A PACKET OF YAQONA, the national drink of the Fijians.

Wobbly lips, perhaps a cure for cancer

Gary W. Meyer
  I am a packrat.
   Among one of the “packratted” items from a  long-ago trip to the South Pacific is a nondescript package of ground-up tree root.
   It’s been sitting in a cabinet in my livingroom since I smuggled it home from a trip to Fiji with a couple of buddies back in 1987.
Its formal name is Yaqona and it’s the base for the native drink for Fijians.
   It tastes terrible.
But it gets you smiley. More on that later.
Recently, Yaqona was reported in the Twin Cities papers as having properties which may prevent smoking-induced lung cancer.
A University of Minnesota research crew has announced results of preliminary tests on laboratory mice that Yaqona may have medicinal benefits - that it is suppressing cancerous tumors in the mice.
   That’s wonderful.
And all these years, I thought I just had a bag of terrible tasting, terrible smelling ground up tree root that when soaked in water gets you to be smiley.
Fast backward to the Fijian Islands, March, 1978. Two buddies from Big Lake and I were wrapping up a three-week trip to several South Pacific nations - Tahiti, Australia and New Zealand - with a four-day stop in Fiji.
We did the customary tours and a very interesting trip to our formal Naval base at Suva, from which our country staged a large share of its World War II Pacific operations.
   The Fijians, very tall and formerly ferocious sorts, are the last reported maneaters of that part of the world. 
   But Christianity has been brought to them - and now, they are a smiley, courteous, welcoming lot.
   At night, you could lie on the beach and see the three-foot fruit bats flailing about above you. By day, I accompanied a local fisherman (equipped with a three-pointed spear) out to the reefs. He caught a fish blue in color. I asked him the name of the fish and he said, “Blue fish.”
   Later he stabbed a reddish colored fish. I asked him the name of the fish and he said, “Red fish.”
Pretty simple life out there.
   I have never tasted better tasting pancakes than their banana cakes; I had them every morning.
   Back to the smiling business. One evening during a cultural presentation, a hundred or so Fijians gathered, seated on the stage to our theatre-bar-dining hall and began to make kava.
Kava is the local name for the Yaqona root after it is soaked (in a sock, or something like it) to leach it into the water.
Then, the Fijians took turns passing a cup of kava juice around the midst.
The most humorous image was that a Swedish foreign exchange student and our buddy Earl were the only white blots in a sea of very dark, dark kava-sipping hosts.
   After a few minutes, our Big Lake buddy began to wear a smile. Earl came over to us to explain his face was going numb - all his faculties were intact, but he couldn’t control his lips, and his nose was itchy too.
He implored I had to try the stuff.
So I did - and after a while, my lips went in their own directions and my nose became itchy.
Welcome to the Fijian national drink, we were told.
   This is how Fijians enjoy themselves after dark.
Thinking there should be another chapter to this kava story, I snuck two packets of the Yaqona root home with me, and at the end of a deck party that summer, pulled out a pack, soaked it in water and passed it around to friends.
   Soon their lips were floppy and their noses were itchy. That’s the end of our Yaqona story.
Except two weeks ago, with the University research kids.
We’ll keep an eye on their work to learn if there is a good outcome, besides floppy lips for the mice. 


OFFICER JOSH PESTA is the newest member of Big Lake’s police department. He hails from Long Prairie and started on the job last week. (Photo by Jennifer Edwards).

TOM GEROLD of Alive! Lutheran Church of Monticello met with the Big Lake Twp. Board Wednesday to outline plans for moving their church to a Co. Rd. 11 site, just west of the former River Inn. Looking over the plans were Supervisors Bruce Aubol, Norm Leslie, Larry Alfords and Steve Pfleghaar. (Photo by Gary W. Meyer)

DIRECTOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES Gordy Vosberg is excited about the expanding role of paramedics in keeping people at home in the community through the Healthy At Home follow-up care program and offering the best emergency services to those in need. (Photo by Jennifer Edwards).

Construction of the Oak Savannah Learning Center started March 25, 2015. The new learning center is located up the hill from the Old School House site, south of Co. Rd. 9. (Submitted Photo)

WH served 2,295 meals at its 78th Annual Meeting.