A King's Coronation and the Treasure Hunt for Vanilla

Malo e lelei from Tonga. As Haniteli Fa’anunu says, it’s not a catchy greeting like Bula in Fijian or Aloha in Hawaiian, but it’s special: It means Thanks to God that you are well. So, I hope you all are well. We are well and happy here in the Kingdom.

King George Tupou VI has been crowned, and Tonga’s main island is emptying. The army bands of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and more paraded in the streets, which were lit up at night and during the day blazed with flags and banners. Everyone was in town: the population probably quadrupled or more.

On the vanilla beans front, things are quieting down as well. The markets for the green vanilla beans (or as I’ve started calling them, in order to convey the importance of ripeness, yellow vanilla beans) will close soon, and we will finish out the curing season.

In Vava’o we spent time with two kings of vanilla, Haniteli Fa’anunu and Alipati Guttenbeil, which gave us a taste of the work that’s left to do. For now, ‘Eua is where most of the growing is happening, because it’s the island where growers are still doing intercropping—planting other shorter-term cash crops alongside the vanilla, so that they can tend to the vanilla vines as needed while harvesting and planting yam, pineapple, kava, etc. The problem with vanilla is that it’s an investment: and an investment that doesn’t pay off every year, since the prices fluctuate so drastically.

Vava’o, though, has the climate most suited to vanilla. It’s much warmer, for one thing. The vanilla beans aren’t as long (in ‘Eua we’ve seen gourmet vanilla as long as 27 centimeters!), but their vanillin content is extremely high. Again, the most important thing for spectacular vanilla extract.

We will be working out of ‘Eua for at least the next several weeks. Once things are settled, we will head to our plantation in Fiji to look at potential expansion.

Much to do, as always.

Prices for the green/yellow vanilla beans have stayed high here. Madagascar markets will open soon, and I look forward to a market report from there shortly. So stay tuned.

‘Ofa atu,
Susannah and Margaret

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