ʻUlu Ambassador: Uncle Ricky Rocker

Uncle Ricky Rocker

Ric Rocker LOVES ‘ulu.

“ʻUlu is the greatest food plant on the earth,” he said. 

Ric came to Hawaiʻi in 1968 and lived in the wild for three and a half years without using U.S. currency. He lived solely on fruit, occasionally supplementing with ripe ʻulu if there was nothing else to eat.

“When I came back into the world the first foods I ate were fish (that i speared) and ʻulu,” Ric said.

Ric yearned to live in a place where people still lived in the “old style way.” In 1973, at 25-years-old, he stumbled upon Ponape, before it became modernized and renamed ​​Pohnpei.

“There were no tourists or white people outside of the airport town of Kolonia,” Ric said. “I was adopted by the Nanmarki (vice king) of Madolenihmw (one of the five districts in Ponape).

At the time foreigners were only allowed to stay on the island for two weeks, but Ric was privileged to be able to spend six months living in the small village of Enibus. There were no stores and very little money. Instead, the island was rich in coconut and ‘ulu trees, or, to Ric, “the trees of life.”

“On islands like Ponape they were basically all you needed,” Ric said. “ʻUlu is the only carbohydrate that does not have to be planted annually. When a child is born in Ponape its parents plant seven ʻulu trees and seven coconut trees to begin to sustain the child for its life. Because 'ulu only has to be planted once and grows so easily, over the course of its 50+ year lifespan, it yields more food for less labor than any other crop. It is virtually bulletproof, and so ʻono.”

During that time Ric discovered several varieties of ‘ulu. Since he was there during ‘ulu season, and the Ponapeans lived entirely off the land, he enjoyed it for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. When the ʻulu ran out they would eat kalo, uhi, cassava and ʻuala.

Ricʻs uhi "foot" circa 1975 in Honaunau

He became totally immersed in Ponapean traditional culture and developed a deep reverence for these indigenous crops and their preparations. Sometimes he would help make marr – fermented ʻulu that was stored for times of hurricanes or tropical storms when their crops were destroyed – other times he simply enjoyed preparing ʻulu pulehu-style, cooked in an open fire.

“I basically learned everything I know about life and plants in those six months,” Ric said, “and have been eating 'ulu as a serious part of my diet for the past 50 years.”

Uncle Rickyʻs Recipe: ʻUlu Cooked in “Real” Coconut Milk

See Featured Recipe

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