Toddy: The national drink of Kiribati Aristocracy

Every male child in Kiribati is expected to learn climbing and toddy cutting from very early age just as a female child is expected to learn cooking and weaving from very early age. Toddy cutting is the art of tapping a coconut sap from the flowers of a coconut tree contained and held together in a structure called a spathe upon which the coconuts grow and mature.

The spathe at the right age of about 28 days from the time it first appears is tied and bound by a long piece of string which is wound around the spathe from its base up to its top, then cut at the top end repeatedly with a sharp razor- like knife every 12 hours or so until a sap starts to drip down and ready for collection with a coconut shell or a bottle. A coconut shell or a bottle is designed to enable efficient collection of the sap. A good healthy coconut tree can produce 5 to 6 liters of toddy every 12 hours. Toddy in its fresh state is sweet and nourishing, but when allowed to stand in room temperature for more than 12 hours is sour and alcoholic. When cooked, the whitish colour of toddy turns yellowish brown and becomes a syrup concentrated in sugar and other fruit like substances that with an odour like burnt coconut meat suitable for ice cream topping, food and drink flavouring. Toddy is very rich in vitamins and minerals and is sometimes used for supplementing the diet of malnourished babies or patients. Singing on top of a coconut tree in the morning and in the evening is characteristic of a toddy cutter. A good singer is often synonymous with a good toddy cutter who would prefer choosing a tall coconut tree over a short ones as he can sing more songs and louder when dealing with the former. It is believed that the art of toddy originated in Asia and was carried to the Pacific by people who moved from Asia to South East Asia and eventually to the islands of the Pacific. Many visitors to Kiribati ask for a drink of fresh toddy. It tastes best when chilled or on ice. A visitor who has not tasted toddy would naturally have difficulty in claiming that he or she had been in the real Kiribati.