It is the final night of the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu and the Fijian prime minister is explaining how to drink kava.
“You clap first,” says Frank Bainimarama, as the smooth wooden bowl is passed around the circle. “Then you have to gulp in one go; then you clap again – one, two, three.”
As with so many things in the region, there is a metaphor involving the sea. “Tsunami is the full bowl,” he says, explaining the different levels to which the small bowl is filled from the large tanoa, or kava bowl, in the middle of the circle. “Then full tide, low tide.”
“It’s a social drink,” he says. “You can sit for hours and drink this stuff and tell stories about nothing.”
Among the stories the prime minister tells over the next three hours as each person gulps down a dozen bowls of kava – about his fear of flying, his views on Trump, why he seized power in the infamous coup that saw him become Fiji’s leader – there is one theme he returns to over and over: the climate crisis.