July 9, 2008

Some people have asked us what sevusevu is (referred to in our e-mail a few days ago). It refers to a ceremony which I will explain. In Fiji the people (men actually) love to drink a kind of tea made from the roots of the kava plant (a type of pepper plant.) It is slightly intoxicating – mostly it numbs the mouth and throat and makes you quite mellow. It is a big deal here and when we visit an island , it is traditional to go to the chief (yes, there are village chiefs) and ask permission to stay. You are not supposed to do anything without first asking permission of the chief. You start by offering him some dried kava. We bought several bundles of the stuff in the main town of Lautoka before heading out to the islands. Although we stayed in several different anchorages, all on different islands, there was only one that actually had a village and therefore a chief – so that was were we presented the gift of kava and asked for permission to stay. That is called making sevusevu. Apparently they often ask you to stay and drink some of the stuff with them after they grind it up and mix it with water, but that usually happens at night. We made a point of visiting during the day as we did not really want to drink it (we have tried it and find it kind of nasty) and also we did not want to walk back across the island to return to our boats after dark.

Traditional home.  Tamasua village, Yasawa Island
Traditional home. Tamasua village, Yasawa Island

All of the resorts here do little kava ceremonies here with the tourists as well and we have seen it a few times (also in Tonga). Traditionally there is a big wooden bowl filled with it in the center of the room. Everyone sits on mats and there is one person who is assigned to pass out the kava in little coconut shells – same shell passed from one person to the next. You have to clap your hands once, say “bula”, drink the whole cup, and then clap your hands three times before passing the coconut shell back to the leader. It seems phony, but is actually done with great seriousness as far as we can tell. The locals will drink many cups of the kava and get quite euphoric or mellow, or maybe just stoned. Hard to say. It is extremely popular here.

We are still carrying a kilo or so of kava with us and it doesn’t look like we will have anyone to give it to. Should we send you some?