We recently visited a small village on Ono Island in Kadavu,(still in Fiji). When I say small, I mean about 70 people, no cars because there are no roads, no TV because there is no power grid, no store to buy stuff, and no school so no school age kids (they stay at a boarding school during the week so we didn't see them). The village is called Nabouwalu; literally village "number eight." Hard to picture it if you've never been there but I'll do my best to give you a sense of it.
Situated along the shallow water front, behind a protective line of palms, stand a couple dozen small buildings, the largest of which is the church. They are not in rows, or numbered, and they're surrounded by neatly kept grass and fruit trees. Foot paths are beaten into the ground, but are not traveled frequently enough to wear the grass away. Quaint and quiet. Except for that gong-like clanging, but we'll get back to that.
After an overnight sail from Taveuni, we anchored in the large bay with Piko and Dilligaf. Fijian custom requires that visiting yachts come ashore to meet the chief, present them a gift of kava, and ask permission to... well do whatever it is one may want to do there. It is not alright to just go wandering about thru their private property. The ritual is called sevusevu. Sometimes it is short and sometimes it can become hours of kava drinking. I like it because it's an easy opening to go ashore and interact with the locals. So just after putting the boat to rest that's what we did.
|The Traditional Fijian Bure|
It turns out that we turned up on just the right day. The villagers of Nabouwalu were just finishing roofing their new solar storage house. (This was not the banging I wrote of above.) One of the village women is in India studying solar power installation and the town has been preparing to fit each house with it's own panel. The completion of the building was celebrated by a community tea which we were invited to join. And here's where the gender thing starts to manifest itself.
When cruising, boat tasks usually are broken down into pink and blue jobs. Something that isn't as prevalent or noticeable on land. It's not a hard line, but even on Britannia, I do the cooking and most of the cleaning and Krister does most of the installations and fixing of things. (He is a mechanical engineer so that makes sense right?) So I thought maybe this is more of the same. The women baking and serving tea and the men building and constructing. But then I noticed that the women didn't eat until we (the cruisers and the men) were finished.
Two days later we were invited to a lovo (a Fijian banquet prepared in an underground oven). This celebration and ceremony was not for us. It was a thank you to a villager that works in Suva that had donated the building material for the solar house and as such, it was not the usual tourist, chatty event. It was a solemn affair, with blessings and prayers. The village reciprocated with gifts to the man and his family of coconut oil and woven floor mats. Just before sundown, we went ashore and were greeted by our new friends and brought to the village mayor's home. Then we walked to what I think of as the kava-drinking house to wait while the women finished preparing the meal. Now here's the thing; Lauren girl had stayed on board Piko due to a headache, and Bill and Sue on Dilligaf had sailed to the next anchorage, which left me as the only female cruiser. And now the only female in the room. Awkward. Not only was there the language and the cultural barriers, but I felt stuck in limbo. I was a guest, so working with the women wasn't appropriate, but I am also clearly not a man. So as the sun set, we sat together on woven mats with the village elders and waited quietly until word came that it was time to eat.
|Fijian Food; what looks like bread is cassava and taro root|
|Round II: Women and Children|
Krister, who had gone off to pound kava, peeked inside to tell me and Lauren boy to come outside. Although the dinning hall had only been lit by one bulb(run by an old generator and strung along multiple extension cords), the darkness was thick and we stumbled towards a clanging sound; the sound of kava root being pounded in a heavy metal bowl. This sound can be heard at any time of day in many of the anchorages. The beating stick was heavy too and the guys took turns bringing it down hard against the roots until all that was left was a fine powder. Time to drink kava.
|The kava bowl|
|Lauren drinking from the bilo|
|The bilo is passed around. The group of women in the back corner did not drink.|
So as the women cleaned up, we (me and the men) went to the kava drinking-house and prepared the first bowl of grog. There's a whole ritual that goes along with it; the bilo (half a coconut shell) is filled, and brought over from the bowl. The drinker claps once, drinks until it's empty, hands the bilo back and usually claps 3 times, but in Kandavu they clap 5 times. The chief drinks first, then the elders, then the bilo was handed to me. I don't know if it was because I was the first guest or because of my gender, but I was always given a "low-tide" cup, meaning it was only half full. Krister was also offered "low-tide" but Lauren was always given a full cup. Huh. As the cup was pasted around, more kava was made and women filtered into the back of the room. I noticed that they never drank and I never saw them offered any. Earlier in the evening Krister had asked if it was okay that I was there- the guys said yes and chuckled like it was a funny thing to ask. I had a great time and was thankful to be welcomed into the community- even if I was an anomaly.
At 6/16/2012 10:05 AM (utc) our position was 16°26.75'S 179°56.28'W