Friday, 21 September 2012

Attending village romance dispute and getting kava drunk

First a warning that this is a very long post, but we have had some really cool experiences with the locals and it requires a lot of explaining. If you're not into reading, just wait till we get on the internet and I'll upload photos that tell the stories with images.

Well, after we left Port Vila we first stayed two nights in Port Havannah, a very sheltered harbour on the north of Efate (where Port Vila is in the south). The most surprising thing there was a Raven 26! It didn't look like it was still in cruising mode, but it must have gotten here somehow, so now we know at least two Ravens that have made it to the islands :-) Great little boats.

We did go for a snorkel on a reef, but unfortunately it was mostly dead and there weren't many fish. We also met up with Sagata from Wellington, Phil once made them a main sail and they are friends of friends.

Next we sailed 55 miles further north to Epi, the next island in the chain. It has marked our first big change in temperature, besides obviously leaving NZ. Both in Tonga and in the southern islands in Vanuatu it has always been around 25 degrees inside Sophia at night when we go to bed, sometimes even a bit cooler. But now it's suddenly more like 28 degrees at night time and although it not a big change, it really does make a difference. We have also been using our fans during the day for the first time. I'm sure though it'll only get hotter and more humid from now on though.

We anchored in Revolieu Bay which is located in the middle of the west coast of Epi. It's quite a big and picturesque bay, which can get a little rolly, but not too bad. We intended only to stay one night and then move to Lamen Bay further north on Epi, but we ended up staying three nights because of the friendly and hospitable people ashore.

When we went ashore to ask the locals permission and advise on snorkeling the reef we met Jeffrey. He was one of many people that has just loaded copra (coconut) onto a barge. Anyway, we got talking and he invited us to come back and meet him later in the afternoon. I baked chocolate muffins in the meantime so we had something to bring along and Jeffrey met us again on the beach and we walked back to his houses. He's a chief for his part of the village which is quite spread out. He showed us a cave with lots of bats in it, little almost cute ones. He then took us on a tour through his land where we saw his cocoa trees (more valuable than coconut) and his garden which was very big and had all kinds of vegetables in it, for example three kinds of beans: regular 'small' beans, long skinny beans and fat and long snake beans (almost as thick as a cucumber and up to several times as long as a cucumber)! He picked a bunch of veggies for us. We then came along to the school on the school truck which had to detour into the bush and pick up firewood, literally driving right through the bush, you'd never think you could go through! The point of going to the school was to try kava, as there's a little kava bar by the school.

Kava is a kind of narcotic drink made of mashed up kava root. It's very common in the pacific islands and most people from NZ know what it is too. In a way it is much better than alcohol, because it makes people very relaxed and mellow, not aggressive and out-going. There's a downside to it too though, maybe people drink it too much and get too lethargic,I'm not sure, but Jeffrey apparently drank too much and hasn't had it for several months. Many describe kava as dirty dish water and it certainly doesn't look, smell or taste very good, but you just gotta drink it fast, most skull it. It has a peculiar taste, quite peppery, and it makes you lip and tongue a bit numb, but not for very long. The first night we tried it at the school we only had a quite small bowl each, not quite enough to feel it, but the next day (story follows), it was maybe stronger, and we also had a bit more and we definitely felt the effect. Phil liked the effect to alchohol, but I found it different, made me just want to sit and relax, and a bit wobbely on the feet and slowed down my brain, but it was actually an OK feeling, and I can see why people like it.

After first night of kava drinking, Jeffrey and Lydia (his wife) walked us back to the beach and they invited us to come back in the next day for a meal, and we also invited them to come out and see Sophia. The next morning I was busy making kringel (a Danish cake) for the visit on Soph and also falafel and cucumber/yogurt dressing to take in for the meal for them to try. Jeffrey and Lydia came directly from a village meeting but had kindly left it because of our visit. They had cooked a traditional meal, chicken, fish and veggies wrapped in leaves and cooked on hot rocks on a fire, similar to omu on Tonga. It gives the food a great taste and makes it very tender. One of their sons especially liked the falafel, said it tasted like meat. They are catholic and have 12 children, some of the oldest already moved away from home, but the youngest is about 5 years old.

After the meal they took us back to the meeting. They don't have police and courts, but disputes and problems are solved within the village and with the chiefs. They don't have any serious crimes, and they try and get problems solved early on. We didn't quite understand the full issue, but it was something about a couple having problems, the husband wanted to split from his wife because she had a boy friend (on another island). There must have been more to it, because a lot of people were involved and there was a lot of talking going on. About 35 people were sitting under a big tree, plus a bunch of kids and the usual dogs and chickens running around. The meeting must have started maybe at 10am, we got there about 1pm, and it went on for another hour or so. There was one main chief, also called chairman and maybe 6-7 other chiefs, among them Jeffery. Finally they went aside and took about 10 minutes to come up with a resolution which they announced and everyone seemed happy with it (basically making the couple stay together). An hour later (during which the principal of the school took us back there and showed us around), there was a ceremony where woven mats, 200 vatu (about NZ$ 2), kava roots and a pig was exchanged. This is where it was more confusing, because three mats were given by the husband who wanted to split to various other couples and several people gave each other coins and shook hands and made statements. Afterwards they even rang up the boy friend on a mobile phone on speaker phone and told him not to contact the women any more! I asked the principal if it wasn't kind of embarrassing for the couple with problems to have everyone involved and discussing it, but he didn't even understand my question at first and insisted it wasn't.

Everyone were super nice and wanted to come and meet us and hear where we're from. Lots of people have been in NZ picking fruit, mostly apples in Motueka, so of course it was funny that Phil grew up there. They insisted we stayed for the kava ceremony as well, now that we had been part of the meeting. By the way, the meeting was all in bislama, the local pidgin English, so we didn't understand much, just the odd words here and there. The pig was also killed, it had its feet tied, and the neck was simply cut with a knife. Then the long process of making kava began. First they gotta cut all the roots into pieces they can peel with a knife, then cut it all into small pieces. Kava roots are very twisted, so that along took a long time, but they also seemed to make a lot of it! Then it has to be mashed up, which was done manually by pounding the kava pieces with a rod in a pipe. Other places they use a machine, and traditionally it was chewed to ground it up. They were very proud of their kava process and didn't seem to mind the hard work. The roots were mashed up, then soaked in water and mashed up again, then soaked in water, many times. Finally they strained the water and it was ready. We were made to drink first. Phil and the principal of the school shared the first two cups, then the main chief and I shared the next two cups and so forth. The point of the kava was also to make people to put the dispute behind them and relax together. The pig was also being prepared at this point and I'm sure they all continued into the evening, but it was getting dark and we were still to go visit Sophia with Jeffrey and Lydia.

Luckily they arranged that the school truck drove us back to the beach, otherwise I know I would have struggled with the half hour walk right after drinking the kava! The school truck driver and two of their kids also came along. Phil and I aren't the first cruisers they have interacted with, they had a visitor book we signed and they visited yachts before. Jeffrey we gave a pair of sun glasses as his eyes had some sun damage and Lydia got a pair of my old glasses (long sighted), plus an old towel, some coffee and a comic book (in Danish, but you can still see pictures).

After three nights we were sad the leave the beautiful island and the lovely people, but there are many more islands to visit! We are now in Maskelyne islands, just to the south of Malekula island. We're at a beautiful anchorage by Awai island. And yes Sarah, the snorkeling here is great, the first good snorkeling we have experienced in Vanuatu so far. We have seen lots of clown fish, a huge napoleon (?) fish and even a turtle, plus the water is very clear. No dugong yet, but we're still hoping. Now though it's time to sail further north up the east coast of Malekula.

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