Getting stoned in paradise

As you may know, Vanuatuans (Ni-Vans as they’re known) are very keen on their kava, and as it turned out the island we’ve been visiting is the keenest. Those who’ve been to Fiji will be familiar with the ceremonies they’ve created around the disposal of used dishwater…the clapping of hands, shouting of mutha(sp?) and the faint numbing of the tongue falling a long way short in compensation for imbibing what has to be the single most revolting drink known to man. No disrespect to Fijians, but your average Ni-Van will spit on their kava drinking as the plaything of mere children. Vanuatu claims to make the strongest kava in the world, some 10 times stronger than their neighbours.

And so it was with some trepidation that I accepted an invitation to drink kava with Justin, the primary school headmisstress’s husband and some of his extended village family.

The preparation of kava is a painstaking process, digging up the root, grinding it into a pulp, mashing it with water, straining it etc.. so understandably the guys feel justified in getting a good long sit-down and quietly getting stoned at the end of it all. They get together before dinner, anytime after sunset, in a quiet clearing lit by a dim kerosene lantern. The kava is drunk as one long shot either from a half coconut shell, or for the truly macho straight from an old beer bottle. No question that it is quite revolting – a fact well recognised by the Ni-Vans who are voluble in their hawking and spitting, and eating baked taro or banana to get rid of the taste.

Despite all local claims to it’s non-addictive and entirely healthy narcotic effects, kava seems to take no prisoners amongst over-indulgers, one shot too many leads to prompt vomiting…so I took it easy. One bottle, and following some peer pressure a half-shell, and I was sitting around feeling quite at peace with the world, exchanging quiet conversation with my host and friends under the moon and stars, occasional visitors drifting in and out of the lantern’s circle of light and a slow smile spreading across my lips. Bats flit overhead, a village pig snuffles past and the serenity is only interrupted by violent hawking and spitting as another kava shot is consumed. For those of us ‘brought up proper’, the nose & throat-clearing conventions take abit of getting used to.
Tonight is the farewell for another school teacher, and we are invited to the feast. Once again, a hugely generous spread of food has been prepared for us and others, and lengthy speeches can be anticipated. I quietly suspect the kava drinking prior to the feast is timed to ease the burden of listening to the speeches, but it turns out my host is abit of a wind-bag himself, albeit a wonderfully friendly one. Speeches precede the eating, but take place right in front of the laden tables making the wait all the more trying, and when the final speech has been made and eating is announced to begin, the group fairly fling themselves into the food.

Halfway through our meal I spot my host once again making a speech, this time in local village language to a circle of women on the side. When I ask what he’s saying, it turns out that he’s reprimanding them for someone leaving their pig untied and letting it roam around other people’s gardens. When I quietly suggest that I imagine everyone knows who’s pig it is (everyone knows everything about everyone here, after all) I receive a knowing smile.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michael
    Oct 05, 2011 @ 09:05:27

    Yes I can imagine that plastered face on your smile!
    A 235mtr container ship has hit Astrolabe reef off Tauranga this morning 0230hrs. Two holds flooded but not the heavy fuel holds and has a 12 degree list at this stage.
    Southerly in Wellington but beautiful on Kapiti Coast. I have taken a week off to paint the house. I could think of better things to do, even it it was on a multihull.
    Looking forward to your next update. Me and my boys are keeping up with your travels on Google Earth. Hope you have enjoyed the peanut butter from Nelson
    Love MMM&B


  2. Tim
    Oct 05, 2011 @ 14:26:54

    Good post Fred – but it leaves me wondering that you must have quietly finished off Rebecca’s pharmaceuticals on the boat – if you are now into the kava! What have the boys and Becs been up to??


  3. Kath Jones
    Oct 05, 2011 @ 21:44:56

    love reading your blogs and think of you often!


  4. Peter Robinson
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 08:05:11

    Fred. Ah yes, we remember kava. Kate introduced it to me in Samoa with some of the Elders……kinda tasted like meths mixed with sherry and some sawdust too. Infact I believe I brought some back to Bralorne for a ceremony. Infact did we drink some at the Charlie H new years eve??!! Love to all. Strength & honour. Pete.


  5. Karl
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 09:31:55

    Wonderful blog – won’t (at this stage) do it the injustice of taking the proverbial.

    good to hear all well, all well with us


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