Solomon Islands boasts some of the most delicious bananas we’ve ever eaten and there are over 200 varieties to try. Coming from a country where we have a choice of two imported bananas from Ecuador, we are truly spoiled for choice.
Going to the market you will be faced with two choices: eating bananas, and cooking bananas.
Of course, they’re all eating bananas, but eating bananas are the no-admin-required banana experience: the peel and eat. In the Solomons, bananas are so sweet they make bananas at home taste like boiled potatoes and we find ourselves complaining, ‘This banana is too sweet’. Bananas are also so plentiful here, it’s another good reason to be so damned ungrateful and why we’re all so bloody sick of banana cake.
For us, our favourite kind is a short, robust and snack-sized specimen characterised by its orange tint. On the other hand, the most commonly served eating bananas in Honiara, despite looking worryingly unripe, are a long and skinny green type.
Then there are cooking bananas, what the rest of the world calls plantains. Cooking bananas are a hybrid between a potato and a banana, much like eating bananas at home. Most of the time they are bigger than eating bananas and need to be cooked. We like turning them into chips, and throwing them into curries and stews. Locals serve them boiled or motued (underground oven) and are excellent paired with fish and slippery cabbage.
When you’re not eating bananas, they can be rich fodder for insults, bad jokes, profound reflection, or peeing competitions.
In Kwara’ae, a language from Malaita Province, the word for banana is ‘bau’. You can use it as a verb to tell people to stop banana-ing, in English, to stop being a dick.
Someone telling you lies? “Naf bau!” (“Enough dicking around”)
Someone trying to con money from you? “Naf bau!”
Somebody not giving you respect you deserve? “Naf bau!”
The taxi driver in front of you is driving 5 km an hour? “Naf bao!” (Don’t actually say this outloud otherwise they’ll demand compensation, in which case, don’t mention us.)
From Makira Ulawa Province, the Province known as banana country, one of their most famous bananas is a bright orange plantain with a veiny exterior and very yellow flesh. This is our favourite plantain because it has magical properties.
- Magical property #1. Strong human bau
- Magical property #2. It turns your pee RESPLENDENTLY yellow
Because there is nowhere to go but down from 100% we can’t confirm the veracity of magical property #1. But in regards to magical property #2, we can report neon yellow toilet bowls quite quickly after consumption. My coworker has fond memories of competitions in the river with his mates comparing whose pee was the yellowest after eating these magical plantains. These tasty plantains are so good fried up with a light dusting of cornflour, that we’ve been serving them at potlucks and dinner conversation. It’s been a hit.
Stuck with my coworkers on a barely habited island with a bunch of plantains we’d bought from the market, I overheard an intriguing phrase, “banana skin seleva”.
“What does that mean?” I asked. If ‘seleva’ means ‘self’, the banana is itself? It feels comfortable in its own skin?
My coworkers cracked up.
“Nid, it means the banana peels itself,” my colleague said.
“Okaaaaaay, but what does that mean?” I asked again, still not getting it.
“Nid, think about it. How can a banana peel itself?”
After a moment of thought, I think I got it.
“Are you talking about… the male banana?”
My coworkers cracked up again.
So apparently there is a banana from Makira that peels itself. As the banana ripens, the skin breaks and it peels itself the riper it gets. True story.
There are two meanings to the euphemism.
Firstly, it is a philosophical phrase to mean, “the inevitable will happen.”
Secondly, it also means wanking.
Whether those two meanings are related or not and whether we will ever find out, banana skin seleva.