Our first order of business upon arriving in the Lau group was to check in with the local village to perform the traditional ceremony of sevusevu. Although on mainland Fiji more and more it seems the sevusevu is often skipped over by the more accessible villages, here in the Lau it is still taken very seriously. As outsiders, we are expected to present ourselves to a council of the village headman and elders. At their invitation we remove our shoes and enter the council building where we sit crosslegged in a circle on the floor. We offer the chief a gift of kava, a bundle of dried roots from the pepper tree that Rod purchased at market in Nadi. Our offering is gift wrapped in newspaper and tied with a spiral of pink ribbon making a shape much like the Sorting Hat of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. Our gift also included a couple of tee shirts with the AVATAR FPB64 logo.
When ground into powder and mixed in a large ceremonial bowl with water, kava makes a mildly narcotic drink flavored suspiciously like mud. It numbs the lips and tongue and creates a mellow zoned out state. It is dipped from the bowl using a half coconut shell which is passed from person to person, each expected to gulp down the contents in one go. Even more traditionally kava was originally prepared by young boys who chewed on the roots and spit the pulp into the communal bowl. We have thankfully bypassed that method of preparation, and on this trip to the Lau we were spared the kava drinking portion of the ceremony as well. However the chief accepted our gifts with a ceremonial speech in Fijian and then, converting to English, we shared our names and a little of our story – where we came from and what we were up to – after which the chief formally welcomed us to his village and gave us permission to make use of their land and water for our recreation – to anchor our boat, cruise their waters, swim, dive, fish, explore. We made our entry into the ledger kept of visiting yachts, and Rod looked up his prior visit to the Lau in 2003 aboard Raven. The count of visiting yachts thus far in 2011 stands at thirty-four.
Post ceremony we were invited into the home of one of the elders and served hot tea by his wife while we visited and chatted, exchanging counts of children and grandchildren, hearing the Lau version of Fijian politics, and otherwise just getting to know one another. There was a bit of fund-raising involved as well; the village had a list of fees for some of their tourism endeavors. They have set aside an area of the reef as a marine park and have started a nursery of giant clams as a present and future tourist attraction. We paid the fee and later in the day snorkeled the reef, much like any other reef we could have snorkeled for free, but the wire frameworks housing the baby giant clams were interesting to see, along with the larger giant clams strategically spotted throughout the coral. It was a worthwhile expense to support the ecological efforts of the community to preserve the marine environment.