Sago beating: An example of a timeless innovation at work

In the Kurti language group area of Manus Province, producing sago is hard work. This is because it involves numerous processes, each containing smaller activities requiring the use of skills, innovation and utilizing available resources. Take for example, the first process which is the cutting down of the sago palm tree. You first have to identify the tree, make sure it has matured, then decide where the sago tree will fall when cut. This is important because failure to place it correctly will mean the tree palm tree falls and breaks into several pieces. It doesn’t break off but the outer shell covering is broken making it very difficult to remove the outer covering of the palm tree. Even when you are actually beating the sago, the sago pulp will fall through the crack and be lost. Losing sago means loosing food. Even the crown of the fallen tree must be intact as some of it’s parts will be used to create the basin for washing the sago. This is only the first part of the other processes that need to be done but you can already see the type of work that must be done to make sure the work of producing sago is easier to manage.

In the Kurti language group area of Manus Province, the men stand upright alongside the fallen sago palm and beat the sago with the wooden bow.

Some of the processes involve men and some processes are for women. For example, after the sago tree is felled, the outer hard bark like covering of the sago palm must be removed with an iron digging bar. It requires that a man must be physically strong to handle and maneuver the steel bar and must be experienced enough to plow the outer bark off. Meanwhile another process is that of the sharpening of a bamboo piece to put at the end of the sago beating bow. In this process, a man must go into the bush, look for right bamboos, cut them and bring them back to the place where the fallen sago is.  He must sharpen the bamboo and place it on the end of the wooden tool used to beat the sago. Even the intricate part of sharpening the bamboo takes time and skill to master the right edge required for beating the sago. Another process is that actual sago beating. One must stand beside the sago and swing the wooden bow to ‘beat’ the sago flesh into pulp. Improper stance will make a person swing the wooden sago beating bow awkwardly resulting in the bamboo piece breaking. Striking the sago with the bow is a repeated process so one must adjust themselves into a stance that enables them to strike in a rhythmic cycle. Then men pack the fine pulp into bags and then bring them to where the women will be washing the sago. This is just three processes so far for the men.

Some of the processes involve women. The women also have their own work cut out for them. They have to manually build a filtration system using some parts of the crown of the the sago palm, matting of the sago palm, maybe some pieces of a mosquito net and sago leaves. The decanting part of the sago washing system needs to be a place where the water for the washed sago is captured. This may include a dugout canoe or a collection tray made up of canvas. After the decanting process is done, the sago is placed into bags and placed on a stand to allow more water to drain out. Then the fresh sago is taken to the house and fried to eat. These numerous processes take place each day until the whole sago palm has been beaten.

In my view there should be around 5-7 different processes that are carried out to make sure a sago production is effectively carried out. Here is my list: 1) Identification of matured sago palm tree and cutting down 2) Removing outer shell/bark of sago using a digging bar 3) Collecting and sharpening of bamboo 4) beating the sago 5) cutting and packing the sago and transporting sago to wash area 6. Washing the sago using a filtration and decanting system 7. Packing and transporting sago bags home.

Although it seems like hard work, it is essentially a show of basic innovation on display. You see, the numerous process all use bits and pieces of the objects found in the natural environment. The individual objects have been picked out from the bush, trialed and practiced over many decades and have proven to be reliable in getting the job done. Our ancestors have used these to innovative practices to develop a system of processes that work together to produce sago. I have done this video to only show the beating sago (Process part 4) where the bow is used to beat the sago. In the Kurti language group area, the men beat the sago and the women wash the sago. This short video explains and shows the process of beating sago done by men. It does not show the next process where women wash the sago. I hope I can be able to record all the steps to develop a longer more informative video. In the meantime, here is a video of myself and my male relatives beating the sago.    

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