The people of Huahine will tell you that their island is the pregnant
belly of a reclining woman. From the village of Fare, if you look to
the mountain, you can see her profile against the sky. Indeed, she even
glows with fertility.
Climbing the dirt road around Huahine Iti, pickups stutter and grumble
under the weight of fresh produce. Their progress traces the cleft
where the Mahuti River trickles into the oyster-shaped bay. Two umara
farms cling to this road as it turns, like a necklace dangling two
pearls over a bust.
The farmer north of the bend holds the record for growing the largest
umara in the Society: a twenty-pound tuber striped faintly in purple
Every morning, he collects into a pile the trash that has blown down
the road or fallen off the trucks—the crisp palm leaves, the chicken
feathers—and lights it with a single match. The trash burns slowly
throughout the morning, sending rich incense up the mountainside to
mingle with the smoke from his neighbors' fires. He walks his
rows with his hands clasped before him like a monk. After turning on
the spigot and watching the water leap around each pu'e, he
waters the taro that grew, nourished by his placenta, in a hole his
mother dug soon after he was born. Then he retires to his plastic lawn
chair under the tin roof of his bungalow's front porch. He
swirls his coffee with a long black vanilla bean, rests the mug on his
belly, and unwraps a dense loaf of coconut bread.
Island dogs gather in the yard, their pendulous teats grazing the
earth. A rooster crows. A truck passes hauling sullen children to
school in its bed.
The farmer south of the bend holds the record for the longest-held
grudge in the Society: twenty bitter years of envy toward his neighbor.
Every year he pleads with his land, and every year the umara he pulls
from his soil are cracked and speckled with lesions. In the evenings,
he sits on his weathered front porch, sips Hinano from a can, and eyes
his neighbor to the north.
The first uru grew from the body of a father who gave his life so his
family wouldn't starve. His hands outstretched into broad
leaves, his legs and arms became the tall trunk and branches, and his
head ripened into the tree's rough-skinned fruit.
The severed head of an eel god sprouted the first tumu ha'ari—the
coconut palm whose husked nut bears the impression of an eel's two eyes
The first umara was stolen from heaven and born from a woman's womb.
The island is pregnant. The farmer slurps his beer, stares across the
road, and wonders if planted in the earth what vegetable his
neighbor's heavy flesh might sprout.