Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/78

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The bishop's words, however, were not without effect. The council assembled again to-night, and is still sitting, and I hear that after much talk the chiefs have written a letter to the chief of Pango-Pango, again inviting him to submit, and so avert war.

Just now I mentioned the bowls of kava with which ministering damsels refreshed the thirsty speakers. Perhaps I should explain that it is the identical drink which I so fully described, in writing to you from Fiji, where it was known as yangona—namely, a dry root masticated, till there remains only a fine white fibre, as free as possible from saliva. This is placed in a large wooden bowl, and water is poured over it. It is then strained through a fine piece of hybiscus fibre till all the particles of root have been removed, when there remains only a turbid yellow fluid, tasting like ginger and soap-suds, which is gently stimulating, like weak sal-volatile, and has the advantage of rarely resulting in intoxication, which, in any case, is a very different affair from that produced by drinking spirits. A man must drink a good deal of this nasty kava before he can get drunk; and when he does, his head remains quite clear,—he merely loses the use of his limbs, and has to appeal to the compassionate bystanders to lift him to a place of safety. If his companions were white men, they might obligingly empty his pockets while he looked on helplessly; but South Sea Islanders would scorn to take so base an advantage of a man in his cups. On the contrary, they will obligingly bring him some mountain bananas, nicely roasted in their skins, which are considered a corrective, and will then leave him to sleep himself sober.

Different groups have trifling differences in their method of preparing this national beverage, and the ceremonies to be observed. In Fiji it is considered very incorrect for a woman to touch the bowl,—chewing, straining, and handing it round in cocoa-nut shells, should all be done by young men, whose comrades sing wild melodies during the manufacture, and keep up a peculiar measured hand-clapping while the chiefs are drinking. Here, in Samoa, the girls are all Hebes. They do the brewing, and carry round the cups, but there are no songs (yangona-méké), and the only hand-clapping is done by the drinker himself as he hands