No. 4 in a Series: Invited to a Fijian Prison’s Kava Ceremony

June 30, 2014


I had always wanted to visit the South Sea Islands. When elected to be an Oakland Judge, I had over six months before I took office in January 1989. I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to travel somewhere I had always wanted to, the south sea islands. Fiji was my first destination, as it was pretty much all I knew of the south seas. I thought of the trip as a busman’s holiday, with the idea that I would visit the courts and jails and learn something about how the islander’s meted out justice., before I took the bench.

In Fiji I was granted the opportunity to visit the main jail facility by the Chief Justice of Fiji. I was treated with respect and deference, and as a special honor, I was invited to the guards own housing unit , to participate in a traditional Kava ceremony. [ The root of the Kava pepper plant is  used to produce a drink with sedative and anesthetic properties, highly valued throughout Polynesia, but banned in many western counties for its mild addictive and toxic qualities]

I also visited other  communities  where Kava was used in the traditional fashion, with the Kava ceremonial experience, a rare religious and/or community celebration. But with the modern world intruding into village life, it had become endemic to many communities and used everywhere and much of the time. That explanation was brought home to me when I met a fellow traveller on a bus. He invited me to his home to drink Kava. He said he drank it every day, as there were no jobs , no money for a wife, and nothing to do but drink. He was a drug dependent, with no obvious way out of his dilemma.

Which is what I sometimes think is happening across the world; people using drug to anesthetize themselves from boredom, lack of opportunity and community.  No job, prospects of one, money to start a family, or marry, and nothing much to do. Within a generation, a ceremonial substance, admittedly hallucinogenic and addictive had become an acceptable part of the life of an entire region of the world.

It was on my south seas journey that I began to seriously think about the value, nature and consequences of drug use around the world. It gave me a new perspective on legalization  and the endemic use of marijuana and other soft drugs in the U.S.and other western nations?




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