During my first “tour of duty” on the island of Gau, 3 of 3
We had a standing invitation to visit SomoSomo on Sundays for church services. These former cannibals who were converted in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s to Christianity were very devout and modest folk who were serious about worship and wanted to share their services with us as their guests. After the service we were always invited to feast at their tables and were served all manner of local foods–dalo (the local term for taro) dalo leaves, several species of fish, bread fruit, wild yams, of which the fish and wild yams were the only thing that appealed to our uncultured taste.
Afterwards we invariably were invited to the kava ceremony with the village elders. They would crush the kava root in a large wooden mortar and pestle, put the powder in a cloth bag to filter out the kava tea, and pour it into a large wooden bowl in the center of the hut. We would sit in a circle around the bowl and be served the drink in a coconut bowl by one man. He would clap his hands, hand us the drink and we would also clap hands, drink down the muddy, bitter brew, hand back the bowl and clapagain. After about 5 or 6 cups of the stuff, our lips and tongues would begin to get numb and we’d start to get a little light-headed. The Fijians seemed to be more strongly affected by it and would become more talkative and laugh loudly. Since alcohol was forbidden on the island, kava was their way to loosen up as well as celebrate.
We were honored to be invited and participate in this deeply cultural ceremony and although we didn’t attend Sundays in the village often, it was always a heartwarming and singular experience.
We had much to learn from these folk–joy of life, generosity of spirit, deep respect and love for their God and each other, and the understanding that strong community is critical to survival. Of all my experiences on the island, my relationships with the villagers of SomoSomo stand out as the most lasting and precious. the end