Notes from a Missionary’s Diary, May 18, 1984
Last night Fr. Theo and I decided to visit separate Indo-Fijian families in the same settlement about five miles from town. We borrowed the parish van. I dropped him off at the family which was hosting the mandali (prayer meeting), promising to pick him up later that night. I drove about a mile further and climbed a steep winding lane to a house on a hill top. Here a Catholic woman lived as one of two wives of a Hindu man. Her brother had appealed to me to visit them. This was my first visit.
The man of the house welcomed me with a handshake while his Catholic wife brought me a cup of tea. Introductions over, he called for yaqona. He served the yaqona into two enamel bowls at regular intervals as we chatted. I broached the delicate subject of the marital arrangements carefully. He was open and not in any way defensive. He made it clear that his Catholic wife was free to leave him if she wished. By this time I began to feel the effect of the strong yaqona and I asked to be excused from it. He persuaded me instead to have one bowl for every two bowls that he drank. When the yaqona was finished my host called for dinner. I had no sooner finished the hot but delicious curry than I had to rush outside to vomit.
The family tried to persuade me to stay the night, but I argued that my companion was waiting to be picked up. The van was temperamental and could only start on an incline. A light push sent it rolling down the hill but as I reached the first bend the engine spluttered and died. Again the family begged me to stay the night. “Your companion will know something has happened,” they said. “He will sleep in that house and you can pick him up in the morning.” I was won over by their insistence, by the unreliable van and by the hairpin bends on the track ahead.
The next morning when I reached the other house the family told me that Fr. Theo had waited for me until midnight. Then, despite their urging him to stay he walked the five miles back to the presbytery in town! When I arrived there he greeted my explanation and apology with a deep silence. I think the silence will last for a few days!
Columban Fr. Frank Hoare lives and works in Fiji.
*Yaqona, or kava, is a natural relaxant traditionally used by Pacific Islanders. It is best known for its stress relieving qualities and its use as a social lubricant. Strong yaqona can cause nausea.