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Enao is crucial to understanding yam gardening in Auhelawa. It has no equivalent term in English. It is hard even to approximate it with an etic analysis of the practice of enao. Enao is simply enao.

Roughly, enao is the system of practices through which a gardener cultivates yams, especially ʻwateya (Dioscorea alata). Yet it is more than this because yams are difficult to grow well, and the purpose of yam gardening is to create what Auhelawa gardeners call “plenty” of food, and especially the capacity for a harvest to meet every social obligation in the coming year while also feeding the gardener's family, and propagating seed lines for each of its children. Enao is tough, challenging work, and to be committed to enao is to be virtuous and disciplined.

If enao has a mood, it's quiet patience. Yams mature over at least seven months, and need to be tended practically every day during all of that time. Yam plantings must be continually checked for disease and poor growth, and weeded thoroughly several times over the growing period. Someone performing enao is by definition dagelabiga (hardworking, literally “bent back”). The Auhelawa gardener must “embrace the suck” of growing yams (Bay 2007).

According to Auhelawa gardeners, people need to do enao because they have to make the yams happy. They say that a yam that is mistreated, or perhaps not treated well all the time, will wither and die. So enao is also an emotional attitude. The gardener must tend the plants with a gentle touch. Auhelawa love to joke that if you go into the garden, you have to say “Good morning!” to the plants very happily. As the ethnographer, I want to note that there's a very strong parallel between enao as an attitude and veʻahihi (respect), which is the highly elaborated deference and avoidance that people must express to their father's matrilineal kin when they are in mourning as a matrilineage. Enao is being attuned to the needs of another and subordinating one's own needs to the other.

Auhelawa yam growing is mostly performed by women, and each family's harvest is controlled by a woman gardener. There is also close connection to enao and the maternal role in Auhelawa. Women gardeners care for these plants as members of a matrilineage and as mothers of the next generation of this matrilineage. They care for the plants as they care for children, and the overall goal of enao over many years is to pass on a line of yam seeds to these children.

In short, the translation of enao is not “yam horticulture.”


Bay, Austin. 2007. “‘Embrace the Suck’ and More Military Speak.” NPR.org. March 8, 2007. https://www.npr.org/2007/03/08/7458809/embrace-the-suck-and-more-military-speak.

enao.txt · Last modified: 2021/06/29 02:31 by