To stay true to our Explore – Learn – Share, we had to try the Kava of the South Pacific.  We read up on it long before we dropped anchor in Fiji in September 2023.  Now was time to EXPLORE it and LEARN something about a 3.000-year-old tradition.

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Looking Kava up on Wiki, it is listed as a root – and it is – technically.  But it is so much more.  It is ancient, it bonds people across South Pacific, it symbolises death to some and life others.  It solves problems by calming (mostly) men and thus keep peace in the Pacific.  It is all, everything and something to most people in the South Pacific.  It should be mandatory at UN meetings.

We caught the local bus from Vuda Marina to the nearest market to buy our first Kava root.  ‘Bula vinaka’ we heard from the seat behind.  ‘Where are you going darling’

Theresa smiled at the lady.  ‘We are on our way to buy Kava root’.  ‘Are they any good in Lautoka’?  Theresa quickly leant the local prices, what to look for and a gentile proposal to buy from a particular lady next to the bus garage entry.  We did.  We passed the nicely packed tourist kava powder and bought four beautiful big fresh roots.  We wanted peace for our Pacific Exploration. 

The end of week was fast approaching.  We were tired of marina life after 3 weeks on the hard.  Friday morning, Jerry from Vuda Marina untied our stern lines and we backed out.  We left on high tide giving us exactly the 2.3m depth we needed to avoid repeating getting stuck in the mud in the channel.

Yasawa, Naviti Island, Somosomo village.  We dropped anchor after a short crossing and about 230 years after HMS Bounty visited to look for bread fruit plants he planned to bring to the Caribbean.

While ‘sea grape’ harvesting, Sara – a local lady – asked Theresa if we would like to share a Kava ceremony this afternoon.  She invited us to their house at 3:30pm.  We brought a root and Theresa prepared as always a homemade snack for the family.  Theresa and I put on our long sleeve shirts and our Fiji skirts (yes – also men wear skirts).  Vetle can go barefooted in T-shirt and shorts.  He brought his football.   The family welcomed us with home baked cake and warm tea brewed on local herbs.  We avoided the customary 9 – 12 spoons of sugar.

Cake and local herbal tea is prepared

The ceremony; Sara’s brother, James, was already preparing for the ceremony.  The family kava bowl (tanoa) and cups (bilos) were nicely prearranged on the pandanus mat spread out on the open space in front of their house.  The Kava root was gently handed over, still wrapped in the newspaper from the market in Lautoka.

We, accompanied by 20 kids, walked over to a small shed where the root was put into a cast iron bowl to be grinded into a fine powder using a cast iron rod.  Hard manual work but little by little the root yielded and was grinded down to a dustlike powder.

Preparing for grinding
Grinding some culture
Where did culture go ?
Finished result – ready for mixing and drinking

Back on the pandanus mat, James took one coconut scope of Kava powder from the newspaper into the straining cloth, filled about 1 litre of fresh water into the tanoa and started to strain.

With a low calm voice he explained to us the tradition of Kava whilst lifting the straining cloth high above the tanoa allowing him to judge the strength of the mix from the colour of the strained water.  Judging strength is traditionally the chieftains’ decision. 

The fresh clear water turned muddy brown.  After a short while, he slowly clapped his hands three times, looked at me – ‘high tide’ – he asked?  The first taste is also traditionally for the chief, so to be offered that was an honour and may had something to do with my grey hair. 

Preparing to strain and drink

Bewildered and surprised I answered ‘high tide’ with an implicit question mark and clapped my hands three times trying to follow a tradition I did not yet understand.  James smiled, gave a small nod of approval for my efforts and filled the bilo to the brim.  Now I understood the ‘high tide’ question.  The bilo is to be fully emptied while everyone is clapping slowly. I did it. A ‘high tide’ bilo is not a challenge for a west coast Norwegian..

Theresa, having paid attention, asked for the ‘low tide’.  Then the ceremony settled into a slow informal pace sharing Kava while learning about Fiji traditions, village life, work and school.  We were also explained why the small village had four churches to service four dissimilar Christian religious directions. We told tales of our travels, Norway, snow, midnight sun and boat school.  It was an exotic evening for all of us.

All too soon the sun settled in the west.  Changing colours was the tell-tale that we had to break the party and head back to SV Escape before darkness fell. 

With a little numbness in the lips and a tranquil gait, we returned to the dinghy on the beach accompanied by the whole family.  We waded out, started our outboard and slowly headed back to SV Escape that welcomed us back for a good night sleep.

We LEARNED.  Kava is time, not a root.  Time to sit down, time to listen to hear meaning, time to share and through this create understanding and respect.  We are glad we EXPLORED on our own terms with time and not as a tourist group on a schedule.

Sun setting in the South Pacific – again

SV Escape, Somosomo village