Trip Reports

Kava Jive (23-Jul-2001-22-00):
10:00 PM local time Monday, July 23rd. (1000 July 23rd UTC). Savusavu. (See prev. missive for lat and long. Correction on UTC date on prev. missive: should be July 20th.)

A local historian here told your correspondent that Fiji was originally colonized by Yale University in the third century but the colony was pillaged by a seagoing band of Picts a few hundred years later and destroyed. I tended to dismiss this until I met a Fijian from the bush who otherwise spoke no English but could give a perfect rendition of the Whiffenpoof song. The clincher is that the universal greeting of Fiji, usually repeated, is "bula," for "hello."

And there were many "bulas" on Friday night last when the Savusavu Yacht club hosted a traditional welcoming ceremony for the most recent arrivals, perhaps six boats. Presided over by a village elder, the "sevusevu" ceremony involves primarily a ritualized preparation and serving of what the common folk call "grog" to honored guests. "Grog," which is English slang for the pepper plant piper methysticum, also known as "kava," which is the more common Tongan word for the Fijian "Yaqona," pronounced "yanggona," is an important part of Fijian life. It might seem weird to a westerner that even sessions of the legislature here begin by drinking an intoxicating beverage; but then the elder Bush will be remembered by some of us for barfing after a toast at a Japanese banquet among heads of state. Smoking a pipe was a ritual in Native American culture, and of course alcohol, pot, coke, and tips on IPOs were ritualized offerings in, respectively, the fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties in, let's face it, mainstream American culture. The drinking of yaqona, like the use of the above substances, is also enjoyed in Fiji on informal occasions.

Your correspondent, the Captain, in his singular quest for a full scientific account of the Fijian experience, subjected himself without regard for personal safety to this ritual. He joined others in a circle around a special bowl, the tanoa, wherein the yaqona was prepared. Upon the guest's clapping once, which essentially calls for a round starting with himself, the host passes to him, with great ceremony, the bilo, which is a half coconut shell filled with the yaqona. The beverage tastes like ground up parts of a bush, which of course is just what it is. The guest drains it in one draft and the others of the assembled clap three times, in apparent approval of his effort, and this is repeated around the circle throughout the evening as appropriate, or until there is no more yaqona, or, one presumes, until there is no one left who is conscious.

Kava, as it is more widely known, is a mild soporific. During the worldwide search for legal drugs which went on in the sixties, kava apparently seems to have escaped the notice of the hippie movement as well as the authorities. It's still legal, sold in health stores, and not controlled in the US. In fact a man was arrested in the SF Bay Area for driving under the influence of kava, but the case was dropped on the quite reasonable grounds that, as his lawyer pointed out, there is no law in California against driving under the influence of kava, not to mention no legal standards for the point at which one becomes "drunk," and that the state can't go around arresting people for things which aren't against the law.

The Captain, in his effort to provide the reader with an accurate report on yaqona's effects, drank about twelve cups, which is not a trivial amount and indeed quite a bit more than the amount consumed by the rest of the yachties, who wandered off after two or three cups and who, the Captain sniffs, are mere tourists. As the session developed, kava drinking was accompanied by the consumption of beer as his hosts were doing and which they told him was fine, even recommended. The Captain confesses, and would appreciate the reader's keeping this to himself and especially not sharing it with the youngsters, that he has been in his life more intoxicated than he was that evening. Nevertheless, he would fall short of adhering to the standard of professional reportage that his readers have come to expect if he claimed that he was not "toasted." In the wee hours of the morning the Captain awakened from his stupor and allows he felt quite strange.

The next day the scheduled regatta was cancelled because of lack of wind and as the Captain was feeling the effects of the previous evening and in addition had seen the frightening talent of the young Fijian sailors, he will admit to having been a bit relieved. But that evening a native feast called a "lovo" was given which did not depend on the wind. Linguists may theorize on the word's derivation from the same root as "luau," for the food was similarly prepared on hot stones in the ground upon which food was placed, and then the whole was covered with leaves and left to cook. The meal was quite delicious, with, the Captain must say with apologies, the exception of taro, which really needs a sauce or something

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