Sago

Sago starch is produced from several species of palm, but mainly from the ‘True sago palm’ (Metroxylon sagu), which originated on the islands of Maluku and New Guinea. Now it is found cultivated in equatorial regions around the world. It is still a major food source in some communities, especially in Papua, Maluku and Sulawesi, and was even more important in the times before rice cultivation arrived in Indonesia. Sago (called ‘sagu’ in Indonesia) is very high in carbohydrates (about 94%), but low in protein and mineral content.

The sago palm thrives in swampy locations, and tolerates soil conditions (poor nutrients, heavy clays, high concentrations of metallic elements) that would kill other plants. It grows to 15 metres high, and spreads by suckering. It doesn’t branch, and after about 12 years a mature sago palm stem will produce one large umbrella-like flower head, and the entire stem dies off after fruit has matured. The starch content of the sago palm is highest just before the flowers open – so this is when the stem is cut down and harvested.

Back in April we were fortunate to chance upon some men harvesting sago. They were more than happy to demonstrate the process of production – and to be photographed while doing so. 

Sago palms are widespread on the Moluccan island of Halmahera.

The tall sago trunk, 30-40cm in diameter, is chopped down, cut into lengths and laid flat on an open area of ground.

Two men rasp the truck to break down the pith into coarse crumbs, pushing backwards and forwards with a 2m plank through which a large number heavy nails have been hammered.

Sago trunk showing pithy interior

During this stage they may also find that red palm weevils (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus) have bored into the trunk. These are larvae of a variety of ‘snout beetle’, which is regarded as a major pest in plantations of coconut, oil palm and dates.

However in Halmahera these 2-4cm long grubs are prized as a delicacy, and they are carefully extracted from the holes they have drilled into the trunk, and put aside for later consumption.

The ground pith from the trunk is transferred in batches into a long tub, which has itself been formed out of a large palm frond.

Water is bucketed into the tub, and the mixture is vigorously kneaded and squeezed to extract a solution of starch from the fibrous material of the trunk.

The tub is raised at one end, and the starchy liquid runs out the other end, filtered through a coarse cloth which removes any remaining fibres.


This solution falls into a large settling tub (which was made out of an old canoe!), where it is left for a time for the heavier sago starch to sediment down to the bottom. The water is drained off the top, and paste of starch is removed and dried ready for use.


Sago may be ‘pearled’ to produce the familiar little sago beads. But on Halmahera it is mostly baked in a clay ‘forna’ to produce a long-lasting bread called ‘sagu lempeng’, or little hard cakes known as ‘bagea’. Also, in something of a regional speciality, sago flour is boiled to make a clear gelatinous porridge known as ‘papeda’. The papeda has little flavour of its own, and so is usually eaten in a soup along with fish, sambal and vegetables.

Fruits of Kalimantan

Just some of the special fruits of Kalimantan – three types of durian, mangosteen, rambutan, chempedak, langsat, and a rare variety of mango. Some of these are rarely seen outside the island of Borneo.

All are delicious, and grow at the Kebun Raya Balikpapan.

Durio dulcis
Lahung, durian hutan
Forest durian

Durio zibethinus
Durian

Durio kutajensis
Lae, Durian hutan
Forest durian

Artocarpus integer
Cempedak

Lansium parasiticum
Langsat

Nephelium lappaceum
Rambutan

Mangifera torquenda
Asam putaran

Garcinia mangostana
Manggis
Mangosteen

Ready to eat….

Durian season (again!) in Tewang Rangkang

 

Durian!

Yes, durian! Loved by many as the Raja Buah (the ‘King of Fruit’), and reviled by others as stinky and disgusting. I’m a durian lover, and can’t comprehend those who aren’t. Perhaps it’s a genetically determined hypersensitivity?

 

There are around 30 species of durian, at least nine of which are considered to be edible. The durian genus is native to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, with many growing wild here, and referred to as durian hutan (‘forest durian’).

LOTS of edible durian are produced in Kalimantan. Some of the best ones grow along the middle reaches of the Katingan River in Central Kalimantan, upstream from the town of Kasongan. Our favourite Dayak Ngaju village of Tewang Rangkang sits right in the middle of that zone. We were delighted to return there last month for a short stay during harvest season.

In Tewang Rangkang (as in almost all Dayak villages), the houses line up in a row along the riverbank. Behind the houses are areas where chickens and pigs are kept, and areas (often quite extensive) of fruit trees – especially durian. Further away (and across the river) are areas used for ladang dry rice cultivation.

There are no fences around the individual durian orchards, but everyone knows exactly who owns which trees. Each orchard is marked by a the presence of a pondok (hut), further asserting ownership. During harvest season (December – January) the pondoks are occupied day and night, with family members taking turns to stand guard over the orchard.

Pak Dahuk and Ibu Wanie have built a new pondok since we were there in 2015. It’s a solid structure, with an even more solid roof, so that there is no risk of getting beaned by a falling durian.

Not all pondoks are quite so grand. Some appear decidedly impermanent.

And others, like Pak Etiu’s pondok, are somewhere in between.

The stated intention of the pondoks is to protect the durian harvest from pilferers, because the fruit are quite valuable.

But actually there is actually little or no theft, and we think that the villagers just enjoy a special time of year when a large proportion of the population ‘camps out’ in the forest, cooking and eating and sleeping under the trees, and visiting their friends and neighbours residing in neighbouring pondoks.

And collecting the durian fruit as they fall to ground from the tall trees.

A mature durian fruit can weigh three kilos, and the rind is covered with characteristic hard sharp spikes. The word duri actually means ‘thorn’. A fruit falling tens of metres onto one’s head could potentially be fatal. Even the ground gets scarred by the impact of falling fruit.

I had one land a couple of metres away from me, with no warning but a colossal thump – and so I quickly retreated back under the shelter of the pondok roof.

Apart from collecting fruit and socialising, there’s work to do out in the pondok. Led by Ibu Wanie, everyone helps to prepare large quantities of dodol durian – for consumption, gifts and sale.

The durian flesh is removed from dozens of fresh fruit, and cooked up in a very large pan over a slow fire along with coconut milk, glutinous riceflour and gula aren (palm sugar derived from the aren palm). After hours of simmering and near-continuous stirring, a thick dark red-brown fudge-like paste is produced. It is delicious.

After production of dodol durian, and quite a bit of feasting along the way, there is a large a growing pile of discarded durian husks.

But it’s not just durian trees. The vegetation around many Dayak villages may at first glance appear to be secondary forest regrowth. But closer inspection reveals that almost every herb, shrub and tree has some productive value. So there are all sorts of fruit trees: bananas, papaya, langsat, mango, guava. And of course many coconut palms.

And rambutans – all in fruit at the same time as the durian.

And mangosteen.

Pak Itiu shins up the mangosteen tree to collect fruit.

And meanwhile, back at the pondok, there’s time for a group portrait.

Desa Tewang Rangkang

Tewang Rangkang is a Dayak Ngaju village which stretches along a couple of bends of the Katingan River. It’s about an hour’s drive north of Kasongan in Central Kalimantan.

Since 2014 we have been frequent visitors. We’ve been privileged to stay there as guests of our wonderful Dayak Ngaju friends Mbak Lelie Liana, Pak Dahuk, Ibu Wanie Manur, Mbak Susi, Om Indra and Tante Hente – and their (very) extended families. Over those many visits we’ve witnessed manugal (communal rice planting) in 2014 and 2015, rice harvest, tiwah funeral ceremonies in 2014 and 2017, other family ceremonies – and durian harvest in 2015. 

Dipterocarpus

Dipterocarpus is a large genus of tall trees (around 70 species) found across South-East Asia. Locally, they are commonly referred to as ‘Keruing’.

Dipterocarpus confertus

These are big trees, growing to 40 or 50 metres at their full height, and they form a big part of the upper canopy of the forests here, or stick out above the other canopy trees as ‘emergents’. Interestingly, the seeds will only germinate in shade, and for the first several years the young trees don’t tolerate direct sunlight.

Dipterocarpus tempehes

They thrive on the lowland, yellow leached clay soils that are common across much of Borneo. So much so that in fact that the lowland tropical forest is often just called ‘Dipterocarpus forest’, due to the predominance of ‘Keruing’ trees. However they always form part of a mixed forest, with other tall trees (meranti, pulai, ulin, bangris etc) also abundant, and which compete for sunlight in the upper canopy.

Dipterocarpus cornutus

They flower here in October, the mature trees producing masses of large, attractive pink-and white blooms.

Flowers of Dipterocarpus confertus

The scientific (Latin) name ‘Dipterocarpus’ means ‘two-winged fruit’. The fruits develop during the early part of the wet season (November – December), with the seeds falling in January. Their ‘wings’ are 20cm or more long, and when the seeds fall from the tree, they can spiral down, helicopter-style, and may be carried by the wind to some distance from the parent tree.

Seeds of Dipterocarpus confertus

They are valuable hardwood timber trees, and the even-grained, somewhat resinous timber has many uses, although it is susceptible to termites. Resin from the live trees was and sometimes still is collected by local people to use for water-proofing and as a source of light.

Dipterocarpus confertus seeds, almost ready to drop

Due to massive loss of habitat (logging, conversion of forest for plantations of oil palms or other timber trees etc), most if not all of the Dipterocarpus species are now classed by the IUCN as being ‘Critically endangered).

Flowers of Dipterocarpus tempehes

At the Kebun Raya Balikpapan we have 58 trees from three species in the ‘official’ collection (D. confertus, D. cornutus, and D. tempehes), though three other species (D. elongatus, D. oblongifolius and D. retusus) have also been collected.

Flowers and leaf of Dipterocarpus confertus

Sanggar Ranu Mareh Mabuan – dance troupe

Photos of dancers from the ‘Sanggar Ranu Mareh Mabuan‘ – a Dayak Ma’anyan dance studio based in Buntok, Barito Selatan, Central Kalimantan. We had the pleasure of watching them perform at the wedding of Dini and Xavier in Palangkaraya.

These young performers were fabulous – tightly choreographed, exciting, professional, colourful, tireless, amazingly agile – and with some of the nicest smiles you’re likely to find anywhere…

 

Mimosa – the ‘Shy princess’

At the Kebun Raya Balikpapan (Balikpapan Botanical Garden), five different species of Mimosa have been identified.

There are over 400 species of Mimosa worldwide, most of which originate in South and Central America. But many of them are now found in tropical regions around the globe. They generally tolerate a range of conditions, thrive in disturbed areas and poor soils – and in many places have become a serious problem as invasive weeds.

Mimosa, particularly the low creeping Mimosa pudica, is locally known as Putri malu – the ‘Shy princess’. In fact this matches the Latin ‘pudica‘, which also means ‘shy’ or ‘bashful’. The plant has this name because of its sensitivity to touch. The compound leaves retract, fold up and droop instantly when touched. Presumably this has evolved as a defence against predation. After a few minutes the leaves once again become open and erect.

It likes open, sunny positions and prefers relatively poor soils. Children of course have great fun playing with the Mimosa pudica plants, making their leaves do the bashful trick.

Mimosa pigra has flowers which resemble those of Mimosa pudica, but the plant is much taller. Indeed it can grow up to several metres tall – though those at the Kebun Raya Balikpapan are less than two metres in height.

Its stems have sharp thorns between the leaf junctions. Like the other Mimosa species, the leaves are sensitive to touch, and also curl up at nighttime.

Mimosa pigra is included in the list of the ‘world’s 100 worst invasive plant species’. In Australia, one of 20 countries where it is known to grow, it is a declared ‘noxious weed’, and boasts a number ten ranking in the list of ‘Weeds of National Significance‘.

Mimosa diplotricha is known in English as the ‘Giant sensitive plant’. The globular flowers develop into a tight cluster of seed pods. The seeds inside are adept at sticking to fur or clothing and so are easily spread.

It’s another virulent invasive plant, also originally from South and Central America, and was first seen growing in Indonesia (Java) around 1900. It has now spread to tropical areas worldwide.

This Mimosa has not been positively identified, so let’s call it Mimosa sp. It is a little taller and more ‘lanky’ than M pudica, and has bright yellow blossoms. The globe-shaped flowers of Mimosa are actually clusters of up to 100 tiny separate flowers all growing together.

At the Kebun Raya Balikpapan, it may be found in or near the same situations as M pudica.

The fifth species at the Kebun Raya Balikpapan is also (as yet) unidentified – so it’s another Mimosa sp. It has only recently been discovered there, and hasn’t yet been seen to flower.

It’s characterised by its relatively stout woody growth, the slightly zig-zag shape of its stems, and the long and very spiky thorns along the stems.

Katingan canoes

Downstream from Kasongan on the Katingan River (Central Kalimantan), few villages have road access – especially at his time of year during the rainy season.

The river IS the road, and motorised canoes (‘ces‘, ‘kelotok‘, ‘perahu‘) are the vehicles of choice.

Birds of the Balikpapan Botanical Garden – Part II

This is a followup to my previous blogpost, showcasing some of the wonderful birdlife which may be encountered at the Kebun Raya Balikpapan (Balikpapan Botanical Garden).

Collared kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris)

This lovely bird was remarkably unperturbed by my presence, and darted down from its branch several times to catch insects from the forest floor. After 5 minutes – and 65 photos – it flew off….

Asian red-eyed bulbul (Pycnonotus brunneus)

The Asian red-eyed bulbul is often seen getting grubs in lowland forests on the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, as well as here on the island of Borneo.

I like the creamy out-of-focus green blur in the photo below. Like a bird perched in the general idea of a forest.

Banded woodpeckers (Chrysophlegma miniaceum)

They make distinctive ‘klok-klok’ sounds as their beaks strike repeatedly against the tree trunks.

This attractive (and rather raffish-looking) pair of birds were searching for ants, termites and insects.

Greater racket-tailed drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus)

These birds have a massive repertoire of songs, including perfect imitations of other forest birds. They sing sweet and loud, just beside the tracks on which I walk at the Kebun Raya – as if to attract my attention. Well, they succeed.

They are locally known as ‘Sri gunting’ (Scissor birds), because of the pair of long tail feathers.

Brown barbet (Caloramphus fuliginosus)

These birds are endemic to Borneo, where they are a ‘common resident’.

Black hornbill (Anthracoceros malayanus)

This female was seen (and heard squawking raspily) at the Kebun Raya Balikpapan. Apparently they are particularly fond of eating fruit of the forest durian

Oriental dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis)

It was quite distant, but nicely lit by a few minutes of bright sunshine. A 560mm lens helped too…

Green imperial pigeon (Ducula aenea)

They are locally known as ‘Burung Pergam’.

For a few weeks, they were regular visitors to some trees near the Information Centre at the Kebun Raya, as they feasted (alongside a band of Long-tailed macaques) on ripe fruit of Alseodaphne elmeri.

Sooty-headed bulbul (Pycnonotus aurigaster)

Asian glossy starlings (Aplonis panayensis)

These ones are juveniles. When they grow up they take on a very shiny green-black colour – but they retain those striking red eyes.