Kava - Vanuatu style

Sea Mist > Sold to New Owners July 2016
John and Cheryl Ellsworth
Mon 29 Aug 2011 12:12

Still at Resolution Bay - Tanna Island


Today was most interesting for a bunch of very different reasons; let's see if I remember the sequence:

·         Early morning  > got the report from S/V Nine of Cups as to their Volcano experience at end of day yesterday; for them it was the creation of a real lifetime memory….a truly exceptional experience….so we are even more looking forward to it for tomorrow end of day.

·         David of Leu Cat, Tony of Indimion and John of Sea Mist made our way in through the coral heads/obstacle course to get Leu Cat’s dinghy to the beach….so that we could explore the village and meet up with Stanley whom we had been told would be our yachtie organizer for what we wanted to do

·         After climbing up the hill to the village (380 inhabitants), we first found a large number of young people building cinder blocks to construct the manager’s new home for the Port Resolution Yacht Club….a collection of 3 or 4 small thatched roof huts that could each accommodate 3 or 4 people for sleeping…and a restaurant to take care of these guests of the yacht club and visitors such as ourselves. We discovered the main leader of the work team building/moulding the cinder blocks was, in fact, the chief of this village….a relatively young guy (maybe 30) who had become the blood line chief when his father had suddenly passed away in the past year or so.

·         The Yacht club is situated in a wonderful setting from the top of the cliffs looking over the bay (where our boats are anchored); nice but very simple little club/resort for Vanuatuians to come from the west side of the island (the big city of Lanekal) to enjoy the solitude, snorkeling, etc.

·         We then walked into the village less than ½ mile distant and were greeted by very friendly people who connected us with the main man (the Chief’s spokesman) who was named Johnson….and who was Stanley’s brother. Johnson informed us that Stanley was off to the garden/farming and would not be back until late afternoon…..at which time we should return to join with them in traditional drinking of kava. We asked Johnson if he could see if some of the village women might be able to trade some fruit/vegetables when we returned and he agreed to look into that during the day. He told us that he was the village nurse and had been trained in the larger centers in Vanuatu to take on this role. For example, he supervises mid-wives, when not handling the delivery himself….he has overseen some 40 births since taking on the village nurse role…..as well as handling the dispensary.

·         On the way back to the dinghy, we met Stanley coming to look for us as he had been to our boats in his dug-out canoe but found that we had gone ashore; we had a good visit with Stanley and agreed on timing for the volcano……and were invited to a rare occasion, the circumcision of 2 or 3 nine year old boys on Thursday….a MAJOR traditional event for the village …..and we should not miss it!! This happens once a year in this culture and is the transition of boy to man…. Big time event!!....we accepted the invite and await further direction as to when and where on Thursday morning..

·         At about 4 pm the 3 of us, plus Brian of El Regalo who had now arrived from Anatom, headed by dinghy back into the village to meet up with Johnson and Stanley for the kava drinking (males only in this local culture); we had to wait around for things to happen for the next hour or so….we did make the trades for some papaya, green onions, choco, and some other starchy veggies…..we traded T-shirts and the like.

·          AND THEN>>>>>>>we were invited back into the woods a short distance to a bit of a fire pit clearing…with a few stumps and the like to sit on around the pit circle. Johnson’s friend, Jeremy, joined him and brought some kava root with him as he arrived. They lit the fire to provide some atmosphere as it would soon be dark…..and then, as soon as Jeremy had cleaned up the GREEN kava root using coconut husks to remove the soil dirt and external surface of the root, Johnson started biting off big chunks of the kava root and began slowing chewing it…adding more to his loaded mouth as he kept biting off more root….eventually, and quite remarkably, his mouth was more than full of this kava/saliva pulp…..he had gathered some wild kava leaves (broad green leaves) and he now spit out the kava pulp in several expulsions to empty this huge load of kava from his mouth; this kept on as Jeremy became available for the chewing ….and soon 3 young boys (Johnson’s oldest son -12 years old….and 2 of his extended family’s sons of same sort of age, joined in the kava preparation and then the chewing…..and the spitting of the kava/saliva pulp onto the broad leaves at our feet. Once there was ample supply of kava pulp, 2 small stumps were brought out and set opposite each other by the fire and 2 kava bowls were placed between the 2 stumps….a bucket of water appeared so as to be available by the stumps….and a fibre remnant of a rice bag was brought out as the primary tool for the mixing/extraction process which was to follow.

·         2 of the boys were seated on the 2 stools and they proceeded to place the kava pulp dumped from the leaves in the bottom of this small hammock made of the rice/grain bag that they held between them over the bowls….they added water to the pulp in this little hammock and proceeded to push the water/pulp slurry back and forth on the bottom of the bag hammock and the filtered liquid began dripping/running from the hammock into the 2 bowls beneath. They kept doing the kneading of the pulp until no more liquid could be forced out….then they wrung the bag/hammock to extract every last bit of liquid so that the fairly large bowls (half coconut shells) were almost full to the brim.

·         Brian and I were first to be invited to partake…..and we knew, but clarified for certainty, that we were to drink the bowl’s contents in one go…no stopping to catch one’s breath or savour this saliva enriched, filtered, root concoction…..and so we did just that….handed the bowls back to the 2 boys….and they continued to extract in similar fashion from the other piles of pulp on other leaves….so as to let David and Tony partake….and then finally it was to be Johnson ….. and he invited me to join him for his bowl….which meant I slugged back bowl #2.

·         With that we chatted a bit and parted…..as our wives and some others were waiting for us to have sundowners on-board S/V Leu Cat……even if by now the sun was long gone from the setting sky,

·         It was definitely a tough walk back down to the dinghy for me….I had had twice as much as my compadres….and it was affecting me!!  I had drunk some Kava in both Tonga and Fiji….but it was not even a distant cousin to the strength of this kava in Vanuatu.

·         We did all join together on Leu Cat, including Marcie and David from S/V Nine of Cups, and had a fun time….albeit a LONG time for me to come out of the kava stupor.

·         That is the report of another “typical” day in our wanderings through the islands of the South Pacific.


Tough work…..but somebody has to do it.


Cheers from John and Cheryl on-board Sea Mist