What’s a Little Alcohol Taboo Between Friends?
Kasiri in French Guiana
Our five-month stay in French Guiana was coming to an end, and there was still one more visit we had to make before flying home. My girlfriend Johanna had formed a bond with an indigenous Palikur family from Norino. She would spend long afternoons with them, learning traditional basketwork. Once, she even brought some armadillo meat home.
We met with Jean; his wife, Rosania; and Sarah, one of their daughters, under the wooden shelter where women would make the baskets they would later sell to tourists. But this time, instead of eating there by the fire, we followed them to their home a few hundred yards away. We sat at the plastic table, surrounded by the whole family. We alone were eating: everyone else had eaten before we arrived. As lunch came to an end, Jean opened the huge chest fridge, one of the only pieces of furniture in the room, and took out a plastic soda bottle filled with a milky, grayish liquid: kasiri, he said.
We had only seen kasiri, commonly described as Amerindian beer, on two occasions: at the Kali’na games, a gathering celebrating Amerindian culture, and on our way to Trois-Sauts, a remote village a two-day boat-trip away from the closest road. At the Kali’na games, the kasiri was bright pink, very sour, smoky and slightly sparkling; a delight, frankly. On the second occasion, the skippers on the boat were drinking it and I was not offered any.
We asked Jean where his kasiri came from. We knew that most of the village’s inhabitants had given up their traditional beliefs about 20 years earlier and had embraced Evangelicalism, which forbids alcohol. Jean told us that, knowing we would be keen on trying it, he had bought a bottle from a neighbor. He poured some into our glasses and into his own. The three of us shared a drink, and then it was time to leave. Rosania had made us seed jewelry, and Jean had us try on the feather crown he once wore as the village’s chief. Those items, too, were taboo under their new faith, but fortunately, the desire to share a good time with new friends was stronger.