Reflections from the Field – Tavarua: Kava Ceremony

Day Six was another perfect weather day. Nice breeze and clear skies. The day started out with a stand-up paddle board session at Restaurants where everyone was having a lot of fun. Some of the Fijian kids, whose parents work on the island, took the foam boards and surfed Kiddieland (aptly named) which breaks right in front of the restaurant as well.

Scotty (San Diego), unfortunately got hit by his board when he was out surfing Restaurants this morning and needed to get some stitches above his lip so he got taken to the hospital on the main island. Bummer. He was having the most fun out there before the accident.  He’s fine now, he just had to use a straw for the kava ceremony tonight, but at least he could still get the full experience.

Dylan had Jess and I come to Tavarua’s weekly meeting over in “Fiji Camp” (staff quarters) where Jess explained what he and I are doing here and what I’ll be doing over the next couple weeks. Really cool to see how they meet in an open bure, sitting on the floor cross-legged for the whole meeting (two hours). Luckily we were there for only twenty minutes or else my legs would have been dead by the end.  The staff is stoked and willing to work with us and I can’t wait to work with them. Everything will get underway next week.

On our way back I saw the Lovo, which is where they cook all the meat for the ceremony underground. I’ve never seen that before or even heard of it. Man did it make for some good chicken and pork that night.

Later in the day I grabbed some goggles and went for a swim out near the boats and checked out the reef and moorings for the boats. I couldn’t believe the abundance and diversity of fish that are right next to shore. Wish I had an underwater camera to show you.

I joined some of the surf guides down at the beach bar before the ceremony where they had Monu Lager on draft – my favorite Fijian beer so far. I talked to the bartender about something I noticed today at the meeting – that the wife cannot talk to, or generally be next to their husband’s cousin…at all. The bartender said it’s just been that way forever and that typically only the villages in Fiji still practice these traditions. Hard to imagine not being allowed to talk to or even see some of your family members.

The Kava ceremony was awesome – great cultural experience. They laid out the mats, had everyone from Fiji Camp (all the staff and their kids) and had plenty of Kava for everyone. After Weiss did some interpretation for the guests about the significance of the ceremony and how it would take place, Druku, the Chief of the island whose family owns the island, did the prayer. Following the prayer, everyone was served Kava, which is a mildly intoxicating drink (crushed up plant root that is then mixed with water) that I thought tasted pretty mellow, but based on the looks on some of the guest’s faces, they weren’t too stoked on it. It numbs the tongue a little bit and if you have a lot then it relaxes you and makes for a solid night of sleep, but the Fijians can drink it all night. After a couple bowls of Kava, the guests had dinner while the Fijians kept drinking. Then there was singing and dancing all night and it was a lot of fun!

Tomorrow I’m getting up at 5am to surf Cloudbreak before it gets too crowded (a world famous left that can break anywhere from 4 to 30 feet, luckily for my sake it will be on the smaller end of that spectrum). Before the Fijian government changed the law mid-2010, Tavarua had exclusive rights to the waves around here so guests didn’t have to worry about the crowds, but now the new law lets anyone go surf the waves. It’s a very controversial subject here. My big problem with the law is that boats can come from anywhere and just drop anchor and mess up the reef EVERYDAY (it takes about 15 years for the reef to fully recover!)…the amount of boats per wave is not regulated. Tavarua has put in moorings to minimize environmental damage and they share these moorings with other boats, but there aren’t enough moorings for everyone to use. Tavarua is closer to the waves than anyone else so they have that advantage. If you get out to the waves before sunrise you’ll have it to yourself for at least a half hour.

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