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WAMENA, Irian Jaya (June 20, 1999 - Jakarta Post/Kabar-Irian)---White, pristine salt, a mineral substance in the form of grains used to season and preserve food, has been considered a valuable commodity since time began.

What we know of salt, in the form of minute cubicle grains, is that it has its origins from seawater. However, in Yimika village, Wamena, Irian Jaya, locals do not make salt from the seawater. Salt is made here by submerging a stem of a banana tree and young banana leaves in a spring of salt water on Mount Kika, about 400 meters (1,320 feet) above sea level.

The way the Yimika villagers make salt is quite different from the way salt is made in Madura, on Java, the best-known place for salt making in Indonesia, or elsewhere in the world.

Every day Yimika villagers and other rural people from around climb Mount Kika in great numbers to make salt and also to draw salt water, which they will use for drinking water back home.

"The spring of salt water on Mount Kika has been there for a long time. We do not know when this spring began," said Yacob, 22, a villager from Yimika.

"Many foreign and local tourists have visited the location of this spring despite the difficulty entailed in climbing the mountain," he added.

The salt-making process followed by Yimika villagers is quite simple. What may be difficult for them is bringing the stem of a banana tree to the spring because this takes quite a while and extra energy to do it.

After the young banana leaves and the stem have been cleaned, the leaves are cut into small pieces. These pieces are then placed on an old banana tree, which will later be put in the water. In the meantime, the stem is crushed slowly so that it produces sap and then it is submerged in the water.

The process of salting the leaves and the stem takes about one to two hours, so while they are waiting some people burn dry twigs to warm themselves, since it is quite cold on the mountain.

After the salting process is completed, the villagers take out the leaves and stem and dry them in the sun. Some, however, directly eat the salted banana leaves while others are busy drawing water to take home.

"Almost every day I eat this in addition to areca nut mixed with betel stems. It is nice and will make you feel physically good," said Sonya, a girl from Yimika, in her native tongue.

Migrant people living here as well as foreign and domestic tourists are all charmed by this natural wonder and they also want to taste the salted banana leaves.

"I have never had salted banana leaves before. Well, they are nice," said Danny, a bachelor from Manado, North Sulawesi, now residing here.

After eating the salted banana leaves, some of the villagers climb down the mountain taking with them the grayish shriveled stems which they will put under the sun to dry back home.

If these people wish to salt food then they will burn the dried stem and spread the ashes on to season it. The Yimika villagers keep the salty ashes by wrapping them up in a banana leaf after mixing them with a little water.

KABAR IRIAN ("Irian News")

Website: http://www.irja.org

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