We love that the process of serving and drinking kava retains its traditional roots in the modern age. While there are now a variety of ways to drink kava—like traditional medium grind, micronized, or concentrated kava—the experience is still about sharing and socializing in harmony. To preserve the cultural traditions of drinking kava in the Pacific Islands, many kava drinkers enjoy preparing their kava drinks in a kava bowl, also known as tanoas (ta-no-uh).
What is a Kava Bowl and What Does it Look Like?
A kava bowl is a wooden serving bowl traditionally used for the serving and drinking of kava. Commonly, kava bowls are called tanoas by Pacific Islanders in Fiji and Samoa. Other parts of the world have different names for kava bowls. In Tonga a kava bowl is called a “kumete,” and in Hawaii they are called “kanoa.” Kava bowls are usually round or elliptical in shape and can range from highly decorated to very minimalistic in design. They typically have three or more legs, are shallow, and are made of hardwood or clay. The beauty of kava bowls is that they are almost always handcrafted. Each bowl is unique and special, crafted with a great deal of care and love. No two kava bowls are exactly the same!
In the past and to this day, kava bowls were passed around and used as part of religious, cultural, and community rituals in the Pacific Islands. You can even experience traditional kava ceremonies on islands like Fiji and Vanuatu. Kava is either drunk directly from the bowl or coconut cups called bilos, which are dipped into the bowls and passed around to share. During a ceremony, drinking kava involves a very specific etiquette, such as saying a specific chant before consuming the kava or having the leaders of the village drink first before the other villagers. Being the first to drink kava is a sign of high respect in many cultures.
Kava Bowl Types
Each country in the Pacific Islands has its own variation of a kava bowl. Though the name and design may change, the deep meaning behind kava bowls remains the same. Whether it’s community bonding or religious ceremonies, kava bowls have played—and continue to play—an important role in Pacific Islanders’ culture and art.
Fijian Kava Bowl
The oldest versions of Fijian kava bowls were made from stone or clay. More commonly, Fijian kava bowls are made from local hardwood tree species, including Fijian Kauri or Vesi wood. These tanoas usually have five to six legs and are decorated with shells and coconut husk cords called magimagi. In our online store, we carry kava bowls from different Pacific Islands occasionally. These kava bowls are purchased directly from villagers, so you know you’re supporting local communities on the islands.
Samoan Kava Bowl
You can always tell if a kava bowl is Samoan by the number of legs it has; there are often a lot! It’s common for a Samoan kava bowl to have ten or more legs and intricate construction. You can find both round and oval-shaped Samoan kava bowls. Samoan tanoas are often decorated with traditional carvings that have been blackened to make them stand out from the wood.
Tongan Kava Bowl
Like other kava bowls, Tongan kava bowls are made from a hardwood called fehi and are circular or lenticular in shape. Tongan tanoas have been and currently are used in kava ceremonies as a way for Tongan men to bond and discuss social, political, and cultural issues.
Want to Try a Kava Bowl with Your Next Kava Drink?
If you’re looking to have an authentic kava drinking experience, look no further than a kava bowl and/or bilo. Whether for preparation on your own or sharing with your loved ones, using the traditional wares can give you a taste of the Pacific Islander culture and enhance your kava drinking experience. To shop a selection of tanoas, bilos, and other kava accessories, visit our online store today. We’re excited to share Kava culture for everyone to enjoy!
Boissonnas, Valentin. “Kava Bowls from Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga.” New Guinea & Oceanic Tribal Art for sale |
Museum quality Oceanic art. Accessed November 2, 2021.
Tasi, Amiri. “Kava Bowls: Fijian, Samoan, & Modern Kava Tanoas.” Kava Guides, October 4, 2021.