On Friday, 19 February 93, I left the college at 4:00 and caught the bus to Wone. Upon arrival I headed to the market and the local sakau bar. The bar is a set of narrow plywood planks under a nipa thatch palm roof. The lights are low and the music is played very quietly. Discussion is carried on softly. Sakau bars are so quiet one can fall asleep next to one undisturbed by any sort of noise or commotion.
Around the bar were people who were related to the family in one way or another. Upon my arrival I was given three cups of sakau by various relatives as a welcome. After asking around, I secured a purchase of ten pounds of unpounded root for the next evening.
The next day I lazed about, cleaning up around the nahs and the house. Near evening, the sakau arrived. I out the root in half and carefully squirreled half away in my house. Then I set about cleaning it. After cleaning it, I hauled it out to the nahs and began pounding the sakau. I have been pounding for six months now and am not half good at it.
Three boys turned up, sent by a relative, to help with the pounding. Two other boys arrived to help me look for the kolou hibiscus bark in which the sakau root is squeezed. An initial search proved fruitless. No meteitei in the kolou around the house. Meteitei is a slimey inner bark layer crucial to good squeezing. Dark fell as we checked kolou trees around the nahs. A hunk of bark was out from a limb and the inner bark was felt for meteitei. Each piece was passed to me for my inspection, although I had little clue as to what exact texture I was feeling for.
"This one!" proclaimed Kurobyn as he handed me yet another swatch of bark. We headed back to the nahs where Kurobyn instructed me in the proper manner of bark removal necessary to producing the squeezer.
Then we separated the inner bark from the outer. Finally we wrung the inner bark out in a bucket of water, yielding a slimey mop of meteitei. It was time to begin squeezing, a process that was more complex than even observing it had suggested. There were exact hand and finger motions I had completely missed out on despite having witnessed it many times. We soon exhausted the sakau and I went to bed with two sore thumbs and a sense that I might never master squeezing.
The next day I woke early and cleaned the remaining five pounds of sakau. Once clean, I loaded it into a bucket along with a cup and a small scrub brush. I locked the house and headed into the forest with a cutlass and my bucket load of sakau. On a run a month earlier I had found a lost sakau stone in the forest. When I asked, Nahngoro said the family line that had lived there had died out early in this century and that the land itself had not been lived on since the 1800's. I wanted to bring sakau back to the ancient stone. Any stone that is left unpounded is a stone left unhonored and another loss for the culture.
After a half hour hike I reached a forest stream. I searched briefly for a pounding stone and found one. I also filled the bucket with stream water. Then I headed up the foothill where the stone was located. I hit an unfamiliar plateau. I wasn't climbing the forested hill in the same place I'd been a month earlier. I was concerned that I might not find again the lost stone. Part way up the next hill face I encountered a thicket. The bucket was heavy with sakau, pounding stone, and water. I was tired, and sweat poured off me in the humid rain forest. I was ready to conclude that the stone did not desire to be found again.
I hacked through parts of the thicket and crawled through others. Spines and thorns snatched at me, vines entwined my legs and tripped me. I stumbled my way forward, my precious cargo of water sloshing about in the bucket. Then the thicket parted and there in front of me was my stone. Adrenaline and excitement filled me. I set the bucket down and headed off to find kolou.
A short ways away I found a strong stand of kolou. There wasn't sufficient meteitei, but I wanted to get started, so I decided to make do. Mostly I needed to practice my squeezing movements. I returned to the stone and prepared the kolou. Once the wengiweng was ready, I set it aside. The forest was quiet except for a small grey bird that hopped about on the ground chattering at me. The bird would face me, raise its tail, and chatter excitedly, eyeing me most carefully. I decided it would be prudent to ask the ancestors of the location for permission to return sakau to their stone and to apologize for my inadequacies at properly performing the ceremony.
I spoke to an empty forest while the little grey bird cocked its head and listened. When I finished the bird dropped its tail, turned, looked back over its shoulder, and flew away.
I then cleaned the moss covered stone and set about pounding the sakau. After pounding I began squeezing. At first my squeezing was as tentative and as clumsy as it had been the night before. As I squeezed I drank my squeezings, my own reward system for a good squeeze. Gradually I relaxed which improved my squeezing ability greatly.
Soon I was squeezing, drinking, and singing songs of lost loves, lost opportunities, lost worlds. Sakau brings on these sorts of moods. Five pounds of sakau is plenty for five people. I was hammering away at it solo. Squeeze, drink, sing, squeeze, drink, sing....
My arms were holding up well, which surprised me, but the rest of my body was dropping out on me. Then the lethargy crept into my arms. I could only summon the will to squeeze after prolonged rests during which I sang. Squeeze, drink, sing, soon became just sing. Then I fell quiet, as sakau also often causes one to do. I just sat there, as my body fell away from me. I couldn't stand, I couldn't move, and I wasn't concerned that I couldn't. My mind remained sharp and clear and I thought deeply about my life and the choices that had brought me to a stone in a distant forest.
I could hear the distant voices of children in the village, carried on the wind. Alone in the forest I wanted children of my own. I only needed to find with whom and where. The hours slipped by as I wandered through thoughts on so many things. For a brief span of time I was interconnected with everyone and no one. Then the grey bird returned and told me it was time to go, rain would be coming. The bird flitted off into the bush.
I enwreathed my sakau with the wengiweng and placed my pounder on top. Then I gathered my bucket and staggered home, still completely sakaula.
The journey home was longer and more eventful. I stumbled often on my unresponsive legs as I descended the hill. When I reached the stream I sat down and let the cool water revive me. I rinsed off, and then I made my way the rest of the way home. As soon as I entered the house the sky opened up and began to pour a heavy Pohnpeian rain down onto Kitti. I munched on chips and then fell into bed for a deep and recharging sleep.