We spend a lot of time talking about kava, or it is tangential to a lot of our stories. It is central to life in Vanuatu and especially on Pentecost where even if you don’t drink kava, you grow kava, you sell kava, you dry kava, you know the kava market and who is opening or closing a nakamal in Vila. Which is all just an excuse for the time Jason spends drinking kava in the nakamal and the time I spent drinking kava in the kitchens (or the church house or behind a truck or in front of the community store…). We’re integrating.
|Half a coconut shell, ready to be cleaned up.|
We’ve mentioned a few times that parts of the coconut plant are used for almost everything. Other than coconut milk curry, my favorite use is the shell as a drinking vessel. Here, it’s just kava that is drunk out of the shells. I intend to bring a number back and drink other things out of them as well. Of course, I will also have to keep a couple for the powdered kava I’ll be drinking when I get nostalgic.
|Scraping the fuzz off the outside of the shell.|
|Still too rough to drink out of.|
In order to get the shell ready to drink out of, first it must be husked as previously described. After that we break the shell open by whacking it with the dull side of our bush knife. Then we scratch the meat out (which means we get to have something with coconut milk, yum!) with a special tool (one of the only specialized tools in this country.) We scratch out most of the meat to milk and then continue scratching the last scraps onto the ground (they contain more shell than meat.)
|Sandpaper that sucker down.|
|All ready for drinking!|
The gender divide here dwarfs the Grand Canyon.
Women do all the day-to-day cooking, women do all the laundry, all the dishes and all the cleaning in the house. Women discipline children and reward them. Women wake them up in the morning and put them to sleep at night, comfort them when they cry and play with them. Women weave matts and baskets. Women work in the garden. Women carry water and store water for when the taps run dry. Women look after the chickens and feed the pigs. Women sell extra food at the markets.
Men go to the garden, where they grow kava as well as vegetables. Men build things, when there is something to build. Men slaughter animals for special occasions and cook the meat, for special occasions. Men make kava. Men drink kava.
Women do not build. Women do not go in the nakamal. Women do not wear pants. Women do not leave the house area without their husbands’ permission. Women do not walk around alone. Women do not take part in courts or “community” decisions. Women do not have the right to ask for help from a man who is not their husband.
Men do not raise children.
Men can hit their wives, if she deserves it. Deserves it means: not making food on time, not being at the house when he expects her to be, cheating, talking about family planning or going to the Aid Post for a condom.
Men can cheat on their wives. In fact, it is almost expected. The self-reported rate of men with multiple, concurrent partners is 33%. The women self-report at 11%.
This divide is visible even in children as young as three or four. Girls are told to go help with the wash or the cooking. Boys roam the village playing games all day. By the time they are ten, the boys are wandering around, eating whatever fruit is in season and swimming in the ocean while the girls clean their brothers’ clothes, cook their meals and general keep house.
Community life revolves around the nakamal. It is the ceremonial center and the meeting house. Decisions about community issues are made there, while drinking kava. Kava has a calming effect, which makes for great discussions about whatever problems are plaguing the community. Women are not allowed in, except during ceremonial meals. Women don’t drink kava. Women have no voice in the running of the community.
I miss my freedoms. I miss being able to go where I want to, talk to who I want to, feel that it is my place to be in any room or with any group of people. I miss women and men sharing housework, childrearing and daily chores. I miss having male friends. I miss feeling like I have value in the community without a judgment based on whether I was born with a penis or a vagina.
I’m writing this after a rough day of feeling like the social inferior of my partner. I’m upset, but in the spirit of honesty, I am writing about it. Not every second here has been laughter and fun, but enough of them have been to make it well worth it.
Alcohol here is relatively unimportant. Some people drink it, there are people who are known drunks, but really it is confined to the big cities. That is because there is kava. Not the kind of kava that comes in powdered form in the US as a sleep aid. This is fresh root shopped and mushed and turned into a wretchedly nasty drink. I mean, it tastes nasty. This is not up for dispute. Everyone agrees it tastes awful, but for some reason people continue to drink it.
After several sessions of imbibing, here are my impressions (with Jason’s editorials). First off, don’t drink after you’ve eaten. This is strictly a before dinner drink. The effects are a bit like being drunk in that your head spins a bit and coordination is more difficult but it differs in that alcohol can make people act crazy or reckless and kava mostly makes you want to sit and chat or go to sleep. Also, kava immediately makes your mouth go tingly-numb but sensation returns pretty quickly. It is pretty mellow and works great for making me deaf to the roosters in the morning. (I sort of hate the roosters. I might start eating meat just as an excuse to kill the damn things. I swear they have no sense of time. Dawn does not come at 2 am, it doesn’t come at 3 am it doesn’t come until 5:30 and even then there is NO reason to be making that much noise that close to my head.)
The culture in this village says that women can drink one or two shells. That isn’t true in all villages or on all islands. On Tanna, the island with the exploding volcano, women aren’t even allowed to look at a nakamal where kava is being drunk. Seriously, they have to walk around the back through the jungle at night to avoid going near the place where the men are drinking kava. I will discuss feminine/masculine issues at some later date. The women don’t seem to prepare the kava on any island, though I wonder if that is different within the home instead of among a group of people. Not that the homes are anything shy of a group at any point.
To make kava, you start in the garden. You dig up a kava plant and break off the roots. Then you stick the kava plant back in the ground so it can grow some new ones. You bring the kava back home and peel it. Then you chop it up into little pieces, usually using a bushknife on a 4×4. This is manly time, afterall. From there you can choose to chew it into a pulp and spit it into a bowl, grind it in a meat grinder or grind it in your hand with a piece of coral. Once it is sufficiently ground, mushed or masticated, you add water and start straining. It goes through the strainer about five times, maybe more. By strainer, I actually mean a t-shirt, sometimes a slip, or a piece of mesh (I think it comes from a coconut tree, but I’m not sure yet) or other random piece of cloth. When it gets good and muddy colored, you drink it.
You always drink facing away from people. This is to save your own dignity. It tastes bad and people make funny faces. It can also make you spit, so general people walk away from the group, drink the kava, spit for awhile, then come back. If you eat something right away, it takes most of the taste out of your mouth. Then you sit and storian until you are ready for food and sleep.