Takuvaine - A Valley of Riches

Lush, green Takuvaine Valley in the Avarua district of Rarotonga, Cook Islands.  Photos in this write-up provided by Liam Kokaua.

Recently, Kōrero o te `Ōrau Secretary, Celine Dyer (also Takuvaine landowner and caretaker) along with KO members, Liam Kokaua and Joshua Baker, ventured into the higher reaches of Takuvaine Valley with long-time caretaker Colin Rattle, Te Ipukarea Society intern, Chris Benson, and visitor Rob from Slovakia.

Below is an article Liam wrote for Te Ipukarea Society's weekly newsletter based on his experience:

Right to left: Joshua Baker (Kōrero o te `Ōrau member), Celine Dyer (KO Secretary and Takuvaine landowner and caretaker), Rob from Slovakia, Chris Benson (Te Ipukarea Society intern), and Collin Rattle (Takuvaine landowner and caretaker) hiking up Takuvaine Valley.

The valley is considered by Rattle to have been the “Food Bowl” of Rarotonga in the early pre-European era of settlement of Rarotonga.  After completing the trek, the two younger visitors totally agreed with this statement as the soil in the valley seems to be incredibly rich.  It was apparent that this valley still has the potential to be that food bowl, with over 20 species of edible fruit and vegetables easily observed growing naturally within the valley.

Of the cultivated crops, the main crop grown is our staple root – the taro.  The Upper Takuvaine Valley is home to numerous varieties of taro including both introduced and native Cook Islands varieties.  Some of these native taro varieties are very rare as they have been lost on the coast by cross-breeding with introduced varieties.

The taro is grown in ancient pondfields, which are held together by man-made stone terraces (taro vai) that keep running water flowing over the taro plants.  Many of the terraces are likely to be hundreds of years old and were made by early Rarotongan people by hand.  These terraces give the Takuvaine Valley an additional cultural and archaeological importance to all Cook Islands people. The landowners continue to clean and maintain as many of these pondfields as possible, although many have become overgrown over time.

ʻŪtū (mountain banana) is another natural wonder of this valley.  It is a native type of banana which grows in high valleys and mountain ridges throughout most of the Pacific Islands. The ʻūtū has characteristic red-orange coloured bananas which grow “upside down”, pointing to the sky – a reason why they are sometimes called “King” bananas. ʻŪtū bananas must be cooked before eating and are delicious baked with fresh coconut cream added.  Rattle believes there are at least 5 varieties of ʻūtū still growing within the valley, During the team’s short excursion, they saw two different types which had ripe bunches.  Rarotonga’s valleys are often safe havens for rare varieties of fruit and vegetable crops that are no longer found on the coastal flats.  Not only does each variety of taro or ʻūtū taste different, but they have different characteristics such as growing time, tolerance of soil types, and climate changes.

Liam Kokaua, Kōrero o te `Ōrau member and Te Ipukarea Society Project Officer, carrying a couple bunches of ūtū down Takuvaine Valley.

The Upper Takuvaine Valley lies above the Takuvaine water catchment, which is a vital water supply for the Avarua district inhabitants.  Although planting occurs well above the catchment, landowners and planters know to respect the rules outlined in the Takuvaine Water Catchment Management Plan.  No chemicals such as weedkillers and pesticides are used above the Catchment mark.  The planters prefer it that way anyway, and one can taste the difference in the beautiful organic produce which comes out of the valley.

It is clear that the Upper Takuvaine Valley is of crucial importance to Rarotonga’s population - not only as a foodbowl for the people, but for quality drinking water, cultural heritage, and genetic diversity. Tapping into this genetic diversity may be the key to adapting to climate change, but if these species are lost we will never know.

Other valleys such as those in Tupapa, Matavera, and Avatiu could also serve similar roles for the people of those villages. These valleys also have ancient pondfields, however they are mostly abandoned today.  If utilized correctly, our valleys on Rarotonga could provide healthy foods for our people once again.  However for anyone intending to start planting in the valleys, they should ensure that no agricultural chemicals, mechanical clearing, littering, or other forms of pollution occurs within these natural wonders.  So, if you are going into a valley, respect the area, its landowners, the plants, and the wildlife, and enjoy the riches of the valley!

Writer Liam Kokaua is a Member of Kōrero o te `Ōrau.  For more information on the NGO and to support their work, please email korerooteorau@gmail.com.

© 2019 by Kōrero o te `Ōrau.