Thursday, July 11, 2013

The “Grog” Expert

We remain in Kavala Bay where we have enjoyed land excursions. Because this is the yaqona capitol, Michael has decided he would learn everything he can about kava (which shouldn't surprise anyone who knows "Hawk"). The drink locally is simply called "grog." On our walks and in the local store, anyone we would meet would be peppered with questions about the yaqona plant, the harvesting, the drying process and ultimately, the drink itself.
On one hike yesterday, we roamed first in search of the waterfalls and then continued on to the village of Solotavui. The place was pretty quiet as one of the two big ships that come in weekly was due in shortly. It is a big event weekly when the boats come in with people and supplies. But as we were walking by, a young man came up to us, introduced himself as they all do with a hearty handshake, and invited us to stop by and say hello to his grandfather and have some "grog." This was around noon. We walked to the house and sure enough there was a circle of men seated on the floor, pounding the yaqona and making grog. The men were actually on a break from building a home. They were waiting for some supplies off the ship. They invited Michael to join them (it is a patriarchal society and this grog drinking is a bit of a "men's club.") Michael said he would pass on the kava but had some questions, so in he went. Barbara was kindly invited into the home next door where a few women were busily cleaning (what's wrong with this picture??!!)

Michael did get lots and lots of his questions answered. He got to sample a few bowls of some primo "grog" - five or six year old Kadavu grown. The older the plant, the more potent the kava. But they don't let it grow to long as hurricanes can ruin a crop and a five or six year investment. The yaqona is the currency in this area. People bring the bundles of dried plant to the store and they get credit for $30 F per kilo ($32 if it is older and taller). They then use those credits to get what they need in the store from fuel for outboards, generators or lanterns, to cooking propane, food stuffs or household goods. It's interesting because we bought some yaqona at the store and were only charged $30 per kilo – so there isn't even a markup from what the people get for credit.

The drinking of grog comes with a bit of ceremony. This includes the "tanoa" - the bowl from which the kava is made and served. This is made from a single slab of wood, usually vesi – a local hardwood. Some are very old and have passed through generations. In the room where Michael was drinking, the tanoa was 20 years old but there was one that was more than 200 years old hanging on the wall. The kava is served in a "bilo", a half shell of a coconut that is polished. Everyone drinks from the same shell (though in Michael's grog brotherhood, there were four shells being passed about!). The sharing of the bilo is supposedly to cement the communal bonds. Then there is the clapping or "cobo" (pronounced thombo). This is not a polite "golf clap" but rather a hearty thunderous clap with cupped hands. Each village or community seems to differ a bit on the number of claps. Michael was told it is normally three claps, but in Kadavu, it is always five. That is done when you down your bilo of grog. It is supposed to indicate – "my bowl is now empty" (and probably "bring on some more!")

After a few bilos of grog, Michael and his numb tongue left. He said this grog was better tasting than the Komo grog he had at the 21st birthday. Barbara remains a kava "virgin." We were invited to join in another evening grog drinking session on shore with Roosi, Mika and some others who told us they gather each evening around 6 and we were invited.

Our walks the past few days, besides being grog research, took us to the local school as well. It is quite a hike and the campus is quite large. It houses a primary school and kindergarten of about 150 students plus a secondary school with more than 200 students. This is a Kadavu Province school, so students in the secondary school live on the campus and go home every five weeks or so. There were dormitories and teacher housing as well as classroom buildings. We met with Timothy, the principal of the secondary school. We also spoke with the headmaster of the primary school and left him some drawing paper and colored pencils for the students. The students are all very polite. They teach in English and there was a sign on campus that "English speaking is compulsory".

Along the "road"on our walks, we met many people. It looks like just a mud path, but it is indeed the main road. Folks would all stop and visit with us awhile, always with a handshake. Even the farmers gathering firewood or cassava or coconuts, would stop and put down there load and machetes and chat a bit. Barbara is getting quite good a hiking in a long skirt – as that is the appropriate attire here and all the women wear them even when working in the fields or walking along the muddy paths.

The island grapevine does work – we learned where our friends boats were on the other side of the island and how many boats were in each bay. When people met us and heard a name, they would say, "oh, you're from the yacht." The fibers (the fiberglass launches) that zoom by will often yell, "Hello Michael." And, yesterday, we had one of those fibers stop by and invite themselves aboard! It was Johnny and his niece Seela from the next island over, Ono where we will be headed today. They invited us to their village though we will probably anchor in another ay with a bit more protection.
This has been a fun stop and we got to know some Fijians better and Michael is certainly getting to know about "grog."

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