Before we came to Atiu, we had read about the Tumunu ritual and immediately realized this was something we had to check out! Nowadays, the Tumunu is best described as a community meeting place, mainly for men, where issues are discussed and problems solved. It turned into an unforgettable evening.
Before the early missionaries arrived around 1820, drinking “Kava”, a mud colored liquid made from the root of the kava plant was widely practiced. The missionaries disapproved and outlawed the growing, manufacturing and consumption of Kava. As a consequence, many of the locals met secretly in the bush to make and drink homebrew. In Atiu, the men took their drinking seriously and invented the Tumunu for their “bush beer”.
Nowadays, even though the laws are quite different, these “Tumunu” remain a local tradition. Only men are allowed, even though female tourists are most welcome. We chose to go on the busiest day, Friday night. Together with Thomas, who also stays at the Are Manuiri, we arrived shortly after the “official” opening at 05:00 pm. By then a group of about 20 men was already sitting under a tin roof in a circle enjoying the brew. One “barman” was in the middle handing out the drink in a small conical cup made of half a coconut shell, polished to perfection.
We felt a bit awkward dropping in like this and quietly sat in a corner listening to the men conversing in Maori. Heidi was the only woman and she relaxed a bit when we were given a faded guest book that made it evident that female tourists had attended this ceremony many times. After a while the barman knocked the drinking cup against the bucket that held 20 liter of homebrew. This was the sign for a short prayer and after that we were officially welcome and asked to introduce ourselves.
The cup was being passed around and around and we all soon started to feel the effect of alcohol. Even though the cup contained only a tiny gulp, it took its toll, because the beer was mega strong, we supposed as strong as wine!
As the evening proceeded, the locals grew louder and louder. By then everybody was talking to us. The evening for us ended with a wild photo shooting session: everybody wanted to have their photo taken.
When the three of us exchanged the information we had collected the following day, we discovered that our local drinking buddies are all very important men on the island: the highest commissioner, the school principal, the manager of the telecom and what not …