Sometimes here in Fiji, there are just those nights that stick out in my mind for the sheer absurdity of events. Other nights blend together in a series of similarity or just routine sleep.
This is a story about a wholly ridiculous series of events that led to one of my favorite nights here so far.
To set the scene: There were funeral preparations going on at the house behind and across the creek from mine. Its about… oh… 40 feet away. With funerals in Fiji, a big shed (vatuniloa) is build from bamboo and roofing iron to host all of the visitors bringing gifts and all the late nights of kava drinking. The man who passed away turned 89 years old last year and I had gone to the birthday celebration (which was HUGE) because the family felt it would be his last. So the vatuniloa is built, different groups of people are bringing food, kava, whales teeth, mats, masi, animals, etc. to the family of the deceased. There were a lot of people around my house for about 3 days before the funeral even happened.
So. The night before the funeral. Began like any other. It was pretty warm so I sat on my little stoop and shared a chocolate ice block (pretty much frozen chocolate milk in a cup with a popsicle stick) with my friend Naca and watched as more people came in and out of the village.
Side note- one of those people coming through was Tomasi Cama, an incredible rugby player for the New Zealand All Blacks (currently playing in the IRB Rugby 7’s tournaments- I think the next one is in London). The old man who passed away was his relative so he came into the village for a few days which is always pretty exciting.
At around 8 I was laying in bed, fighting off mosquitoes with my ninja wall slapping skills and mid-air take outs, when I got a call from another good friend of mine in the village telling me to go to the vatuniloa. He said he would finish dinner then we could go over together. Now, normally, if I want to drink kava, I just roam around the village until I hear the telltale signs of a grog session (claps, music, laughter, water, boys peeing in bushes) and go into whichever home I choose. With big events, it’s a different story. There are so many people in such a confined space that its slightly terrifying to walk into all that chaos and chose your fate. Who you sit next to at a grog session is one the the most important decisions of the night, it makes or breaks it for you. You sit next to the creepy guy from another island by accident? You’re leaving the grog session early, head full of confusing questions about his son’s being able to marry you, you going to visit his island, etc etc. Sit next to the gossipy women? You will be told all night how fat you are, who you should marry, and constantly told to move to another spot to talk to that boy that’s been looking at you all night. The old women also sometimes slap or pinch… So the choice is important which is why I ddnt want to walk into this shed alone. I wanted my good friend by my side so I had an automatic good evening buddy.
So I wait at home for my friend. 9 rolls around… 930… finally, I got tired of losing the mosquito battle and at about 10pm I put on one of my sulu jaba’s (those shirt and ankle length skirt combo’s made out of matching material) and walk to the house behind mine. I walked into the house first to check and spy a bit. I wanted to scope out the situation in the shed before I chose my plan of attack. The female family members were baking up a storm for tea that night and breakfast the next morning. I asked about the people inside etc and it didn’t sound too promising. As I was about to turn and leave, one of my friends comes by and tells me to change into a sulu vakatoga (the wrap around sarong things we wear) and one shirt and we would go somewhere else to drink.
I went home. Changed. Grabbed my camera. Locked up the house. At the corner of my compound I saw a different friend of mine named Jo. He was going to the shop to buy some candies for the grog session he was at… so I followed him to the store and he invited me to drink with the boys who were making the lovo (earth oven) to prepare all the food for the next days feast. Im always down to go to a grog session where there is a fire burning the background. So we went.
This was my first grog group of the evening. All village men and youths who between rounds of kava, were tending to the lovo and making preparations. I sat next to my good friend, who is also called my bodyguard in the village, named Naca (the guy I shared an ice block on the porch with earlier). We were laughing and telling stories. About an hour in I had to pee… an unfortunate side effect of kava is that you consume probably 3-6 ounces at each round. Men have it easy because, as previously mentioned, they just go off and pee in the bushes. So I ran home. While at home I contemplated if I really wanted to drink more grog… and decided I couldn’t fall asleep. So I grabbed a chocolate bar for the group of women I passed who were preparing food for the next day, and the bag of sour gummy bears my mom had sent out in a package for the boys. I walked back to my session. And this is when we killed the pig.
When there is an important funeral, pigs, chickens, cows… they are all fair game. This particular funeral there was a huge female pig that was being slaughtered for the event. So while I sat on the porch we were drinking grog I heard the telltale signs of a pig being dragged. So I got up and went. It was about 30 feet from where we were drinking kava. The butchering table was just a piece of flat roofing iron on the ground. 2 men flipped the pig on its side and 3 others held it down. They cut the throat and then reach in and grab out the throat so you don’t hear it squeal anymore. Then they hold it down until it bleeds out. Once its dead, they toss it on the hot coals for the lovo for a few minutes on each side to burn the hair so they can later scrape if off easily. Once the pig is taken off the coals, they scrape the hair, remove the utters, and begin the butchering process. Its cut from right under the ribs down to the tail being careful not to puncture the intestines. Once its hips are cracked apart, they pull out all the innards and separate them. Some are eaten and others are thrown away. After the inside is cleaned out properly, the head is taken off, each leg is chopped off, then each arm, then the ribs are taken. Different parts are brought to different groups of women to further clean and then cook them for the next day. After all the excitement around the pig killing, I went back to the porch for more kava. At about 1:30 in the morning I left the porch and went into the home where the casket was kept.
The village choir was singing inside the room with the casket. All the furniture had been removed, the floor lined with many of the mats given as gifts for the funeral, and flowers and a photo were placed on top of the casket. I sat in a side room with some of the older women and listened to the singing and crying inside. At about 2:20 the grog in the room I was sitting in had finished. I said goodbye to the women, paid my respects to the deceased, then went outside to the shed (Vatuniloa) where the men were still drinking kava.
I sat down and at this point, there were about 10 people left. We talked a lot about everything and nothing, joked around a good deal, etc. We finished the grog at the shed around 3:50 in the morning. One of my friends there looked at me and laughed. I asked why and they said that normally when we drink grog so long I have “dope” eyes. Essentially slightly red, not fully open or alert eyes that you get from drinking too long, but that tonight, my eyes were just wide open and I looked like I had only had one bowl of kava with them. I laughed but realized he was right. My eyes were wide open, and I couldn’t even imagine going to sleep… well the grog finished there and I went home to use the toilet again. Thought about falling sleep and realized I couldn’t. So I made my way back to the lovo boys in the back of the village to see what they were up to.
I got back to the lovo at the perfect time. Niko, the guy in charge of cooking in the lovo that time, had just finished cooking the treat for the boys that were working. Pig liver. Cut up into small pieces and cooked with blood, onion, garlic, ginger and lots of chili. We all sat down in little circles around communal bowls of pig liver with a huge tray (it was actually a 44 gallon (200 liter) drum cut in half lengthwise) filled with cassava). I sat with 3 of the guys around this huge bowl of cooked pig liver. It was their treat for killing the pig and working all night on the earth oven. We ate from about 4 to 415am. Jo occasionally lifted up our communal bowl to slurp up the juices. Cassava was being thrown all around. There were about 20 people sitting in small clusters throughout the area. Some on the porch, some on the grass, some at the abandoned house next to us. It was wonderful. Probably the best part of my entire evening was sitting down and sharing that meal with my good friends. After we finished eating, I was sitting on top of the septic tank for the house (its just a cement rectangle) with Naca, Jo, Inoke, Ben Saki, and Niko talking about what we should do next. They had to be around until 6am to get the last group of food out of the lovo and I was in no mood to go to sleep, not after eating some spicy pig liver! So we sat around shooting the shit for about 10 minutes before the 6 of us went back to the vatuniloa where the funeral events were being held and mixed again with a few people who had remained.
All in all there were maybe 10 of us sitting there mixing this really sosoko (strong) basin of grog. It was a group of my close friends that I love spending time with. We spent the next hour joking around about all sorts of different things.
Finally at about 5:30am we had finished the grog. Talked amongst ourselves and realized there were no more grog sessions going on… and decided it must be time to stop. I got up and Naca walked me home. We were greeted on the footpath by about 15 women coming to the house to help prepare breakfast. It was slightly embarrasing to be caught awake at 530 with a guy from the village… even though he was just walking me home you could hear the jests and jabs as they walked by the two of us.
So that was it. My unexpectedly wonderful night of drinking grog with my good friends here in the village.