October 13, 2005

By Dr. Lois Englberger
The Kaselehlie Press

Through efforts of the FSM Philatelic Bureau of the FSM Postal Service and support by the Island Food Community of Pohnpei an exciting new issue of Karat banana postal stamps has now arrived. This commemorative issue is to be released on October 16, in conjunction with World Food Day, to create awareness of the high health and cultural values of this local food.

A First Day of Issue Ceremony, organized by Mr. Bethwel Henry, FSM Postmaster General, is to be held Friday 14 October at 3 p. m. at the PMA Studio, with Governor Johnny P. David presenting the main address. Special tribute will be given to the late Mr. Sintaro K. Ezra, who was instrumental in developing the series. The issue was developed by the Inter-Governmental Philatelic Corporation of New York.

Karat banana has been common in Micronesia for centuries and is still well-known in Pohnpei as the traditional infant food. It is known as Usr Kulasr in Kosrae, Taanaan in Chuuk, and Arai in Yap. A French scientist came to Kosrae in 1824 and documented that it was the most common banana in Kosrae at that time. However, it has become rare in all of Micronesia in recent years.

The FSM Karat stamp issue features four different stamps at commonly used denominations: 4 cents, 10 cents, 22 cents, and 37 cents. The photos, contributed by Dr. Lois Englberger and Mr. Luigi Guarino, demonstrate the deep yellow-orange color of Karat flesh, a Karat bunch and plant, and a mother feeding her child with Karat banana.

It is very fitting that the person presented in the mother-child photo is Ms. Mihne Pretrick, who wrote a paper on the importance of Karat banana and presented it at the Pacific Science Symposium in Hawaii in 2004. She is also the granddaughter of Dr. Eliuel Pretrick, who has done much to promote Karat and healthy island foods.

This special message is printed on each stamp sheet: "Karat has a very unusual texture for a banana. It is very smooth, and thus perfect for babies as their first food to complement breast milk, at around six months."

Analyses on ripe Karat were initiated in 1998, finding that it is a rich source of the precursor to vitamin A, beta-carotene, up to 100 times higher than levels in white-fleshed bananas. It also contains other carotenoids. Further research showed that Karat contains high levels of riboflavin (Vitamin B2), niacin (another B vitamin), and alpha-tocopherol (Vitamin E), all essential for good health. Consuming Karat can help protect against diabetes, heart disease, cancer, vitamin A deficiency disorders, and weak blood (anemia).

Karat has become world-famous; see KP July 22-Aug. 4, 2004 and articles in newspapers in many countries, including the United Kingdom, Italy, France, China, and India. So buy the unique Karat stamps for adorning your next letter or card and help create more awareness of this very valuable and unique Micronesian food! and if you have land, be sure to plant Karat, and help provide Karat for your family and others.