkling of sugar) could be considered a solid form of the nectar of the gods.

But a fresh ripe mango...

The mango season is special this year because it is coming at the end of a most unusual drought. Rabaul has just had its first decent downpour in six months. Due to this drought, the mangoes are a little thin in the ground.

At Vunakabi village where I am staying, on the ground is where the mangoes are. Like so many other things in paradise, mangoes simply fall to hand. Sure, if you want to supply a market stall or cater for a gathering, you can despatch kids with sticks to encourage the mangoes to come within reach or send someone up the tree to shake branches, but for personal consumption, mostly you just sit there and wait for ripe mangoes to fall off the tree so you can pick them up at your convenience and revel in their lushness.

This year, though, there is no question of “your convenience”. With mangoes in shorter than normal supply because of the drought, competition for the falling fruit is hot to say the least. The thump of a mango hitting the ground is surprisingly loud (Rabaul’s volcanic soil is full of tiny air spaces and booms like a drum) but it’s best when a mango from a big tree hits a tin roof in the afternoon when all the children are home from school.

CRASH!!! It sounds like a bomb going off.

“Mango!!!” The cry explodes from a score throats. Games, playthings, brooms, vegetable peeling knives, and (almost) baby siblings go flying as every child within earshot hurtles out of the blocks determined to collar the precious fruit.

The race might end with a small outbreak of high pitched disputation to do with the smaller children telling the bigger ones how they should share -- of perhaps claiming unfair use of superior weight and muscle. Whatever, while the winner takes all, there is lots of sharing around -- children here are brought up to live in a community.

Furthermore ...


Excuse me -- I’ve got to run! ###


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

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