Samoan Material Culture
The usual ceremony
The usual ceremony
The various phases of the kava drinking ceremony have been described. It is necessary, however, to describe the order of events to get an idea of its place in the social usages of the people.
Nothing of any importance can be commenced in Samoa without a preliminary bowl of kava. Visitors of any note must be welcomed not only with a bowl of kava but also with some pieces of the dried root. Thus when visitors enter a village, they are allowed a little time in which to rest and compose themselves after their journey. The local chiefs usually gather in a nearby house until they see that the visitors are ready. Each chief of any standing brings with him some dried kava, generally a tungase, or failing that, an ordinary piece without stem (fasi 'ava). Apart from the presentation aspect of the question, he owes it to his own social position to bring something. Otherwise he does not exist in the fa'alupenga (chiefly list of the village). By the time they enter the guest house, the visitors have assumed their correct positions besides the wall posts that mark their rank. The local chiefs may shake hands as they enter. They may drop their pieces of kava root in front of the visiting talking chief. There is no doubt as to who or where he is. He is sitting by the middle wall post of the front side of the middle section of the house. On the other hand they may take their kava root with them and pass directly to their own positions in the house. In strict ceremonial the page 161latter course is the correct procedure. As they sit down they mumble forth the stereotyped greeting of "Susu mai lau susunga, le susunga o" (Welcome to your presence, the presence of). They go on with the formula demanded by the fa'alupenga of the village and district to which the visitors belong. To mark respect for the highest rank, afio is used instead of susu, and afionga for susunga. Each chief repeats it, often in a singsong voice. The visitors then reply in the form demanded by the local fa'alupenga. The senior village talking chief has the kava root contributions passed along to him. He collects them in front of him and then makes a short speech enumerating the number of tungase and other pieces that the village has contributed as a token of respect to the visitors. He calls an attendant who brings the kava to the visiting talking chief. The visiting talking chief acknowledges the respect paid them. He then holds up the pieces of kava root and calls the attention of the chief of his party to them by saying, "Silasila mai" (Look). He names his chiefs in order of precedence and also enumerates the number of pieces of kava root. He then proceeds to pule (rule) over the distribution of the pieces of kava, allocating certain ones to certain chiefs and taking out his own share. Some of the smaller pieces he may throw on the mat before him, calling to one of his own attendants to take them away to beat for a bowl of kava. In this he may have been anticipated by the local talking chief. It matters not, it serves for the next bowl.
While the kava is being pounded outside, the taupou takes up her position behind the bowl and the village talking chief commences his official speech of welcome on behalf of the village. Meanwhile the pounded kava is brought in and the preparation proceeds. The visiting talking chief replies. In both speeches the orthodox fa'alupenga is again gone through as the correct commencement. The reply generally finishes before the kava is ready. If not, the village maid prolongs the straining. The distributor has taken his place on ordinary occasions, or is now appointed if the meeting is a special one. He gives his, first call irrespective of who is speaking and this temporarily ends the speech. The kava is then served. The serving over, the village maid usually retires and the speeches are continued. After the speeches, the food is brought in.
On ordinary occasions though few may be present, someone always does the calling, the hands are clapped and a cup bearer serves the kava. In small family gatherings I have heard the chief's wife calling the kava. Walking through a village, a stranger is often accosted by a local chief calling from his house or coming out into the road to invite him in to rest and partake of the 'ava'ona. Kava is the universal medium of hospitality. It corresponds to the tea, coffee, or alcohol of higher cultures as a means to ordinary social intercourse and it forms the introduction to all ceremonies and matters of great pitch and moment.page 162
Forms of kava. A number of names are given to kava for special purposes and various usages. The following list is not exhaustive.
The 'ava oso is the kava root taken by people on a tour or journey to give to the chiefs of the villages they visit. During the Bishop Museum malanga the leader gave out kava which had been purposely taken down from Hawaii and was thus favorably commented upon.
Early morning kava (pongipongi) is usually prepared for people on a journey as they leave very early to avoid the heat of the day. On our malanga (tour), the white chief of the expedition preferred early morning coffee, somewhat to the disappointment of our senior Samoan talking chief, who was an inveterate kava drinker. At one village, the latter was heard asking the local talking chief why no 'ava pongipongi had been prepared. On being told that it was through fear of waking the visitors at the early hour of 4:00 a.m., our thirsty talking chief severely admonished the local orator for departing from ancient Samoan custom. The 'ava pongipongi was the only refreshment possible in the early morning. Visitors left after it and relied on getting breakfast at the end of the journey.
The 'ava mata is green kava freshly dug up as a present of the highest respect to visitors. If an important malanga does not receive green kava, it considers that it has been treated with lack of respect. The kava with stems and leaves attached and earth still adhering to the roots is carried in by bearers uttering yells (ailao) as they emerge from the trees at the back. They march round the guest house and deposit the burden on the house platform in front of the middle section of the house with the call of "'O le lau 'ava" (The leaf of the kava). The kava is given by high chiefs. The clumps are afterwards trimmed, cut up and taken away by the visitors to be dried at home. The 'ava mata was given to our malanga at Leone, Nua, and other of the Tutuilan villages. It also figures in important feasts as at the ceremony connected with Misa's house on Ofu.
The 'ava uso consists of a number of long, thin roots which are bundled together. It is presented to a visiting relative who has not been seen for a long time. The term uso means brother and 'ava uso signifies the uniting together again of long separated relatives. The custom was seen at Safotu, Savaii, where Mr. Stehlin, who accompanied me, was related to the wife of the talking chief Timu.
At Vailoa, Tutuila, the 'ava uso was given to our malanga by the chief Satele and his people. On the malanga our leader, Mr. Judd, occupied the position of high chief and as such could not officially explain the objects of the visit of the Bishop Museum expedition. This duty was delegated to me and I acted as an assistant talking chief. Our senior Samoan talking chief did the talking demanded by Samoan etiquette while I followed up with an explanation of the aims of Bishop Museum in Polynesian research. The page 163brotherhood of the Maoris, Hawaiians, Samoans, and other branches had been touched on at the various villages. Vailoa was the last village of our fortnight's tour. Reports of our meetings had reached Vailoa ahead of us. As a mark of their recognition of our brotherhood—for both Mr. Judd and Mr. Cartwright were looked upon as Hawaiians—the Vailoa people determined to give us the 'ava uso instead of the 'ava mata. As we sat in the Vailoan guest house awaiting our hosts, our two Samoan talking chiefs saw the local chiefs in a house near by tying the long thin roots of 'ava uso together. They therefore anticipated things by changing my 'ava cup name to Fetaia'i-ma-uso (the meeting together of brothers). The 'ava uso was duly presented with the other kava root. During the serving of the kava shortly after, the calling of the cup name surprised and pleased our hosts. In giving the 'ava uso, the singing of a special song referring to it usually forms part of the ceremony.
Kava prepared for warriors before going to war is 'ava mua au. Fe'epulea'i Ripley saw the custom in Upolu during the Samoan troubles of some years ago. The armed warriors lined up along each side of the road and the kava bowl was set up in the middle of it. Only the chiefs were served with 'ava mua an.
Special ceremonies with varying details of procedure were built up around the installation of high chiefs and different districts seemed to have vied in elaborating a form of ceremony peculiar to their particular title. This was particularly so in connection with the high titles that have been designated as tupu (kings). Thus, in the high ceremonial connected with the Tui Manua, a number of cups were served. It sounds an extraordinary feat to drink so many cups, but after the first real cup the following cups contained merely a few drops. Even the mere touching of the receiving cup by the serving cups which were carried around was counted as a cup. It was number and not quantity that formed the basis of a special ceremony to add prestige to the rank of the high chief thus honored.