The National, Wednesday June 3rd, 2015
By Godfrey Hannet
PAPUA New Guinea has over 200 plants used as foods of which 65 are cultivated, 48 both cultivated and wild and 158 gathered as wild resources, with many more yet to be recorded.
Many of these wild plant resources like the Canarium or galip species have great potential for exploitation because of their economic value as food, fodder, medicine, energy and industrial purposes.
Wild galip resource is estimated at 6 million hectares (0.2 trees per ha) and galip fruits are either picked from the ground or harvested from the trees.
Galip is an indigenous tree of the lowland forests of Melanesia (PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu) and parts of Indonesia.
For thousands of years the nuts have been culturally important in the diet of the people.
Galip produces edible nuts, commercial timber and some minor products.
The people of PNG, select galip species with qualities most desired for human use.
Kernels were used and are still used today as an ingredient for traditional puddings made from cassava, coconut, yams, taro and sago.
Galip nut is nutritious and is highly regarded for its traditional food security.
It is eaten fresh or roasted, and used as oil for cooking and lighting.
The selection, conservation, cultivation and exchange of superior cultivars have evolved over the years to suit the conditions and the traditional farming systems.
The domestication of galip species began when local inhabitants started protecting wild seedlings.
This has produced a wide range of indigenous nut varieties, a unique wealth of traditional knowledge, and strong cultural and spiritual affinities with the crop.
It is believed that the Melanesian species of galip nut has had the longest relationship with humans.
Archaeological records show that seed remains of galip nut in PNG’s date back as early as 11,000 – 14,000 years ago in the middle Sepik-Ramu area.
Manus records show 12,000 years ago, Buka 11,500 years ago, while New Ireland records 9000 years ago with Arawe Islands of West New Britain the least with 6000 years ago.
Most people selected and planted the trees in village gardens, next to their houses, along village boundaries or in small orchards.
Trees that grew naturally were often observed for their good characteristics and were natured, while the bad ones were cut down.
The whole community knew which desirable trees were in the forest and protected and harvested them during fruiting season.
The trees have a wide variation, and people often cut down trees with undesirable traits to maintain the desirable trees that had early maturity, high and consistent yield and kernel size, taste, oil content and easy to crack nut characteristic.
Nut picking can last up to two to four months, and the area under the tree is generally kept clean so that fallen fruits can be easily collected.
In some areas of PNG, galip nuts are harvested by cutting down the fruiting branches.
This encourages new growth and flowering in the following year.
Traditionally, the harvesting of galip nuts was of great social importance.
Rights to harvesting individual trees were traded or agreed amongst clans.
This was usually related to the use of galip in a particular ceremony or communal activity.
In Pililo Island of West New Britain, the heights of all the other galip trees are controlled except the specially marked trees which bear the names of their ancestors.
During the main galip season, first fruits are exchanged with the other clans where the size of the crop on the individual trees being the measure of the clan’s wealth and standing in the society.
In the Nakanai area of West New Britain, the feasting and initiation of a male child coincides with the fruiting season with various stages of fruit maturity and fruit fall signalling the different stages of the ceremony.
Barter systems have been part of the tradition where galip nuts were exchanged for other food items.
In Vokeo and Koil, East Sepik, galip nuts were traded for sago, taro, yam and cassava.
Similar trades were practiced in other smaller islands including Arawe, Musau in New Ireland, Duke of York Island in East New Britain and Nissan Island in Bougainville.
Galip nut has a storage life of more than a year in the villages.
To store it, the pulp is removed and sun dried before putting into storages baskets for drying over the fire place.
The fresh nut after cracking is perishable and has to be eaten immediately.
Although galip is an important indigenous food with potential as a new commodity, it is imperative that traditional knowledge and the limited scientific knowledge about its uses are documented.
The National Agricultural Research Institute is leading research in this valuable species that has a commercial potential for PNG.