Yams or ‘ufi are regarded as a delicacy by natives of the Island Kingdom of Tonga. The cultivation of yams is a complex process requiring special skills and effort for its planting and upkeep. The grower has to visit the plantation from time to time to touch up the yam mounds and make sure that the creeping branches are not affected by weeds.
Even in times when the yam plantation is free from weeds and everything looks fine, the grower is urged to just stay around as his presence is customarily believed to mystically link him with the yam plant and this attention or care will lead to a production of a successful crop of big yams! Some elders also advise that yams need to be given physical and emotional care to produce a good harvest.
Ufi Kahokaho or Kahokaho yam is regarded by Tongans as ‘ufi ‘eiki – chiefly yam and it is planted in the month of June, one month earlier before all other yams are planted towards the end of July.
But Mr.Tevita Pifeleti from the village of Ma’ofanga in Tongatapu has a very different story when Kaniva approached him trying to unveil his secret of how he manages to produce a good rich harvest of yams year after year. He shared with us his custom of placing his pulopula – yam seed in the hole on the Good Friday of every year which is in April.
This practice is not common and contrary to the traditional planting procedure as yams in Tonga can only be planted either in June or towards the end of July. Mr.Pifeleti’s yearly planting period begins when the other yam growers start clearing up and removing bushes from their planting site.
He emphasized also that the dug-up soil from the hole for the yams, when they are to be returned to the holes before placing the seeds on top need to be lightly stamped on. He said some growers just only swept the soils through into the hole but they need to be well covered.
“ I will not indulge you any further, or others might learn of my secrets and produce yams that are bigger and better than mine,” he said with a hearty laugh. Mr Pifeleti has been growing yams for the past 30 years and over this time he has acquired a sound knowledge of the growing conditions required for successful yam production.
Although he is made fun of because of this early time of planting, Mr Pifeleti told Kaniva that he has seen the benefits of this planting practice and that is the only reason why he scooped many awards on numerous occasions especially at their Mosimosi Club’s Annual Yam Show.
Mr.Pifeleti can proudly boast about the fact that his family can eat yams right throughout the year. They have so many yams they enjoy eating something different!
Unlike the Pifeleti’s, it is rare these days for families in Tonga to have yams for their daily meal because of the cost of purchasing it from the Market place. The intensive nature of the planting and growing process makes it an expensive crop to grow.
In 2011 when their Mosimosi Club had their polopolo – the harvesting of the yams, Pifeleti was awarded the winner in every category including the best tāuvao – the best yams given to the owner of the planting site, the longest yam and some other awards.
Mr.Tevita Pifeleti is married to Mrs Akata with children.