Monday, September 26, 2016

Cultural Excursion

We headed into the main village at Catherine Bay in the morning. We deduced it was called Buakonikai from the "school boat" that said "Buakonikai Primary School." I like the idea of a school boat—it goes around the bay gathering children, presumably, and bringing them to school. We anchored the dinghy in among the mangroves and yellow-clawed fiddler crabs and set off on the main road toward Nuku, the village on the N side of Rabi we had visited a few days ago. The houses were similar in style to those in Nuku, simple but fairly solid, and we passed some beautiful gardens. We also figured out where the music we heard broadcast all morning was coming from: very large sets of speakers at one of the houses! Maybe this is their antidote to the drumming of the church drums and bells.

We stopped to chat with a few folks who were drying the pandanus leaves they use to weave their traditional mats. They seem to use the mats as places to put out household goods to dry, and later we learned they serve as "furniture" too—a place to sit on the floor of the homes. On our way back, Barbara was eager to learn if there was a boat builder in town, as she and Michael had an old sail that they wanted to re-home with someone with a sailing canoe. So, after a few false starts, we landed on the home of one Mr. Brown, who was in fact at one time the builder of canoes. He was at home with his wife. Mrs. Brown—when Barbara asked her name, Mr. Brown replied matter-of-factly, "Mrs. Brown." Their daughter-in-law, Maryanna, and her son, Phillip were also there. We had a nice chat and it as agreed we would bring the sail by later in the afternoon in exchange for some bananas his son would cut for us! Mr. Brown was referred to as "the old man" by several, but still looked good at 72, although he said his seafaring days were over. He had built his house himself in 1976, taking 2 years to complete. It was nice to get a glimpse of life in the village.

After a nice snorkel on the fringing reef to Catherine Bay (which, when told that was my name, the locals had a good giggle about), we headed back into town, sail in tow. I can't just completely skip over the snorkel, so I will say this one had plenty of fish, but really awesome mollusks and shells also. We saw many cool (but alive, so no keeping) cowries, nudibranchs, and many others. Also some big snappers. Anyway, back to the cultural excursions...

We arrived at Mr. Brown's and he was having a bath or something so there was a bit of confusion, but when the sail landed in his living room, he had a big smile, gave it a once over, and said "very good quality." He excused himself to finish his bath but before doing so, asked if we'd like some grog—kava. We thought that would be nice, so said yes and he set a team of grog preparers in motion. We asked if we could watch the process and take photos and were told yes, so we made our way to the drying kava out back, watched another of Mr. Brown's daughter-in-laws select the proper bunch, and then proceed, with the help of a friend, to pound it. This is quite a process and Mark and I offered to help, which they seemed to delight in. Mr. Brown's son was supposed to be our grog preparer, but he and his family were out, so the others stepped in. After 15-20 minutes of pounding—using an old propeller shaft and what may have been a custom made metal vessel (think mortar and pestle, but very large), the kava had been reduced to something resembling the crumbs in the bottom of the bag of shredded wheat! We enjoyed getting to participate in the prep and were a curiosity to the local kids, for sure.

The next step was to bring the pulverized kava inside, were it was put in a cheese-cloth type bag and washed through fresh water. It ultimately created a muddy-looking beverage. Mr. Brown explained that since we were in Fiji, we would partake of the Fijian custom of grog-drinking. He dipped a small cup he had apparently just made that day into the bowl had a small sip to gauge its quality, and then dipped again and served it to Michael, who clapped, accepted it, and then Mr. Brown clapped, Michael drank, handed the cup back, clapped three times, and Mr. Brown clapped again. Here the process began again, with Mark next in line, then me, then Barbara, then finally, Mr. Brown served himself a full bowl. For the next round, Mrs. Brown's brother joined us—he resembled Mr. Miyagi, with kind of the zen persona of an elder surfer dude. Mr. Brown rolled him into the serving line and we repeated the process a few more times.

It was a nice small grog circle and the hosts were very welcoming. Apart from short-lived tingling lips and tongue, I can't say I felt many effects of the grog, but it was a fun cultural experience that I'm glad we were able to take part in. It was also a gracious way for Mr. Brown to say thanks for the sail, as kava is worth about $50FJ/kg right now, so not exactly a cheap cold beer.

After a dinner of leftovers and decent champagne, we called it a night. This morning we pulled anchor at Catherine Bay and are heading to Taveuni, as I type this. Seas are flat, which means no sailing, unfortunately, but also means we should have great water clarity for diving, if these conditions hold for the next few days. We will disembark this afternoon, but we'll all have a final dinner together tonight at the resort Mark and I are staying at for the final days of our stay in Fiji. Once again, we have had a fantastic time on Astarte, exploring places we never could have gone on our own, and seeing a side of Fiji most people don't get to explore. We have been fed extremely well, and probably did not lose a single ounce of blubber, despite hours spent in the water. The beers were always cold, the power and freshwater supplies maintained, and our accommodations very nice.
At 9/26/2016 11:48 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 16°54.06'S 179°54.41'E

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