Makmōk (Tacca leontopetaloides - Taccaceae)

"Eab jib in makmōk wot"
"Be cautious of what you do or it will turn quickly against you,"
Referring to the way makmōk (arrowroot) suddenly rises and explodes in one's face while it is being cooked.

Description: This large stemless herb grows from a starchy tuber. The deeply grooved leaves are broad, divided into three parts, and stand erect up to 1 m (3 ft) tall. The striking flowers and fruit are borne on top of a long hollow stalk that grows up to 1 m (3 ft) above the leaves.

Distribution: Makmōk was probably brought to the Marshall Islands by ancient Micronesian voyagers. It is now commonly found growing wild or semi-wild, often near the strand vegetation, on all but the very dry atolls.

Uses: The roots of makmōk have long been a very important source of starchy food in the Marshall Islands. It is still a significant food crop on some of the outer atolls. Makmōk requires a great deal of work in processing before it is fit to eat. According to one story (Erdland cited by Wendler), the trickster Etao made arrowroot bitter to punish people for their greediness. His daughters had been eating the roots before they were mature. And so it was that Letao added to the burden of labor that is the lot of humankind. Although makmōk grows wild, it requires attention from humans to produce large healthy roots suitable for refining into food. (Burning a field of makmok, for example, will stimulate growth.) Many Marshallese believe that makmōk plants are generally smaller now due to nuclear testing; others argue that people no longer look after the plant and do the things necessary to make it grow large and healthy. Thus, although nuclear testing has caused great harm, it may not explain why makmōk has become smaller in recent years. Makmōk has also been used in the Marshall Islands as a source of medicine and children sometimes use the seeds as toy projectiles.

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