Kava culture - bowlAn Overview of Kava Uses and Traditions Around the Pacific

Kava is referred to as kava-kava in Tonga, Awa in Hawaii, Yaqona in Fiji, Ava in Samoa and Sakau in Pohnpei. This popular drink of the Pacific Islands is consumed for its stress relieving powers amongst other things. However, what fascinates every mind is that kava differs in taste and style of consumption in each island nation.  We encourage you to experience this for yourself by visiting one of these welcoming islands and learning first hand but here is a brief overview.

Different cultures, one thing in common, a beloved root.

Kava Culture in Fiji: Kava or yaqona is the official national drink in Fiji. Going by popular legends in the Fiji islands, the drink made its first appearance in Tonga at the grave of a princess who is assumed to have died of broken heart. 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 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, 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.

Kava in Tonga: Style of kava consumption is vastly different in Tonga compared to 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 at night for around 8 to 9 hours.

Kava in Hawaii: Approximately 13 types of kava are available 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.

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.