Kava culture - bowlKava Culture Across The South Pacific Islands

Kava has been drunk for centuries across the South Pacific Islands. Each island has its’ own unique kava culture and kava drinking traditions and legends.

Kava is referred to as kava-kava in Tonga, Awa in Hawaii, Yaqona in Fiji, Ava in Samoa and Sakau in Pohnpei. Kava differs in taste and style of consumption in each island nation making the experience of kava culture different wherever you go. We encourage you to visit these welcoming islands and learn and experience first hand the kava culture there. In the meantime,  here is a brief overview.

A different kava culture, a common love of kava root.

Kava Culture in Fiji: Kava or yaqona is the official national drink in Fiji. In Fiji, kava is used at ceremonial gatherings of groups or communities. When the community assembles at one place, the kava drink is mixed. This drink is first taken by the senior person in the group and then by others from a ceremonial bowl. Before and after taking this drink, the chief has to clap once. It’s a ritual. Once he is done, the drink is served to others from rank wise. In this context, it is interesting to note that kava is not prepared in advance. At the time of the ceremony, it is crushed and mixed with water to be strained into a big bowl (Tanoa) before serving it in a cup, often a half coconut shell (Bilo). Apart from this, families and friends also use kava because of its relaxing effects. And both men and women can drink it as much as they want without any discrimination. Also, according to traditions, any individual visiting a Fijian village has to give a gift of kava to the head of that village. Kava is very important in Fiji custom as well. Typically at any wedding or funeral kava is exchanged as a gift.

Kava Bar in Vanuatu (Nakamal)
Kava Bar in Vanuatu (Nakamal)

Kava Culture in Vanuatu: There are several kava bars located in Vanuatu. Also referred to as ‘nakamal’ or club houses, most of these places are meant for men. At these spots, kava is served in the coconut shell for drinking. However, if you are visiting an urbanized location in this island, you can see it being served in glass or plastic bowls. In Vanuatu, a kava drink was mostly prepared by either pulverizing the roots by stone grinders or chewing and spewing out into the containers.  But in recent times, grinding machines are mainly used for this purpose. To give perspective on how popular it is there, the main city of Port Vila has an estimated population of 45,000 people and over 200 kava bars.

Kava in Tonga: Style of kava consumption is vastly different in Tonga compared to the previous two places. In Tonga, women can only serve kava, while men can drink it. However, kava is served mainly in meeting clubs by young maidens. It’s a tradition and has not seen much change from the time of its inception. Traditionally, the girl who serves the drink should not be related to any member of the club or if there happens to be a relation, the member has to leave the place for that night. Before serving, the girl mixes the drink and empties it into a coconut shell which has to be shared between all the drinkers one by one. Once the drink is finished, the shell is given hand by hand back to the girl. People talk and sing while consuming this drink. In Tongatapu, the main island of Tonga, the drink can be consumed only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. But at other places, it can be consumed any day, usually at night for up to 8 to 9 hours!

Kava in Hawaii: Approximately 13 types of kava are domestically grown in Hawaii. Both men and women across different classes can enjoy a kava drink. In this island nation, kava is particularly popular for its stress-relieving impacts on muscles and bones. Owing to this, kava sees widespread usage here. It features in medicines as well as in social, religious, cultural and political events too. And Hawaii as a number of commercial kava bars operating 7 days a week were you can get a drink.

Kava in Samoa: In Samoa, ava or kava is provided in a polished coconut shell to the members in a kava ceremony. The drink is first given to the highest chief and then to the senior most host of the party and finally to others according to their ranks. Ava is widely available at all the markets and sold in bags to take and prepare back home.