Photo by Kama Catch Me

How Kava Culture In Fiji Differs To Other Pacific Islands

Kava is engrained in the culture of the Pacific islands, but it is not the same wherever you go; the same as you can travel around Europe and taste different beers in different environments and settings, kava culture has its unique traits in each part of the Pacific.

From Fiji to Vanuatu to Samoa to Hawaii, kava is part of the fabric of life, but it wears slightly different clothes on each of the island chains!

KAVA CULTURE IN FIJI

In Fiji, kava is called “yaqona” (pronounced “yangona”) or “grog” and it is the official national drink. Fijian legend says that it originated in Tonga, where it sprouted from the grave of a princess who died of a broken heart.

Kava ceremonies are used widely to celebrate births, deaths, marriages and important life events, as well as to solve disputes, clinch business deals and make important decisions. The kava is mixed, prepared and drunk as part of the ceremony – it is not pre-prepared.

The kava is pulverized, water added and then it is strained into a large mixing bowl or “tanoa”, before being served in a cup (“bilo”) to the chief guest first. This guest must clap once before and once after drinking the kava. People are served the kava in order, from the highest ranking down.

In addition to this ceremonial use, it is used socially between friends and families; its relaxation effects make it a great social “lubricant.” Women drink it as much as the men in Fiji.
When visiting a Fijian village, kava culture extends to presenting a gift (“sevusevu”) of kava to the traditional village head.

Fiji is a regional centre of education so it is where many visiting islanders taste kava for the first time.

KAVA CULTURE IN THE REST OF THE PACIFIC

You will see many of the same traditions of kava culture preserved across the Pacific islands, but with regional variations.

Vanuatu is known for its kava bars and “nakamal”, which are village club houses, many of which are only open to men. A coconut shell is usually used to drink the kava in these places, while in urban areas kava bars use plastic or glass bowls.

Traditionally the kava root is ground using stone grinders (or it is even chewed and the paste spat into containers – like traditionally in Fiji) but grinding machines are increasingly used these days.

In Tonga only the men are allowed to drink kava and it is usually done in meeting clubs; women are permitted only to serve it to the men and traditionally a young, unmarried girl will perform the service. Even today, the serving girl is not allowed to be related to anyone in the club or that member will have to leave for the night. The girl will stir the kava and then pour some into coconut shells which are passed around until those sitting furthest away get a drink, after which they are returned hand by hand. This will be accompanied by talking and/or singing.

On the main Tongan island, Tongatapu it is usually drunk on Wednesday and Saturdays only, but increasingly elsewhere it is drunk every night of the week and can include very long sessions of eight or nine hours!
In Hawaii kava is called “awa” and there are at least 30 different types. It is used as medicine and for religious, cultural, political and social purposes by people of all classes, both men and women. In Hawaii the physical effects of kava are particularly valued as it helps to relax tired muscles and bones after the day’s work.

On Wallis Island (Uvea) instead of the cups being passed from hand to hand, young boys do the job of making sure the cups get to the right people.

Finally, in Samoa, “ava” is served in a polished coconut shell and brought to the participants in a kava ceremony by the server in a specific order with the highest chief of the visiting party usually served first, then the highest chief of the host party, and finally according to the rank of the rest of the participants.

There you have it. Kava culture – based around the same plant and the same drink, but with slight changes depending on where in the Pacific you are kicking back!

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