I’m a Barbie Girl…

After our crab dinner with the Germans, it was time to head to the local village with Rosie to sample some kava.  Rosie, having stayed out drinking kava until breakfast the two previous nights, was clearly a kava-drinking professional, so we knew this was going to be an experience. Kava is made from the roots of a plant grown all around the South Pacific, including Fiji. Traditionally, Kava is drunk in a ceremonial-type setting, but nowadays that setting varies widely throughout the island chain.  For example, if you are staying at a youth hostel on the main island this might involve two Fijian men in Hawaiian shirts sitting in the middle of an outdoor restaurant welcoming people to come drink kava whist playing various John Denver songs on the guitar…  On the other hand, you could be led down a sandy, moonlit path to the local village on a tiny island where a dozen burley Fijian men are belting out ancient ceremonial hymns in a makeshift carport covered in coconut leaves.  The latter would better describe our first kava drinking experience.

Back to the story: with the moon shining bright overhead, we left the Bay of Plenty lodge and went on a 15-minute beach walk to the local village with Rosie, Nana, Tina, our new German friends, Rosa, and little baby Duncan strapped to the front of his grandma. On this particular night, the villagers were raising money for two students to go to high school in the mainland.  When kids in the Yasawas become old enough for high school, they go to the main island to live and only come back to see their families during holidays.  So, we gave a small donation to support the cause and participated in the event.  We were led to a small house with dogs and children still running about outside despite the hour.  Out front, there was indeed a structure that resembled something of a carport covered in hundreds of braided coconut leaves used as siding. As we entered the carport, the ground was covered with men and women sitting in groups, sharing kava on top of tarps.

This village had fives clans and each of the clan leaders sat in a row in the front of the carport, all looking a bit sweaty and dazed.  Overtime, drinking kava will have an alcohol-like effect, but think more sedation, less rampage.  It tends to make people sleepy and relaxed…and after looking around, it appeared as though this kava ceremony had started hours ago.  There were about two dozen people inside, about half female and half male, and lets just say we (and the Germans) were the only ones that stood out.  There were two men preparing the kava: one man would continuously pound the kava root into finer powder using an old Bounty rum bottle filled with water, while the other filled a large porous bag with the powder, doused it in water, and ringed the resulting beverage into a bowl.  Occasionally a younger man would go fill what appeared to be an old kitty-litter bucket with water to replenish the supply of the two-man assembly line. Every 15-minutes or so, the remaining men who sat towards the front would begin singing (incredibly loudly!) what seemed to be traditional kava ceremony hymns, pause, and clap in unison three times.  Once the clapping ceased, two or three people would begin passing out the kava in a coconut shell.

It’s hard to point your finger on, but drinking kava is like drinking a gritty, peppery green tea that numbs your tongue ever so slightly.  After everyone slurped down their kava from the coconut goblet, the villagers would turn on this huge, really old school boom box and blast incredibly horrible dance music.  They only had about five songs on the playlist, one of which was Barbie Girl.  Yes, seriously.  Our theory is that they did this so that they could keep people awake while drinking this sleep-inducing beverage.  When the music started, men and women would get up and tap someone of the opposite sex to dance with them.  If you are tapped, you have to dance, even if you really don’t want to!  John was tapped several times and so was our German friend, Wolfgang.  I’m sure all the locals enjoyed watching the German and American boys dancing around to Barbie Girl in a Fijian hut.  We’re pretty sure this strange sight is what caused every child in the village to come peer inside the carport through the gaps of the coconut leaves.  This process repeated several times until we had about 8-10 rounds of kava.  Both feeling a bit sleepy, Rosie convinced us to leave the ceremony and go down the hill where some locals were dancing. After realizing how tired we were and discovering that we would be dancing to the same exact five-song playlist (e.g. Barbie girl), it wasn’t much longer until we decided it was time to hit the ole’ dusty trail. Rosa and baby Duncan had been sleeping in a family member’s home while we attended the ceremony.  She woke up and came out to greet us and lead us back to the bay, leaving behind Rosa and the rest of the villagers who drank into the night.

Yes, we do take a lot of pictures, and we are sure you would like to see some of John dancing with elderly Fijian women and clan leaders chanting traditional kava drinking songs.  We sadly must inform you that you will have to just enjoy our story because there is a time and a place for photo taking, and this just wasn’t one of those times or places!


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