The smoky smell of cooked food wafted out as the layers of leaves were lifted off the umu, nine hours after it was laid. 18090404
It was all hands on deck and no-one was idle, or even wanted to be, when an umu was laid at Sunshine Mata George’s premises on Monday.
Guests from all over the world have attended his traditional feasts, and this day an extended family of about 30 from New Zealand and Australia took part.
Food was carefully prepared and everything was done as a combined effort between guests, under the watchful eye of Sunshine.
The kumara was brought in last minute, after Sunshine had been out on family land gathering it, fresh from the soil. Pumpkin, potatoes, onion, taro, chicken, pork and lamb were prepared, wrapped in banana leaves and put into handmade woven baskets before going into the Umu.
The whole process was an experience and an education for the group who quickly relaxed thanks to Sunshine’s wit and encouragement. The preparation process took about two hours, guests leaving the site once the food was in the ground, but clearly looking forward to returning later that evening to see umu lifted and to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
Twice as many guests turned up to eat the food, and after hearing many stories about the experiences of the morning, said they felt they had missed out on the fun part.
“Overall the experience has been awesome. The kids have loved every minute of it, they’ve got in there and helped with everything happily, it’s been an amazing experience,” said Graeme Lang from Ngatea, New Zealand.
Jackie Lang said it was “cool” seeing Cook Islands culture up close. “This was so hands-on. We don’t feel like strangers in someone else’s house, we feel like part of their family, as if we’ve known Sunshine and his family for ages. This is something I will take with me and remember for a long time.”
Jamie Langford said it was one the most unique cultural experiences she’s had.
“Being invited into someone’s home and family and made to feel so welcome is so refreshing. And the kids have been device-free all day.”
Sunshine, who regularly checked that everyone was comfortable and happy, says he regularly made umu at home as a boy, with his brother in Atiu.
“Since I’ve been living here there have not been so many opportunities, maybe just birthdays. But having these events and (having) you good people over has given me a reason to do it and that makes me very happy.”