Ben is a 33-year-old gardener who lives in Port Vila. He says that when the alcohol ban was put in place during Christmas and New Years, him and his friends drank their own homebrew.
‘First you get yeast and you mix it with water. Then you put a pineapple in it and keep adding sugar, morning, noon and night. After maybe two weeks, you strain it and you drink it. It gets you drunk easily.’
Ben’s preferred drink is Golden Eagle – a widely popular drink that can be found at Au Bon Marche and most Chinese shops around town. He says that the drink is affordable, at only 1500vt for 700ml, and gets you drunk quickly and can easily be shared among a few friends. There is no mixer required – it’s simply a matter of passing the bottle around and free pouring into your mouth. However he admits that the consequence of drinking Golden Eagle the next day isn’t worth it.
‘It feels like you’re dying. Your throat is dry, your whole body is suffering and you need plenty of water. I know it’s not good for me,’ he says.
So what exactly is Golden Eagle? Why is it the popular choice among youth?
The label says that it is a ‘premium spirit’ and is made from ‘a fine selection of traditional elaborated spirit’. It is supposedly made in France and contains 35% alcohol. It’s ingredients states that it contains ‘eau, alcool, aromes, colorant, caramel.’
It is unclear if you are supposed to drink it as it is or mixed with another beverage such as a soft drink.
Yorick Nicholls, the general manager of Moorings Hotel, says that an unregulated beverage such as Golden Eagle would not be served to his clients due to health reasons. ‘I’ve not come across that brand or bottle before, but I certainly would not serve it to any of my clients,’ he says. ‘Having studied bar service, I understand alcohol production to be a complex process, and a substandard product can lead to undesirable side-effects, and ultimately customer complaints’
Although Golden Eagle is not served in restaurants and bars (that we are aware of), it is among several other alcoholic wines and spirits that is easily available from most shops. In Vanuatu, the legal drinking age is 18 but it is not reinforced. Anybody can purchase alcohol as identification is not required and it is even quite common to go into a nightclub and see children as young as 12 participating in adult activities.
It is also widely accepted to see people drinking and driving in Vanuatu. In the past month alone, we have seen pictures floating around social media of alcohol-related car crashes with even one incident involving a government official wearing a Van2017 t-shirt, passed out on the side of the road in a government vehicle. Unfortunately Vanuatu also doesn’t have breathalysers nor do they have enough police manpower to combat the issue of drinking and driving.
‘The police have a big challenge ahead for what appears to be a worsening situation,’ says Mr. Nicholls.
Mr. Nicholls believes it is the responsibility of parents to educate their children about drinking responsibly, and also that of the authorities to catch offenders in the act, rather than when called upon. ‘If parents don’t discipline their children, due to a lack of awareness of their children’s drinking habits and authorities only address cases when summoned, then campaigns to promote responsible drinking will only do so much.
Put simply, the more it happens without repercussions, the more people will feel at liberty to continue. Keep in mind that it’s likely that for those youth that do drink, knowing that it is a sub-standard product to consume may not in all cases deter them away from it as it remains an affordable substitute that will get them drunk just as fast as the costlier alternatives. Therefore many would always return to it for need to join the fray and party.’
Ben and his friends admit that although they know that cheap alcohol such as Golden Eagle is bad for their health, it is all they can afford. ‘Some of us will even drink poison if it means we will get drunk,’ he shrugs.
Until the authorities start tackling issues related to alcohol from underage drinking, irresponsible drinking to drink-driving, it seems that the responsibility lies with parents to educate their children about alcohol.
In the meantime, people need to also self-regulate. If you are going to drink, please read the following tips to ensure that you’re drinking experience is a safe and enjoyable one.
Tingting Bifo Yu Dring
- Sapos yu draev, yu no dring.
- Sapos yu dring, askem wan fren we i no dring blong hemi draev.
- Yu no mas dring taem gat i fas. Kaekae gud fastaem
- Taem yu dring alcohol, mek sua se yu dring fulap wota
- Sapos yu dring ol jip alcohol, yu mas save se hemi gat fulap giaman ingredients insaed and hemi save spoilem bodi mo tingting blong yu
This article was originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Life and Style magazine.