Post 55 – Going Under Kava

“Your head is affected most pleasantly. Thoughts come cleanly.
You feel friendly…never cross…you cannot hate with kava in you.”
-Tom Harrisson, Savage Civilization, 1937

dedication1The borrowed jeep sped straight up the mountain, straining in first gear as the angle became more pronounced and the ruts became as wide as the pigs that frequently wandered across. The island had been living up to its 200 inches of rain per year promise and the road was more of a suggestion at this point than an actual thing. Jean held on to the window edge but it was canvas so it didn’t afford much stability. She was grateful not to be in their clunky rusted Datsun, for it would have given up miles ago. Larry had commandeered a neighbor’s four-wheel drive for today’s visit up the mountain and it was currently the only thing keeping them from falling backward down the rutted path.

Today’s ascent was needed to reach the remote village of Maupasaga where the dedication of one of the consolidated schools was finally happening, even though it had been open for over a year. Larry had been invited because of his position in the Department of Education, but also because the school’s principal and his family who lived in the village had been previous neighbors of Jean and Larry in Tafuna and were good friends.

The jeep gave a final lurch up as Larry attempted to pop the clutch and shift while wearing flip-flops and then stopped on an almost level dirt area designated for parking and goats. The Broquets started walking up the road toward the school and came upon a receiving line of sharp-dressed Samoan ladies wearing matching puletasis of black skirts and teal tops. Each guest was given an ula (lei) made of cowry shells and escorted to the school building. The village chiefs were also matching, with the men in white lava lavas and black suit coats with white shirts and ties, lending an air of formality and importance to the occasion. The entire building had been decorated, with palm leaves plaited into garlands and twisted around poles, green ferns hanging from the rafters, and one entire wall covered in woven green coconut fronds. It was as if the jungle had been wrestled to the ground and braided within an inch of its life.

The festivities began with a blessing and several speeches and songs by the schoolchildren. The morning was warm and stretched on, but anticipation was building within the crowd for what was to come next.

“We moved to the large fale in the middle of the village where they were having the kava ceremony. That’s pronounced ‘ava. This is very involved and has lots of symbolic meaning. They pound the root of the wild ginger plant into a huge wooden bowl and mix it with water. The village council, all dressed in red lava lavas and sitting cross-legged on the ground, sing and chant and go through the ritual. Then after it is mixed, the cups of kava are given to the ranking people, with speeches and comments. Larry got to drink some but I didn’t try it. There was a great deal of sitting and listening on our part and it was all quite fascinating. How amazing to get to see something like this.

By then it was about noon and time for lunch. The pigs were still in the umus and the tables were all set so off across the green we went to the feast. They had a U-shaped table set up, long boards on double cement blocks. The villagers had gotten fern trees from the mountain side and had planted them at intervals near the table to keep the sun off. There were about 200 hundred people all together sitting down to eat. All along the sides of the tables were long mats for us to sit on and at each place there was a woven plate made out of a piece of palm leaf. The tables were heaped with coconuts to drink from, huge baked taros, lobsters, raw fish in Dixie cups, hunks of cooked chicken and huge pieces of raw pork. To tell the truth, my appetite faded a bit when I saw the uncooked meat, but apparently it’s so you can take it home and cook it yourself.

dedication2Then the entertainment began, presented by the ladies of the village. I am not talking about the type seen on Adventures in Paradise where the Polynesian girls are all itty bitty things with long black flowing hair and short lava lavas. The Samoan ladies are huge with size eleven feet and legs like football players. They work like horses and are built like football players. So inspiring!”

Jean

The singing and dancing continued well into the afternoon, with the principal’s wife learning all the moves and eventually dancing a solo. The afternoon was quite extraordinary, and Jean was thoroughly enchanted by the whole event. She didn’t notice Larry sitting off to the side with a dopey smile on his face after drinking his kava, or consider the fact that someone was going to have to drive that borrowed jeep back down the mountain.

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