Kava and Chief Albin Reuben

Aug 12, 2008

We have had an interesting 24 hours. To our great pleasure, “Vera” sailed into Metenovor (Southwest) Bay, Malekula yesterday afternoon and dropped anchor right alongside of Sabbatical III. They have changed their plan to depart for the Torres Strait and will now attend the festival here in Malekula and then continue with us to the Black Magic Festival in Ambrym Island. They shared in all of our adventures of the past day.

Yesterday evening “Vera” and “Sabbatical III” dinghied to Wintua village and met Justin the kava grower on the beach as arranged. He took us to meet Chief Wilson to whom we paid our respects with some small gifts. Then he took us to the nakamal for kava. He explained why kava from southwest Malekula is considered among the best in the world. His kava is exported to New Caledonia and Fiji as well as all the islands of Vanuatu. However, the kava shipped outside the village is dried first which, according to Justin, appreciably reduces it’s quality. The kava we were to enjoy was just cut fresh and prepared in the traditional manner. The bark is carefully cut away from the kava roots which are then washed and chopped by hand and then washed again. The chopped roots are then kneaded with water by hand until a soft mush. This kava mush is then pressed through a cloth baby diaper to get the kava we drink. This process produces a potent drink that he refers to as “morning fresh” since there is no morning hangover. Much of the other kava sold in Vanuatu and elsewhere he referred to as “two day kava” because it leaves an unpleasant hangover on the second day.

We put his kava to the test. None of us are experienced kava drinkers (Michael and Britta had never tried it before) but we all found it to be a most pleasant experience. It is hard to describe since it is really nothing like alcohol or anything else we know of firsthand. It’s effect might be understood by Michael’s comments before and after. As we entered the nakamal, Michael said “I really do not want to he here..let’s not stay long.” After drinking kava Michael said “This is really a nice place. Let’s stay here longer.” Kava puts you in a nice place. Our hosts were careful that we not consume to much and that we safely found ourselves back to our dinghies.

This morning we went to Tisri lagoon for the grand opening of the “Southwest Malekula Yacht Club”. The yacht club is a grass hut meant to attract yachties like us to an area that does not get tourists due to its inaccessibility. There are no cars or roads, no electricity, and no ferry or regular air service to this part of Vanuatu. The “yacht club” is a joint endeavour of the community and Luc and Jackie of the Belgian vessel “Sloupmouche”. “Sloupmouche” has been in Vanuatu for two years and runs the cruisers net on the VHF radio in Port Vila. There was live music, flowers for our hair, fresh coconuts, speeches by local dignitaries, and a ribbon cutting ceremony. A total of 33 boats were at anchor (up from two when we arrived last Friday). The cruisers brought gifts for the community and the community served lunch and danced. Sabbatical III and Vera had to leave before the lunch and dancing in order to get to Lawa village, about 4 miles north, for the burial ceremony of the father of Chief Albin Reuben. We had been specially invited by the Chief to photograph the event.

When we arrived at the beach at Lawa, we were met by John who told us that the ceremony had begun some hours before. He directed us to follow him to the place. Fortunately, as directed by the Chief on Sunday, we brought hiking boots as we were led at a fat pace deep into the tropical forest on a muddy trail, ascending steep hillsides covered with tropical hardwoods. We met people coming from the interior highlands carrying parts of pigs and loads of taro root. Each person greeted us and extended their hand to us to shake. Finally we reached a clearing demarcated by stone pillars. Laura almost fainted from heat exhaustion. We had missed the ceremony. Chief Reuben apologized profusely and explained what had happened. His father, who was born in 1915, was the most important link between the coastal dwelling Small Nambas of Lawa and the other villages on the coast of Malekula and the Manbush people in the rugged interior. There are fewer than 1000 Manbush people left. The Manbush people have no contact with the outside world, including the Small Nambas on the coast. They have never seen the sea. They have never intermarried with Polynesians and other potential partners of lighter skin, and thus are smaller and darker than the coastal peoples and have mistakenly been described as pygmies. Chief Albin Reuben’s father protected them and was their contact with the outside. They came out of the forest to this clearing high in the hills to honor a Small Namba man that they had known and respected for decades. Unfortunately, the Manbush people are not attentive to issues of time, and they showed up three hours early and left just before we arrived. While they were there they danced and performed rituals to honor the dead father of the current chief. It is almost impossible for outsider to ever see the Manbush people and we are sorely disappointed that we missed doing so. Chief Albin Reuben said that such a meeting of Small Namba people and Manbush people may not happen again for years.

Nonetheless, Chief Albin Reuben instructed the drummers to return to their places and play while he and his nephew performed the funereal dance of the Small Nambas just for us. I filmed it with our Flip video camera.


Posted by email from sabbatical3blog’s posterous