The Fiji tradition goes that everyone who comes to the village for the first time, has to present the village chief with gifts. He is the boss. The leader, if you don’t want to be too old-fashioned in words. And these gifts have to be in the form of more expensive “kava”.
No, it’s not the same as our coffee (kava in Slovenian means coffee). It’s the roots of a small shrub. Roots. Rich roots, which are banned in most developed countries. They cause a lot of trouble with the liver. The price of kava has gone up so much in the last year that many farmers predominantly focus on its production. A kilogram of dry roots costs from 130 to 160 Fiji dollars. That’s from 50 to 60 euros. Five years ago, a kilogram cost 20 Fiji dollars. How do I know that? Because Joape, an important man with whose family I lived, is one of the largest producers on the island.
“The roots of the precious kava will be dried by the sun.”
“He brought the dust sealed in a plastic container for storing food.”
I took the roots, wrapped up in newspapers, accompanied by the whole family, to the chief on the second night. We made space together. Under the straw roof in the village’s center, we spread knitted carpets and sat down in a circle. Joape’s brother said a few words to the chief in Fijian. A lot. He spoke for at least three minutes. Everything sounded like a sort of prayer. On his knees in front of the chief with a kilogram of kava in his hands. When he handed the packet to the chief, the chief had a similar speech. Of course, I asked them what those words meant. “Too much to translate. You’re safe now. Everyone in the village knows you’re a part of our family and that you will be taken care of. No one will harm you and you’ll always be taken care of. Every door to every house is open to you. You have become a part of our community.”
“No one will harm you and you’ll always be taken care of.
Every door to every house is open to you.
You have become a part of our community.”
I felt… Emotional. Moved. When strangers in the middle of the Pacific Ocean give you a warm welcome, and it makes you feel safer than anywhere else. Because it was late and Matilita and Ankeneta had school in the morning, we postponed the drinking of kava to the last day. Usually, the preparation and drinking of the kava is prepared on the first and last day for the newcomers, as a greeting and a farewell, but with me – and my packed schedule – it was a bit different. Despite my long visit, we treated ourself to the kava on the last night.
Ben ran to his aunt’s house next door to crush and grind the dry kava roots. He brought the dust sealed in a plastic container for storing food. Simple. Easy. Joape and Ben sprinkled the kava on a kerchief, spread over a basin. They can crush the dry roots until there’s only dust left. I took a deep breath when I saw how they washed their hands in the dust above the kerchief while they were crushing it. No, they weren’t washing their hands, but to me it looked just like they were. Two of them were holding the spread kerchief, each on either side, while the third poured water above the pile of crushed roots, onto the hands of the one that’s crumpling and squeezing the dust, which washed away through the kerchief. The grey-brown dirty liquid that was poured into the basin was kava. With a cup, Joape stirred it a few times after they were done and began the ritual. He offered me a little. He said he understood if I wouldn’t be up for a large portion.
“Under the straw roof in the village’s center, we spread knitted carpets and sat down in a circle.”
“A kilogram of dry roots costs from 130 to 160 Fiji dollars.``
I’ve never smoked. Nothing. Not cigarettes, not weed. Even when, drenched in alcohol, I gathered my courage and awoke that curious part of myself, I simply didn’t know how to inhale the weed properly. You can laugh. I’m proud of it. And because kava was supposed to have similar effects as marijuana, I wasn’t interested. After the first cup, my tongue went numb. The kava contains substances that numb certain parts of the body, with the mouth among them and whatnot.
When you drink a cup of the liquid, which tastes like dusty water with a touch of dry herbs and earth, you have to end the swing with the word maca (read: mada) and clap three times. That’s how everyone around you knows you’ve drunk your share and they clap for you as well. Just like marijuana, this Fiji sip of kava didn’t have any special effect on me. After four rounds of drinking in one swing, sitting on a wooden veranda and waiting for someone to speak up, I give up. They say that the Fijians like to drink kava, that it calms them, rather than beer, which invigorates them. I don’t understand. They are one of the calmest people anyway. And the fact they don’t talk while drinking becomes clear to me. With a numb tongue and body, you simply cannot speak.