Sunday, June 28, 2009

Metroxylon sagu - The Sago Palm

Sago palm or scientifically known as Metroxylon sagu is native to eastern Indonesia (Moluccas and Irian Jaya), Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. It was introduced to other parts of Southeast Asia.

Perhaps Sarawak has a large peat swamp area that is also infertile that sago replaces rice as the staple food for the coastal Melanaus who inhabit the swamp area. It is well to remember that attempt to plant rice in peat swamp on a large scale (one million hectare at a cost of US$500 million in The Central Kalimantan Mega Rice Project and known locally as PLG) in Kalimantan during the Suharto era in 1995 was a failure.

This controversial project planned to move more than 300,000 families from Java to central Kalimantan to help make Indonesia self-sufficient in rice. Indigenous Dayak communities were displaced as forests were cleared and canals dug to drain the land, but transmigrant farmers soon found that rice would not grow there. The combination of dry peat and dead timber led to further disaster when fires followed the long dry season in 1997. Weeks of thick smoke affected people's health and the burning peat contributed significantly to increased global carbon emissions. The project was officially abandoned in 1999, but the whole area remains devastated and local people have been deprived of their livelihoods.The drainage canals have made it easier for illegal loggers to remove any remaining timber from the area (source: Down to Earth No.76/77- International Campaign for Ecological Justice in Indonesia).”

Apart from the Melanau in Sarawak and the local population in its native habitat, sago is also the staple food for the indigenous people of the Mentawai Islands off the west coast of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean.

Sago palm flowers only once and ended its life after gregarious flowering and fruiting. During its flowering, swarms of bees (pollinators) can be found surrounding the flowers during certain times of the day, especially around noon time.

There is another form of Metroxylon sagu which is spiny and some botanists considered it as a separate species, Metroxylon rumphii.

Sago can be made into numerous products such as tabaloi, sago balls, sago pearls, etc.

And sago pearls can be used as dessert – sago and rhubarb, for instance.

Apart from Metroxylon sagu, another palm Eugeissona utilis (or pantu) is extracted for its sago by some of the indigenous groups in Sarawak such as the Penans but is inferior to that of Metroxylon sagu. Pantu grows in the inland and hill forests away from the swamp.


  1. This is really interesting....nice photos.

  2. Sarawakiana,

    Indeed sago palm is interesting as it was introduced and then shaped the culture and culinary of the coastal people.