Archives for category: culture


































This is building off the work of the great Russian scientist Nikolai Vavilov who documented the centers of origin of cultivated plants, and their wild relatives.   Each drawing of a geographical area is followed by a key to the plants depicted.  The trinity is composed of the land, plants, women and children.  Thank you earth.  Thank you goddesses of fertility.


























I heard about Tafa’i’s adventures in an old timer’s book about Polynesian navigation.  He was a righteous dude who set Tahiti in place back in the day when Tahiti was a big ol fish.  He cut its sinews with a long hard spear and the fish could swim no more.


Then with his buddies in a double hulled canoe they sailed and paddled everywhere in the ocean.  Tafa’i pulled up more lunkers with his fishhook and set them in place as islands.  He plotted maps so that they could return with women and kids, taro, pigs, coconut, breadfruit, and dogs.


Much later on in the story, he had to battle a man-swallowing kava monster in order to win the favor of a Hawaiian princess and her court of royalty. Of course, he was victorious, and even brought his dead cousins back to life.  But instead of marrying the princess, he goes back to Tahiti and marries a local girl, lives happily ever after.

plants and magic

About a decade ago we set up a day of festivities and speakers celebrating the connection between plants and spirit.  It was sponsored by the San Francisco Botanical Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers.  There was representation from a handful of cultural traditions.  So before the main event (Dr Plotkin), Gamo Da Paz got the crowd dancing to the drums of samba-reggae and Candomble, and Feroz presided over the kava lounge.  Feroz was from Fiji, he brought his bowl and made some nice strong kava.  In every bowl there was smiles and hospitality, kindness and family.  That was my first taste of kava, thanks Feroz!



So kava belongs to a big family named Piperaceae.  There are several thousand members in this family, mostly from the warm and wet regions of the world.  The two primary genera are Peperomia and Piper.  Around these parts, we know Peperomia as our little indoor friend with the roundish or heart shaped leaves.  The Piper we are familiar with in the kitchen is the spice that gives us black pepper and white pepper.  Piper nigrum.  Kava is Piper methysticum, the intoxicating pepper.

Some six or seven years ago a big storm knocked down a bunch of monterey cypress trees at our school.  Somebody craned two whole trees to our yard for some reason, and we ended up chunking them into pieces for chainsaw practice with our tree care class.  Took five or six sessions.  Lucky we had Martin Kutches Jr and his husqy in the class or else we’d still be whittling away.  Anyhow, I salvaged a few big chunks of the material, and hoarded it for some future use.

This spring,  a nice Samoan lady came asking for a kava bowl so that she could do a presentation in her Plant Identification class with Ms. Charmain Giuliani.  The cypress log was now wanted and went to meet Mr Stihl.  Andreas Stihl.


This was the rough cuts all chainsaw.  There was quite a bit of rot in the piece which required some patching.  Thinking back, I probably should have researched what authentic bowls looked like before I got started.  At this stage, I got design input, some polynesian patterns, a request for turtles and dolphins, and began to dremel away.


There is a concave turtle shell inside the bowl, four legs, and a head.  Ok, lets take her to ceremony!


The plant. Comes to us from Carolyn at the Park nursery and Martin Grantham of San Francisco State University, horticulturists extraordinaire.


Our lovely host.  Anonymous here but well known in our garden world.  Good little turtle.


Kneading the root to release its power.  Bowl inside of the bowl because the tung oil had not yet totally dried on the wood,  and best not to mix it with the flavor of kava.  Too bad you cant join us for a coconut bowl of the best stuff.  Drink up!

Tung oil, that comes from a species of Aleurites tree in the Euphorbiaceae family.  Its cousin is the kukui nut tree.  Yup, you probably have one of those shiny black nut necklaces.  Okay, back to the islands, and back to work!  Leave the spurges for another day!












The little machines are powerful and addictive.  Time flies in cyberspace.  How much is enough?  Please share these pictures with the little ones and let me know…









D9 1:2


The San Francisco Unified School district passes out a survey and application to the students each year for meal benefits.


At the bottom of the application is this box:


Many categories are mixed up here, and it is possible that parents and guardians are confused when choosing which box to check.  Do we agree on what Race is?  Where do we come from?  What is your ethnic identity?

The categories presented encompass color, nationality, geography, ancestry, nativity, and culture.  These are distinct entities, and create confusion when jumbled together.  A survey must be internally consistent in order to understand the changes in our culture.

The worst part is, you can mark only one ethnic identity to belong to.

If I was a Mexican kid, I would check ‘Of Hispanic or Latino Origin’ (for the Spanish side with names like Martinez, Garcia, and Sandoval), ‘White’ (for the fair kings and queens with names like Ferdinand and Isabel), and ‘American Indian or Alaskan Native’ (for the Aztecs, Mixtecs, Zapotecs, Huichols, Tzotzils, Nahuatls, Tarahumara, Maya and so on).  That is three boxes – which one to check!?

If I was a Filipino kid, I would check ‘Of Hispanic or Latino Origin’ (for the five hundred years Spaniards were in the islands), ‘Asian’, and ‘White’ (for the Spaniards and Americans).  The box for ‘Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander’ is not far off either.  Some Pacific Islanders migrated out of South East Asia and made their way across the Pacific in large canoes two thousand years ago; Filipinos are Pacific Islanders.  Add the presence and mixing of North Africans (Moors) in Spain for about five hundred years (~800 AD to 1300 AD) and that is another box (‘African –American’) to check.  Does ‘African-American’ refer to being from Africa the continent, or from Africa the color black?  Number of boxes?  I lost count!  One box?!

If I was a Puerto Rican kid, I’d check the box for the ‘American Indian or Alaskan Native’ (the Tainos), ‘Black or African-American’ (to honor the slaves who survived the sugar cane plantations in the Caribbean), ‘White’ (the Spanish side), as well as ‘Of Hispanic or Latino Origin’.  Four boxes.

Then there are the Caucasian kids with the Chinese eyes and dark frizzy hair; the Asians with the hazel eyes and hairy chests; the ‘Blacks’ who come in all shades of brown and peach and hail from India to Madagascar to Fiji; there are the Cherokees, Haida, Kiowa, Choctaw, who have mixed with railroad workers, slaves, overseers, fur traders, and adventurers…

If your town is anything like San Francisco, a little romance is in the air and people do what people do.  They fall in love.  Here, it is out of fashion to stone somebody because they are in love with someone of the wrong                          .  Love and commitment, that’s what’s important!  So we got Samoans with blacks, blacks with whites, whites with Japanese, Japanese with Koreans, Koreans with Chinese, Chinese with El Salvadorians, El Salvadorians with Jordanians, and so on and so forth.  The young know little of past wars, animosities, and blood grudges.  Luckily, we all communicate in English, sort of.  Start checking boxes for the children of these unions and forget it – we need a different survey!  Find new definitions!

For data to reveal patterns, it is important that categories and questions are simple, clear, unambiguous, and consistent.  There are five separate categories in this revised survey.  The survey is for fun and for thought; maybe one day they can use it on a meal benefit survey.

(1)  Color is color of skin.  (2) Geographical movement tracks the movement of mothers through time – emigration and immigration.  (3) Ancestry refers to the mixing of human lineages through peaceful or violent means, as well as the genes that evolved in isolation over long periods of time.  (4) Nativity is the level at which you are grounded on this earth.  (5) Culture is something one identifies with; it is a category that can be entirely distinct from color or ancestry – in the case of adoptions, for example.  Or, in the cultural osmosis that occurs through close contact over time (hanging out in the same neighborhood, diffusion of music, nannies and caregivers).

Take pride in yourself!  Recognize the contributions of your ancestors!

(1) Color of skin.  Average the colors between your belly, face, and top of your feet.  Choose one. (me, I am a ‘clay pot’)


(2) Geographical movement.  What continent was your mother born on?  Circle one.

Australia       Europe       Asia                  Africa      America       Arctic       unknown

(3) Ancestry:  Going back approximately four generations (count up to your great great grandma and grandpa), what is the makeup of your genetics?  In other words, what land do your family and people come from?  Keep in mind that national borders are lines humans draw on the earth.  Tribal peoples are widespread.  Empires and wars have been frequent.  Ancestries have been disguised, cloaked, and forgotten.  Rivers change courses and mountain ranges rise and fall.

Look for the place names on a map.  Below, circle all that apply to you, count them up, and write down the number of ancestral threads you represent here:                                   

Lands surrounded by the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, the North Sea, and the Baltic Sea

Lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea

Lands of the Pyrenees and Alps Mountains, Rhine and Danube Rivers

Lands of Volga  and Ob Rivers, Lake Baikal

Lands of the Nile River and Sahara Desert

Lands of the Niger and Congo Rivers, Great Rift Valley

Lands surrounding the Arabian Sea and Red Sea, Tigris and Euphrates Rivers

Land of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Rocky Mountains, Appalachian Mountains, Mississippi River, Rio Grande River, Yukon River

Lands in and around the Caribbean Sea

Lands along the Sierra Madre Mountains, between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea

Land of the Andes Mountains and Amazon River, Parana River

Land of the Himalaya Mountains, Indus and Ganges Rivers

Land of the Tibetan plateau, Gobi Desert, Huang and Yangtze Rivers

Lands near the Mekong River

Islands in and around the South China Sea, Java Sea, and Flores Sea

Lands of the Ayers Rock, Great Dividing Range, and Murray-Darling River

Lands surrounded by the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean

Islands of the Pacific Ocean

(4) Nativity:

Where are you native?  To where do you owe the greatest allegiance?  Where are you grounded to?  Circle one.

My garden.

My river valley, forest, or grassland.

My street and neighborhood.

My favorite sports team.

My village, town, or city.

My state or province.

My country.

My continent.

My planet.

My solar system.

Outer space, I am not native to planet earth.

(5) Culture:

Who do you identify with?  Circle one broad cultural (food) identity that best embodies your personal experiences and tastes here in America. Ok, this question only looks at food.  Culture is HUGE!!  No worries, just circle the one that strikes your fancy and makes your mouth water.

Potato and meat culture

Bread and cheese culture

Corn and beans culture

Rice and vegetables culture

Wheat garbanzos culture

Chili pepper culture

Taro and pig culture

Fish and crab culture

Okay, enough goofing around.  Back to work!