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Uga = Niue's Coconut Crab

(Birgus Latro Niuenses)

Ugas inhabited Niue long before Captain Cook was attracted by locals using coconut crabs as an intimidating instrument of pain, instead of spears. The bite of a big Uga can do severe damage to your fingers. These delicious things walk happily on the coastal roads of Niue, without respecting the tourists and never giving way on roads for them.

Ugas are born out at sea and later climb the cliffs searching for nice round ripe coconuts, and of course, a charming Miss Uga. They don't go very far on land, incursion in the forest for about 2 km only. More than that, the soil gets too dry for them and they enter the risk of becoming coconut oil instead of crab. Ugas are slow creatures, in reality much slower than me. Their pace reminds myself of coming home after work with a beer in one hand and the jacket in the other. In a race between a turtle and an Uga, probably both will win. For this reason, Ugas are decreasing in number in the South Pacific to a point some countries such as Vanuatu, had already prohibited Ugas to be served in restaurants.

Nobody knows for sure how many Ugas live in Niue. Certainly more than the number of Niueans. An estimative made in 1990 reached the conclusion that there are 181,000 coconut crabs in Niue, which is a very small number especially taking in consideration that most Niueans love the taste of Ugas.This number divided by 20.000 of more Niueans (in Niue and overseas) gives the conclusion that each Niuean has the right to eat 9 Ugas in 6 years (time that takes for Ugas to become mature). This number means something around half an Uga per year for each person. More than that means extinction. Am I right?. No, wrong!. I forgot to take in consideration natural deaths and attacks by pets, cats, and other animals to their eggs and little Ugas. It is much worse than that.

Coconut crabs can grow up to 4 kilos, with Males in Niue having an average  thoracic length of 32 mm and Females 29 mm. They can live up to 40 years of age and this constitutes a problem because it will be very difficult to find a pot large enough to cook them. Once in the forest, they are territorial and they come back to the sea only to lay eggs. Some times, Ugas in Niue go for a stroll on the road with the clear purpose of terrifying tourists. They cross the road as slow as the sun takes to burn your head as you slowly wait for them in the car to finish crossing. On one of these occasions, I got my head completely burned and brain cooked so i decided to get even and to cook his brain too, so we split a nice Uga between four people.

A Uga tastes like Uga. It is a mix of eating lobster with crab and fish covered  with coconut cream, and having a drink that is full of coconut oil. It is very oily, very good for lubrificating the maxillaris bones, tongue, and anal cavity, in other words, your entire digestive system. After eating a couple of portions, the sensation is that you had a whole can of WD40. The best side dishes to go with Uga are the "Lu" a kind of spinach made with taro leaves and a portion of smashed pumpkin (both with coconut cream on the top). For desert, we suggest smashed paw paw with coconut cream (Known in Niue as "Poke Loku" - Instead of season with salt, season with sugar). Before you feel full and start thinking you became a coconut palm, the drink suggested by us is fresh coconut water with vodka to washaway.

Ugas love to play. Their preferences are the rubbers from you diving mask and also your fingers, which they think are coconut meat ready to be broken in a half and eaten. There is only one way to make an Uga open his claws which is to get a stick and stick it in his bum.

 

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