In honor of Shark Week we’re bringing you a recipe from the island of Papua New Guinea where people continue to practice the ancient practice of shark calling. The Chicken Pot is a simple dish imbued with the flavors of the islands and reminiscent of the meals the ancient villagers would have eaten. All of the ingredients can be found on the islands and are still eaten today. Before we dig in to a delicious meal, let’s learn more about the shark callers of Papua New Guinea.
According to the archaeological evidence, people arrived in Papua New Guinea approximately 50,000 years ago and began populating various parts of the islands with tribes and clans that developed in complete isolation from one another. The rugged terrain made it nearly impossible for tribes to communicate, so the various peoples developed their own distinct cultures and practices. One of the most isolated areas was the small island that would come to be known as New Ireland. When German colonizers came in the 19th century they found a people with strong religious practices and a deep belief in their traditions. One of the most unusual and fascinating practices was shark calling that grew out of their system of religion. This tradition as well as their spiritual beliefs continue today.
The people of New Ireland practice ancestor worship and believe the spirits of the departed continue to communicate and offer guidance; indeed, the ancestor spirits reside in the nature that surrounds them every day. Their creator Moroa is much like the Judeo-Christian God in that he formed the world and everything in it, including the shark. In fact, the creation legend of Lembe, the shark, is incredibly detailed. Lembe was created before man in a time called “tulait,” the period between the end of the night and the beginning of the new day. The shark’s belly was therefore split into two parts: The left could sense danger and the right would allow the shark to approach a canoe without fear. The legend goes on in great detail and eventually describes how Moroa gave the people the ability to communicate with and ensnare the great Lembe, but only if they followed specific rules, including using a particular handmade noose and subduing the animal by hand when it fought against its entrapment.
Today, shark callers see this tradition as a divine right and are extremely proud that it has not been eradicated by colonization or modernization. They have no fear of the sharks that terrify the rest of us because they believe they can see or sense sharks in advance and are prepared to catch one at any time. To visit one of the villages that practices shark calling is truly to step back in time and find a reverence for an animal that is so misunderstood and underappreciated.
So this Shark Week as we are terrified and delighted by the images on our televisions, pay honor to these kings of the sea and the people of Papua New Guinea who cherish them by cooking up a big Chicken Pot redolent of this island’s special history.
*Recipe adapted from http://www.pngbuai.com/600technology/cookery/page41-recipes-png.pdf.
- Whole chicken cut into serving pieces
- A bit of oil (olive, vegetable or coconut will work)
- Kaukau (or sweet potato) cut into bite-sized pieces
- A bunch of green onions
- Pumpkin, coarsely chopped
- Cobs of corn
- 3 ½ cups of coconut milk
- Salt to taste
- Curry powder to taste
- Place chicken in the pot with a little bit of oil.
- Chop kaukau (or sweet potato) and place on top of chicken.
- Coarsely chop green onion and add to the pot.
- Add coarsely chopped pumpkin to the pot.
- Peel and break corn to place on top of greens.
- Pour coconut milk over the meat and vegetables to cover.
- Cover and bring to a boil.
- Cook gently for 30-40 minutes.
- Add salt and curry powder.
- Serve as a meal. You could separate the vegetables and meat for serving and place the liquid in a container to serve as a sauce or soup.
 Embassy of Papua New Guinea to the Americas, Washington, DC. (n.d.). Retrieved August 11, 2014.
 Eilperin, J. (2011). Demon fish: Travels through the hidden world of sharks. New York: Pantheon Books.
 Fleet, J. (2012, August 26). Shark Callers: The Daring Spiritual Practice Of Papua New Guinea (PHOTOS). Retrieved August 11, 2014.