August 5, 2009

Breadfruit and Mutiny on the Bounty

I grew up at the edge of the Malay Kampong (Kampong Nyabor) in the 60's. Today the kampong is gone and urban sprawl has taken place filling up every nook and corner with multistoreyed shop houses. Even the original Mosque looks dimunitive at the junction of Bridge Road and Jalan Tuanku Osman.

My old wooden house built by my grandfather in the 40's is gone too and in its place is the Orchid Hotel in its calming pinkness and slimness. Behind the hotel is the Ngui Kee of Sibu a very old icon from the heyday of Sibu timber business and fame.

However one of the aspects I remember about Sibu is the bread fruit trees which were grown by the Malay community especially near Dayang Ella's house just opposite the Malay Union Club building where bangsawan used to be held in the open space. Now not even one tree can be seen in the town area. To find a breadfruit tree one may have to go to Sungei Antu or even Bukit Aup to find one. And occasionally you find buy one or two fruits in the Native market.

Perhaps many of my Sibu friends have even forgotten how fried bread fruit tastes like. One young man even said that he had never heard of "buah sukun" when I asked him about it. He is of the KFC generation.

I used to eat it with my school friends. And we usually dipped it in sugar or Nestle Condensed Milk to enhance its flavour.

As a child I used to like the beautiful leaves of the breadfruit tree and imagine that fairies would sit on them and bring me presents. Lovely childhood imagination.

Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) is a species of flowering tree in the mulberry family, Moraceae, that is native to the Malay Peninsula and western Pacific islands. It has also been widely planted in tropical regions elsewhere. It is a popular fruit amongst the people of Brunei Sarawak and Sabah.

A road trip from Bintulu to Bandar Seri Begawan would provide you ample opportunities to see the beatufiul breadfruit trees(or buah sukun) waving in the sun as their leaves are beautiful and easily identifiable. Sometimes they are grown in clumps of five or six by the roadside . Very often they are the signs that a settlement is closeby.

The breadfruit tree usually reaches a height of 20 meters and is considered a large tree. The large and thick leaves are deeply cut into pinnate lobes. All parts of the tree yield latex, a milky juice, which is useful for boat caulking.

Fruit bats are the most important pollinators. Hence if there are too many hunters around the productivity of the breadfruit would be lowered. For many years the breadfruit trees have not flowered much. Hence a great source of food for the local folks has slowly disappeared. They are waiting for bat population to increase.

Breadfruit is one of the highest-yielding food plants, with a single tree producing up to 200 or more fruits per season. In the South Pacific, the trees yield 50 to 150 fruits per year. In southern India, normal production is 150 to 200 fruits annually. Productivity varies between wet and dry areas. In the Caribbean, a conservative estimate is 25 fruits per tree. Studies in Barbados indicate a reasonable potential of 6.7 to 13.4 tons per acre (16-32 tons/ha). The grapefruit-sized ovoid fruit has a rough surface, and each fruit is divided into many achenes, each achene surrounded by a fleshy perianth and growing on a fleshy receptacle. Some selectively-bred cultivars have seedless fruit.

The breadfruit is closely related to the breadnut and the jackfruit. It is called "Kada Chakka" or "Cheema(Sheema) Chakka" in the Malayalam language and "Jeegujje"/"Geegujje"/"Jigujje" in Tulu.

The Hawaiian staple food called poi made of mashed taro root is easily substituted or augmented with mashed breadfruit. The resulting “breadfruit poi” is called poi ʻulu. In Puerto Rico it is called "panapen" or "pana", for short.

Breadfruit is roughly 25% carbohydrates and 70% water. It has an average amount of vitamin C (20mg/100g) and small amounts of minerals (potassium and zinc) and thiamin (100 μg).[4]

Breadfruit was widely and diversely used among Pacific Islanders. Its lightweight wood (specific gravity of 0.27)[5] is resistant to termites and shipworms, and consequently was used as timber for structures and outrigger canoes.Its wood pulp can also be used to make paper, called breadfruit tapa.[It is also used in traditional medicine to treat illnesses that range from sore eyes to sciatica.

Those of us who studied the book "Mutiny on the Bounty" as part of our English Literature would remember the Commanding Lieutenant William Bligh who actually collected breadfruit as one of the botanical samples on a quest for cheap, high-energy food sources for British slaves in the Caribbean. That was a rough part of our human history.

Almost all fruits and vegetables have their origins told in oral tradition. Like rice and yam which have origins in legends and folk tales the breadfruit too has its origin found in an etiological Hawaiian myth. It originated from the sacrifice of the war god Kū. After deciding to live secretly among mortals as a farmer, Kū married and had children. He and his family lived happily until a famine seized their island. When he could no longer bear to watch his children suffer, Kū told his wife that he could deliver them from starvation, but to do so he would have to leave them. Reluctantly, she agreed, and at her word, Kū descended into the ground right where he had stood until only the top of his head was visible. His family waited around the spot he had last been day and night, watering it with their tears until suddenly a small green shoot appeared where Kū had stood. Quickly, the shoot grew into a tall and leafy tree that was laden with heavy breadfruits that Kū's family and neighbors gratefully ate, joyfully saved from starvation.

Sources :
A Voyage to the South Sea by William Bligh, 1792, from Project Gutenberg. The title in part of Bligh's own account of the famous mutiny is: A Voyage to the South Sea, undertaken by command of His Majesty, for the purpose of conveying the bread-fruit tree to the West Indies
Nutrition Facts for Breadfruit


Anonymous said...

This is the buah sukun season. I hope you will get one or two fruits and tell us how to fry it.It is true some places in Sarawak don't have buah Sukun...I am wondering why now....
In West Malaysia many people even grow this beautiful tree in the up scale residential I can understand how good you feel about the tree and leaves. Malays in the past were very close to nature and well really self sufficient...the little plot outside and behind their houses give them almost everything. We should all be like that today and we don't have to entirely depend on world economic supply and demand....
Have you been to E Mart?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

I notice that lots of people grow sukun in Brunei and their trees are fruiting now.
I hope more people will grow this fruit too in Miri ...Thanks for visiting Jane.

Ann said...

My mum grew a breadfruit tree in our house off Queensway. It is funny how just last week, I taught my students here in New Zealand about the Mutiny on the Bounty. My school is doing a whole school production on pirates. all 660 kids.

I m still thinking if you are Chang Yi. I met her sister recently. You mentioned you have a family in NZ.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

What a coincidence....just going through some of the unanswered comments....

I can still buy fried (cucur) sukun or bread fruit for 30 cents a piece is the season now...
Do you live quite close to each other?

Answer is yes...CY

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