We made our last Yasawa Island stop at Waya and Wayaseya Islands. The sheer cliffs, spires, and pinnacles stretched up into the sky, unique to all the other Fijian islands visited so far. A small village nestled on the shoreline followed the curve of the bay and wrapped Sonrisa into its arms. This looked like it must be the place for Sevusevu.
In reading the cruising guides for Fiji, we read all about the ceremony of Sevusevu. When visiting the more remote islands of Fiji, one must present Sevusevu to the Chief of the village. Once the Chief accepts and blesses your Sevusevu, you are welcomed into the village as family. You can stay as long as you like, and the Chief is responsible for you as he is responsible for his villagers. Stay a day or a week, or even a year if you like (subject to your government visa, of course). You are now home. In the cruising guides, it seemed like a process that can take all day - one that you must repeat at each new anchorage with a village. And, there is no escaping it. As the Fijians say around here: “These hills have eyes.”
But, almost a month into our tour of Fiji, we have not had the opportunity to present Sevusevu to anyone. In Makongai, the chief was ill and in no mood to receive visitors, so we just stayed on anchor one night and then left. Jack hosted us in Viani Bay, and he didn’t seem to want any kava. We visited the big city on Tavenui, and it didn't seem like Sevusevu was being received there. Instead, several bundles of kava are riding along in Sonrisa's forward cabin, making everything smell like peppery dirt.
The first night we arrived on Viti Levu, we tried to present Sevusevu in Nanua-i-cake. We could see several Fijians roaming around on the beach and a boat full of German cruisers snorkeling in the water. I get dressed up in my knee length dress with sleeves, Andrew does his hair and dons his collared “Bulla!” shirt, and we motor ashore. The Fijians sitting on the beach and the Germans snorkeling all look up to see us approach. They watch us drag Grin up the steepest part of the beach.
Andrew sidles up next to the Fijian sitting on a log and motions for me to sit beside him. The log is a very small log, tapering off to almost nothing where I am to sit. Trying to be a lady in my dress, I fold my knees beneath me and perch on the pointy end. I am sitting in the sand.
We sit in silence for much longer than I feel comfortable, Andrew looking out at the sea. The Fijian man is looking at us; I imagine he is wondering why we are sitting next to him on this log.
“Are you the village chief?” Andrew asks him.
The man looks around. There are no buildings here. There is one fabric tent drawn taught with ropes tied to mangrove trees. Two women, three men are shucking coconuts.
“No, I am not a chief. There is no village here. We are just camping and fishing for the night.”
“Ahhh,” Andrew says, “Can we look around on the beach?” The Fijian man says this is fine, and we walk the stretch of soft, white sand.
We spend the night here, then cast off the next morning. In each of the Yasawa islands we visited, the anchorages are near resorts rather than villages. It didn't seem like we were required to present Sevusevu to stay there.
So, when we finally reach Waya and Wayasaya, we were relieved to be arriving somewhere that Sevusevu must be required. We dress up again, and I rustle around in Sonrisa’s forward cabin to find a bundle of kava. The twisted, dried and bundled roots are wrapped in a black plastic ribbon of raffia, a special design. They form a round bulb at one end, and taper off to a tail at the other. With their smell, wrapping, and light weight, they feel special in my hand. We add a bag of sugar and tea for the village ladies, and a pack of oreos for the little kids.
We zip over to the beach in Grin, where we are greeted at the beach by three little ones with huge brown eyes and thick curly lashes. Two of them smile and call out “Bulla!” The third scowls at us. We say “Bulla” as we pull Grin onto the beach and the little ones stand by his side. They peek up and over his siderail, wobbling his flexible hull with their sand covered, chubby little fists. Two women watching over them nearby see us and wave us over. “Bulla! Come, Come!” One of the ladies goes to retrieve Jim, the Mayor.
The others introduce themselves as Lessie and Sarrie (forgive me if I have no idea how to spell these names!) They are happy to hear my name is “Leslie” exclaiming that my name is almost Fijian. They learn Andrew’s name as well. They offer us a taste of the tea and plantain they are eating for lunch, but then Jim arrives with a smile.
We wave as he takes us into a small house with two large rooms. The first room has a large woven mat that spans the floor from wall to wall. The walls are covered in intricately designed tapa, pounded tree bark tapestries (like the tapa covering Sonrisa's new ship’s log - her first one is full). We all sit on the mat.
At this point, Andrew is supposed to present the Sevusevu gifts and say: “Noku Sevusevu Gore,” but in the moment he forgot. He hands Jim the Kava and the bag of other gifts. Jim takes the bag and peeks inside.
This is a solemn procedure, so no pictures are allowed during the presentation and blessing of Sevusevu. Jim pulls out the Kava and turns it over in his hand. When he seems satisfied, he speaks in Fijian in a low, solemn voice. When his prayer or invocation is complete, he looks up at us and says “Okay.” He stands up, so we stand up.
“How long are you going to stay?”
When we tell him just a day or two, he is a little disappointed but he recovers and invites along for a tour. He takes us through the village. Women are doing laundry in buckets, rubbing their clothing along a smooth piece of coconut bark. Colorful clothing hangs on lines in between open air houses with nothing but lace table clothes hanging in doorways. Each of the houses have two large rooms: one for sleeping, and one for storing kitchen wear and spear fishing equipment. The floors are built off the ground and covered with long square strips of linoleum or woven mats.
He takes us to an open grass yard with two buildings across the way: the most scenic schoolyard in the entire world, probably. He points us toward the school and instructs us to tour the circuit. We walk past the rooms filled with students. In the first room, the teacher leads a lecture, in a second room, the kids are all nose to the grindstone, maybe writing a test, and in a third room, they are reading. As we walk by, they look up and wave or call out “Bulla!” No bulla opportunity can be missed around here. We feel bad for disturbing their studies, so we make a quick tour and return to Jim.
Next, we are invited to join them to try kava. He takes us into a room filled with men, and they invite us to sit down on the mat. A young boy sits amongst the men, smacking kava against the floor in a bag. Another older man smashes kava root with the butt end of a broom made from dry sticks. At their feet in the center of the circle, rests an old mooring buoy, cut open and filled with water and kava. They scoop some of the kava drink into polished coconut halves for cups. They hand a full cup toward Andrew and instruct him to clap once before he takes the cup.
"Clap first, like this.” They all cup their hands to make a hollow vacuum between their palms, clap once making a deep, round “CLOP!” to demonstrate. Andrew "clops", and they nod with satisfaction. They hand him the coconut shell and he slurps it down in one large gulp (as instructed). He hands the coconut shell back, and they instruct him to give three more: “CLOP! CLOP! CLOP!” We all do this as a group, together.
Next it is my turn. They ask “Is this your first time trying kava?” In Fiji, yes. They scoop me out a half cup, a mercy for which I am grateful. I “CLOP!” and they nod with satisfaction. I take the cup and glug it down.
The kava tastes mostly like it smells: a bit like watery desert dust. Immediately, my mouth goes numb, my lips tingle and my face feels warm and flush. I feel a strange pressure behind my eyes and in my ears - this stuff is far more potent than the Tongan kava. I hand the cup back and “CLOP! CLOP! CLOP!” along with the rest of the group. Now, each of the Fijian men take turns requesting their own kava: “CLOP!” Glug Glug Glug “CLOP! CLOP! CLOP!” In between rounds, they relax. They ask us where we are from, how long we have sailed to get to Fiji, how long we are staying in Fiji, how long we are staying with them in the village. We answer and receive polite nods. They fill our cups for round two.
Once round two is complete, Jim says “Okay” and that is our cue to leave. We stand up, thanking the group for welcoming us into their kava circle.
As we walk back to the beach, Jim tells us, “You are welcome here, now; you are like villagers." And we are happy; our Sevusevu is complete.