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Taro’s cultural importance in the Pacific

THE cultivation of taro connects closely to the cultural heritage of many Pacific islands. Planting and harvesting taro, moreover, bring families together.

In Palau and other Pacific islands the taro fields are valuable property and these lands are connected to the identity of the people. Taro is an important crop to many islanders.

Click to enlarge
Limei Beketaut, left, and Peggy Hanser at a taro patch.  Contributed photo

In their research paper titled “Mesei: Taro Field Landscapes in Palau,” Faustina Rehuher-Marugg and Julita Tellei stated: “Field cultivation is as old as the introduction of taro plant in Palau.”

The paper mentioned Robert Bishop’ work on taro history which states: “Taro in Palau dates back to the misty past. It is permanent and identifying component of Palauan culture.” Additionally, “the traditional system of utilizing wetland to produce taro is an ancient, rich, distinctive, and varied. Palau has a reservoir of traditional knowledge, practices, and skills related to taro.”

Each Pacific island has its own legend or historical explanation for the plant’s origin.

Another research paper titled, “Taro Storage System,” written by Peter J. Mathews, stated: “The essentially tropical origin of taro as natural species within or near Southeast Asia is generally agreed upon, but little is known about the origin and historical significance of taro in the northern and southern temperate region.”

Islanders interviewed by this writer said purple and yellow taro are easily planted and growing them involved traditional skills that are passed on from one generation to the next.