| 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