Thursday, December 31, 2009

Drunken Revelry

New Year's Eve, it seems, is a universally accepted reason to get smashing drunk in all cultures across the world. At least, the villagers celebrated it this way - or, I should say, the men did. And some kids, who snuck into their fathers' or uncles' private stashes of home-brew. Women abstained from alcohol, preferring to sit around and gossip about their men and neighbors as they smoked their hand rolled cigarettes.

Hanging out with the women.

On this particular New Year's Eve, the hut behind us was hosting a giant party. Jugs of coconut toddy, carefully collected and fermented for months, were hauled out of their hiding places for general consumption. The men of the clan assembled on mats in a large circle, and passed a ceramic mug around it, in a riotous game of hot-potato. Each man would swig the entire contents of the mug, refill it, and hand it to his neighbor. Who would repeat the process, and around and around they went. All the while, Bellamy Brothers' ''Redneck Girl" was blaring at full volume from the boom box, wavery and distorted from the tape's many repeated playings, and from the corrosive effects of the salty, tropical air.

"Gimme, gimme, gimme a redneck girl!" sang the speakers. I sat with my friend, Valena, at a safe distance from the drinkers, watching to see if anything exciting would break out. We were soon rewarded for our patience.

A young man named Nani stood up waveringly. He stumbled a few feet from the circle of revelers, then looked around confusedly. A few brave kids darted up to him, jeered, then ran quickly into the bushes.

"Hey!" he shouted, angering. "Where is that Kopeala? Where is he? I'm going to get him!"

Nani started to lurch down the path between the houses, searching drunkenly for Kopeala, who had apparently done something, some time in the past to piss him off. Nani obviously thought it was a big deal, now. We were delighted. Watching the drunks, for us village kids, was as mesmerizing as the newest video game is for kids who were blessed to grow up in more civilized countries. This would provide entertainment now, and fodder for conversation and gossip for weeks.

Staying a safe distance away, Valena and I followed along in the increasingly large crowd of kids as Nani stumbled through the village. "Nani! Go home!" a woman called at him from her doorway. "You're being stupid!" He roared in anger at her, and kept on his way. Spying an axe leaning against a nearby hut, Nani grabbed it and quickened his pace. We now formed a large circle around him, a thick wall of brown bodies moving with him but well away from the sharp blade he now carried.

Nani came to a stop in front of a hut, apparently Kopeala's. "Come out here, Kopeala! I'm going to kill you!" He swayed and we watched breathlessly. "Kopeala!!!" he roared. And swung the axe through the air for good measure. The momentum caused him to loose his balance, and he stumbled drunkenly to one side. The crowd gasped. Some boys started to laugh at him, which angered Nani even more and caused him to turn on his spectators. "Go away, you kids!" he yelled. "I'm gonna get you, too!" He started to run towards the closest perimeter (thankfully opposite from where Valena and I stood), and swung his axe at the scattering kids.

It was like watching a flock of pigeons take off as a dog runs towards them. Kids dispersed in every direction but up, disappearing between houses, around trees, out to the open beach nearby. Valena grabbed my hand and we took off, our bare feet pounding the the dirt as adrenaline shot its intoxicating serum into our veins.

We finally stopped when we reached Valena's house, laughing and talking the adventure over between gasping breaths. "Did you see him?!" I laughed.

"Yeah, what an idiot. Kopeala isn't even on the island right now," Valena giggled, leaning against the hut's exterior post.

Some braver kids (who had stayed around to watch the rest of the action) came by a little later, and gave us the report.

"Nani eventually dropped the axe, and then some men rushed in and restrained him," Lio said. "They took him into the men's hut, and he's asleep there now."

This is how I decided, at an early age, to not ever drink to the point of getting wasted. I didn't want to look like a complete fool.

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