Karen Coates writes: Late in January, I boarded a long-haul flight, 27 hours and 5 minutes, 9,405 miles, three connections. I packed emergency Larabars (food for quick energy), ordered gluten-free meals (a topic for discussion another day), and thought about my meeting with the king of Boti.
Boti is a small kingdom in the Indonesian state of East Nusa Tenggara on the island of Timor. Centuries ago, this region was populated by dozens of small indigenous kingdoms, but most no longer exist in this vast and multicultural republic now united under the flag of Indonesia. Still, the villagers of Boti hold tight to their traditional customs and life from the land: They weave clothes from cotton they grow, and they never wear shoes. They make dishes from coconut shells, bags from banyan roots, candles from nuts, and tools from wood.
In 2002, my husband and I trekked 6 miles through parched, deforested hills, toward the secluded village, to meet the king, who was 96 at the time. He greeted us on his front porch. There, at his home, we were served coffee alongside bananas and sweet potatoes grown on site. The bananas were plump and juicy, not at all mealy or dull. There is a complexity to the flavor of a great banana—plucked fresh—that is experienced only in the tropics, eaten at the origins. So many wonderful bananas never make it to stores in the West.
The king, Ama Nune Benu, sat on a painted wooden chair on his porch, twisting a long root into a rope, as he told us about his way of life. “We are close with the nature,” he said. City folk are not. City folk do not work the land and grow their own food, he told us. “I have 10 fingers. If I use these 10 fingers to get something to eat, I feel better.” Processed, store-bought foods are humanity’s downfall, according to the king. [Continue reading…]