Foods of Savu & Rai Jua

The period prior to the corn harvest is known as the time of "ordinary hunger". During this period, the poorer segments of the population survive on ‘reserve foods’, primarily cassava, pumpkins, dry fish, smoked/dry meat, some sweet potato, forest yams and syrup supplies from tapping lontar palms.

In drought years, when the planting and subsequent harvest of the corn crop is delayed, the period of ordinary hunger is extended and conditions turn more critical. "Ordinary hunger" becomes "extraordinary hunger" (Indonesian: lapar luarbiasa) or better know in Savunese as "awe menganga rowi kemangu kereka". Most families manage on one meager meal a day. Livestock, suffering from the same conditions as the human population, are consumed or sold to buy emergency foods.

As green papaya is a popular Savunese dish, it is also use as traditional medicine. Savunese consume green papaya as vegetable. Certain kinds of papaya leaves as well as the blossoms are also consumed as vegetable on the islands apart from how Savunese use them to prevent the possibility of catching malaria. Roasted and marinated tamarind seeds are well known traditional snack amongst children. The most common fruits on the islands are water melon, papaya, mango, banana, anona, borassus palm fruit
(borassus flabellifer) known as wo hiru to Savunese, coconut, tamarind and a few more known to Savunese such as wo koo, wo kohabe, wo wud'i and wo keboo.

In the dry season, drinking water becomes difficult to obtain and is often polluted by animals seeking water in certain parts of the islands. A strong indicator of the "extraordinary hunger period" is a sharp increase in gastro-intestinal diseases. Children are particularly vulnerable.

"Ordinary hunger" is considered part of the annual seasonal cycle on Sawu and in the province as whole. "Extraordinary hunger" is also recognized as a matter of all too common occurrence. Without any aids from the outside world, year to year the islanders of Savu and Rai Jua are known to have managed their way and survived "extraordinary hunger" mainly by depending on the highly nutritious palm syrup supply. However these days the islanders' life style have become exremely difficult under the Indonesian occupation. So far, it appears that the Indonesian authorities have hardly interest in making effort to bring positive developments onto the islands.

Savunese recipe

Download as word.doc.

Grilled fish in coconut sauce

Serves 6 with rice.


1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Water
2 Pounds Fish Fillet -- sea bass, snapper
3 Large Shallot -- sliced
2 Cloves Garlic -- sliced
3 Teaspoons Crushed Red Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/3 Inch Ginger Root
1 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1 1/2 Cups Coconut Milk
1 Tablespoon Brown Sugar
1 Inch Galangal -- finely chopped
1 Teaspoon Lemon Grass
2 Tablespoons Tamarind Paste -- dissolved in
1/4 Cup Water


Dissolve salt in water. Make 3 slashes in fish and soak in salted water for 15 minutes. Drain. In food processor, blend shallots, garlic, red pepper, turmeric, ginger, and coriander to form a paste. Mix this with coconut milk, brown sugar, galangal, lemon grass and tamarind liquid. In a saucepan, bring the mixture to a boil and cook over moderate heat for 10 minutes or until about half of the liquid is evaporated. Dip fish in coconut sauce and grill under a broiler for 10 minutes on each side, basting generously.

Copyright © 2006 Ina Tali/Francesca Von Reinhaart


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