New Caledonia, the benefits of the kava break-

Sunset in Nouméa.
Sunset in Nouméa.
Philippe AMIOT / Flickr

By Gilles Renault, Special Envoy in New Caledonia – Google translation of article in the link below

January 16, 2015 at 17:06 (updated on January 20, 2015 at 09:21)

In the evening, from north to south of Grande Terre, Kanaks, Caldoches, subways and Wallisians gather in small huts, the nakamals, to share a bitter decoction with relaxing properties.

The district of Nouville, Nouméa, offers a toporama such that one could spend a lifetime without leaving. Pell-mêle, we find on the peninsula a high school, the university and its campus, port facilities, the remains of the old prison, the current penitentiary center, a theater, a psychiatric hospital, the Senate customary … And the Edenic Sunset: in the late afternoon, nestled in the heart of lush vegetation – and framed by small slums – the spot guarantees a breathtaking view of the sunset that, after iridescent ocean , bows out into the distance. A dazzling almost daily in New Caledonia, worthy of the most caricatural clichés, except that the Sunset is not a place so common, since it is a nakamal.

A nakamal? Quèsaco? Imported from the Vanuatu archipelago, where its use, reserved for men, is based on ancestral beliefs highly codified, the nakamal is a community space dedicated to the consumption of a singular beverage: kava. Quèsaco (bis)? Not to be confused with coffee, despite a treacherous phonetic, it is a decoction that has properties diametrically opposite to those of the little black, since it consumes it to relax. In the end, this is a form of light-hearted light, locally tolerated, where other territories such as France, Great Britain or Switzerland forbid it (risk of liver damage, according to some controversial medical studies), while Australia is thinking about to do the same but this time by invoking issues of illegal trafficking.

Red Loupiote. Cruising New Caledonia on the kava trail does not prevent you from enjoying the thousand and one environmental treasures of this lush archipelago (palm trees, coconut palms, banyan trees, niaoulis … ad infinitum) surrounded by the second largest barrier reef in the world. world (1,600 kilometers). On the contrary, it is hard to imagine, for example, making the trip without knowing the intense experience of a picnic on the beach, embellished by the frequent reptilations of striped knits, these small marine snakes with deadly venom (their bite is equivalent to ten times that of the royal cobra), but, it seems, safe (or almost) for man: they are said to be insane and as peaceful as the ocean in which they are going to eat.

Credit: Gilles RENAULT

Less rich in strong sensations – the aim being precisely the opposite – the nakamal is nevertheless worth the detour for its incomparable ethnological virtues. It is the only context in which Kanaks (the Melanesians who make up the indigenous people), Caldoches (the white people settled there for several generations), metros (those who live there temporarily) and Wallisians rub shoulders, let alone all social barriers. abolished.

The Sunset, the Palm trees, the 21, the Stairs … there are more than a hundred nakamals in Noumea alone, and many others scattered throughout the bush. Places are usually not reported, except sometimes by a red wolf, lit when they are open. The setting itself is not glamorous: it will be a sort of straw hut, a cabin, even a garden furniture (plastic chairs, oilcloth) and decorated (tiki statuettes, posters). It opens at the end of the afternoon and closes … when the barrel is empty.

Kava comes from the root of a plant, the piper methysticum, which, in its traditional form, is chewed and then spit out on a banana leaf. Insiders, who tested it in Vanuatu, describe an ox effect. More “all public”, the New Caledonian version is made from the powdered and conditioned rhizome. Served by the ladle for a small fee (80 cents of the standard amount), the elixir is drunk in a half-empty coconut (photo below). Soapy, bitter, earthy, the qualifiers used to describe the taste of kava are not great. Moreover, once the liquid is swallowed, we spit in a long sink, before rinsing the bowl and nibble anything (chips, piece of apple, candy) intended to fade the unpleasant sensation. But not to the point of supplanting the effects felt, which begin with an impression of anesthesia in the mouth, antechamber of what the exegetes call the “song of kava”

Credit: Gilles RENAULT

Vincent Vuibert is one of them. It is found in the north of Grande Terre, Koné. A few kilometers from the famous Heart of Voh – this clearing in the mangrove immortalized on the cover of the book of Yann Arthus-Bertrand the Earth seen from the sky. Jimmy is a nakamal lost at the end of a dirt track lined with arid fields, where pickup and 4 × 4 converge in the late afternoon to “raise some shells,” according to the formula. Like a fish in the water in this Wild West setting, thirty-year-old Vincent Vuibert, author and prize-winner last year in Caledonia for his novel Weed Chronicles, details the iterative pleasure he gets from practicing: “The kava it is pleasant that unlike alcohol or cannabis, it disinhibits, relaxes and keeps a certain lucidity, all without creating addiction. He favors the meeting, the exchange, frees the spirit. In addition, it amplifies the pleasure of writing for me. “

“The soul of the country”. “For who wants to meet people, it’s really nakamal that is the soul of the country,” says Gwen, 260 kilometers below, in Noumea, in an improbable bivouac plunged into the darkness of a wasteland in front an administrative building. Conquered since the underground beginnings of the late 80s, this employee of the public service co-hosts a webzine, the Cri du Cagou (1), which sings in particular the praises of this “unclassifiable place, guarantor of social life”. At the end of October, the self-proclaimed “kava masta” (master of the kava), not without pride, initiated Imhotep, the sound architect of the group IAM. “And frankly, I think he liked it,” he says with a smile.


Gilles Renault Special Envoy to New Caledonia

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