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Archive for December 1, 2007

Hello Nuku’alofa!

Today is Scot’s 31st birthday, and we are back in the capital city of Nuku’alofa on the island of Tongatapu.  With our Tongan homestays behind us, it feels like a small chapter of this journey has ended.  Leaving Ta’anea was more emotional and tearful then we had expected.  In hindsight, it was surprising to see how over the last six weeks, we really had become a part of the small coummunity.  The outpouring of hospitality was almost overwhelming, and we left Ta’anea with gifts of tapa (bark from the pandera tree that is pounded into cloth and painted with intricate designs from natural dyes), mats woven from coconut frounds, jewelry (fashioned from shells, bones, and coconuts) and a beautifully carved kava cup for Scot. 

This gift was quite pertinent because the kava ceremony is absolutely integral in the Tongan (and much of the Pacific) culture.  The legend of kava is long and detailed, and has been passed along through oral tradition.  The story reveals themes of the social roles and hierarchy of the monarchy versus the commoners, the historic practice of cannibalism, and the use of the kava root in ceremony, gift, and tradition.

In Ta’anea (and most, if not all Tongan villages), men are constantly taking part in a kava circle.  The kava root is dried and ground up into a powder, which is then mixed with water and strained with coconut husks.  The kava drink is a light brown muddy color and has a bitter taste.  The kava circle is exclusively for men, with the exception of the “doua,” which is an unmarried (typically young) woman who serves the kava.  The ceremonies have a tendency to last for hours.  They are often very jovial (with much laughing and teasing), but are also a place for networking and informal village meetings.  The ranking males (typically the village talking chiefs and pastors) sit in prominent seats in the circles.  Once we arrive to our site in Pangai, Scot will be expected to attend  kava circles on a regular basis.

For now, we are back in Nuku’alofa, enjoying a bit of city life.  As our photos highlight, we have very fond memories of our time in Vava’u.  Snorkeling in the crystal clear Pacific waters was like visiting another universe.  I felt like I was in the Disney film “Finding Nemo” and let go of my shark fears long enough to be mesmerized by the brillant and diverse aquatic life. 

We ate a wonderful Thanksgiving feast prepared by the current volunteers, and the village homestay culminated with a  fantastic experience student teaching Class 6 students at the Ha’alafuli Government Primary School.  We hope your holiday preparations are going well.  Don’t forget about us in the tiny island Kingdom of Tonga:)  We hope to update the blog soon with an “Educational and Cultural” page, to explore in futher detail some of what we are learning!