Kava isn’t just the national drug of choice in Fiji——it is completely interwoven in its societal fabric. Being anti-kava in Fiji is like being anti-apple-pie in America or, worst, anti-beer in Germany. It is just unthinkable. Drinking kava for a modern Fijian is sort of like smoking a joint and shaking hands combined. No agreement, contract, marriage, deal, party, meeting or social gathering is complete until a cup of kava is shared with all concerned.
It is a way of welcoming strangers into the village, and also keeping them as friends once they are present. (Kava is the mildly narcotic root of the Piper Metyhysticum plant).
Fiji is a village culture. The vast majority of people live in small villages of a few hundred people under the command of a single chief.
Good chief, mellow village.
The village is also governed by a ‘council of elders’ which is really all the old guys getting together every afternoon and zonking out on kava——or ‘grog’ as they call it.
Everything happens by consensus in Fiji.
This has the disadvantage of slowness but the advantage of being gentle, accommodating and completely non-divisive.
Anyway, from a European perspective, the rules in Fiji are made by drugged-up drug addicts.
This seems to work pretty well.
We’re currently in the Yasawas, a string of islands arcing northward from the western tip of Fiji’s largest island of Viti Levu.
Picture the Virgins or the Grenadines 75 years ago… with only a smattering of small settlements and a dozen sailboats cruising the entire region, and you are close to the reality of present-day Fiji.
It is as if time has stopped here… for awhile.
Here’s what happened. Fijians were a happy-go-lucky people but easily bored. For excitement, they turned to inter-tribal warfare by regularly raiding nearby villages and dining on the vanquished. (‘Going out for dinner,’ has a whole new meaning in Fiji).
…picture weekly soccer contests which ended with a big feast (eating male opponents) and a sex orgy (enjoying the male opponent wives).
Then the missionaries came. It was immediately apparent to the Fijians that, as nice as their traditional gods were, it would be foolish to deny that the New Gods might have something way-cool to offer too. Thus, the Fijians converted easily, sort of.
They stopped having wild sex in exotic positions and had more sedate sex, naturally, in the missionary position… boring, but, hey, all religions have their down-sides, eh?
…with the arrival of KFC and Mickey D’s, who needed cannibalism anyway? (My wife Carolyn came up with a good ‘politically correct’ buzzword for cannibals… ‘extreme non-vegetarians’ she calls them!)
…and, of course, the Fijians incorporated Jesus into their already god-filled lives… the more the merrier, right?
But the one thing they would not give up was kava.
In fact, when the missionaries would visit the villages to discuss this sensitive issue… they’d have to share a couple of cups of kava before beginning. (Some particularly dumb missionaries actually believed they’d gotten the Fijians to agree——but that was just the village elders happily nodding off from the drug!)
Now, I’ll admit drugs are bad. Alcohol is bad. And, frankly, I’ve got the hard-earned credentials to walk into any meeting anywhere on this planet with the word ANONYMOUS attached to it… and tell some pretty grim tales. But isn’t the whole circumnavigation-thing about being interested in different cultures in a non-judgmental way? I mean, shouldn’t I be able to ‘see the innocence’ in drug addiction? …shouldn’t I learn to ‘look beyond behavior?’
…can’t I train myself to think like an anthropologist and say, “Gee, so THAT’S how they view it in this cultural kava-krazed reality!”
Of course I should be able to.
Okay, if you’ve been gullible enough to swallow that self-serving moral justification, here’s what kava is like: two reds and a couple of luke-warm beers. Yeah, nice-but-not-great. Basically, it is a mild downer. It numbs your mouth, like a trip to the dentist. You wobble a bit when you stand.
Ultimately it is like marijuana: you do less and less and think you’re smarter and smarter. ( Ganja University, indeed!)
I know, I know… you’re thinking ‘what’s this got to do with cruising the South Pacific?’
Hollywood wanted to make a movie for all the horny American men who wanted to come between her and her Calvins. (Disgusting, yeah, but clever too!)
…did I lose you? Let’s back up: Brooke Shields was the Lolita of the 1980s and, for awhile, America couldn’t get enough of her. Basically, there was money in filming, romantically and in soft-focus, her wide-screen-yet-off-screen deflowering… over and over again.
But her acting talent was… well, let’s be kind… not much. So they needed an exotic location to heighten the erotic effect——and, thus, Hollywood producers wisely went to Fiji and waved around fistfuls of Yankee Dollars.
The first Fijian guy they met liked the color green——so he laid an inflated tale of ‘the ultimate island paradise’ on them… about his cousin’s island in the deserted Yasawas.
Now two things are true about this island: one, it is nothing special, just like dozens and dozens of other islands around it, and, two, it is a very wonderful, very exotic, very pristine place!
Thus the movie of Blue Lagoon was filmed here——and, in a sense, never left. The island’s name of Nanuya Sewa was immediately forgot and it became the much pricier Blue Lagoon. Resorts sprung up like weeds. Back-packers from New Zealand, Oz, and America started beating the bush in hopes of flushing out Brooke Shields… or at least her modern equivalent.
The kava-swirling natives, of course, watched it all with amazement, amusement and much profit-taking. (One nearby village leased a bit of its beach for 1.3 million——and immediately purchased DVD players and large plasma screens for each and every local family on the island! Yes, they really love Hollywood here… you betcha!)
Another film crew showed up and shot Swiss Family Robinson… and the ‘family viewers’ poured in as well.
Since land was scarce, a cruise ship company was formed and started to operate six cruise ships called, imaginatively, Blue Lagoon Cruises.
Occasionally, there are three cruise ships visiting a tiny featureless island… all looking for Brooke diving naked into the water… or her aquatic ghost.
Of course, this required a beach bar be set up ashore. It was. Magically, a dozen or so cruising vessels showed up to wet their crew’s whistles (and watch Kiwi rugby on the sat-tv) while laughing at the over-weight cruise ship passengers. (Is it a requirement to weight four hundred pounds to be accepted as a cruise ship passenger in Australia too?)
One of those yachties had a bit too much to drink one night, stumbled down the beach and, while using a local outhouse, passed out. In the morning, he was discovered and charge one dollar Fijian, about 60 cents American.
Thus, within two hours or so, another three ‘locally owned, locally managed’ resorts sprung up… featuring thatched sandy-floor odoriferous huts only marginally bigger than an outhouse… but, still, big enough for you and Brooke… if you happened to find her.
…with so many rich, virile Western men panting after the notoriously scarce Brooke, whole flocks of bikini-clad Brooke-wannabees showed up from around the world… and the rest is history.
How do I know all this? Well, Wild Card, our 38 foot world-weary $3,000 hurricane-salvaged sloop, just arrived here from… from where? New Zealand? St. John, USVI? America? The Northern Hemi?
…anyway, arriving here was a shock. Every other island within fifty miles is basically deserted except for small village of laid-back kava-swirlers… while this one is Free Enterprise Run Amok!
Cruise ships abound! Water skiers, jet skiers and float planes roar. Banana boats blast. Dive companies can’t load their boats fast enough. Cyber cafes bloom. Helios hover. Cultural dancers roam the beach, in search of a paying searchlight. (No, you don’t have to actually get off the cruise ship anymore to attend a ‘traditional Fijian welcoming meke!’)
I haven’t the faintest idea what to make of it all——it is like being thrust unexpectedly into a Disney-World-on-Kava zoo. It is a true watery, reef-strewn, three-ring circus——Fijian-style. It seems utterly crazy, in a both delightful and sad way. It is easy to come up with facile answers, like, ‘the poor natives are completely losing their traditional way of life’ but it is equally fair to say they are currently experiencing communal and private wealth beyond their wildest dreams.
Is it good or bad?
My wife Carolyn got so… er, confused a few nights ago she forgot which island we were anchored off of. “…where are we, Fatty,” she asked me with a bleary, beery beach-fire-squint.
“The future,” I sighed back.