Understanding Kava Culture: Vanuatu
There is one small island in the South Pacific with a unique culture that can rightfully claim kava as its own: Vanuatu.
Where Is Vanuatu?
East of Australia sits an archipelago of islands that boasts the greatest number of kava strains. This tiny nation is culturally and linguistically diverse, where, in addition to English, French, and the national tongue Bislama, 113 other native dialects are spoken.
Vanuatu is an island republic that has had its independence from British and French powers since 1980. Vanuatu was originally settled by the Lapita people, the forerunners to modern Polynesian cultures. The Lapita originally discovered and cultivated kava, where it made its way to other Polynesian islands, such as Samoa, Fiji, and many other locations.
Vanuatu has a three- thousand- year history of using kava for ceremonial and medicinal purposes. In Vanuatu’s ancient past, only high -ranking men who belonged to secret societies could drink kava for spiritual reasons.
In modern times, kava is traditionally prepared by young boys in Vanuatu in bars called nakamal.
Native Kava Culture: How to Drink Kava in Vanuatu
The kava in rural areas is served in empty coconut shells, but in the urban areas glass or plastic bowls are used. Kava drinkers are expected to down the whole shell in one gulp.
For Vanuatu natives, it is traditional to spit enthusiastically after drinking kava as an offering to the gods, but locals are not expected to do this. It was once customary for only men to be able to attend these nakamal, but recently this cultural taboo has relaxed, and all over the islands men and women drink side by side.
Kava Culture Today in Vanuatu
Kava is extremely popular in Vanuatu as it is considered the national drink and part of the country’s cultural heritage. For example, in the city of Port Vila, there are over 250 kava bars serving a population of 45,000. Kava bars here can be identified by the red and green lights hanging outside the door. It should not be surprising then, that kava consumption in Vanuatu now includes recreational, as well as ceremonial and medicinal use.
If you cannot make it to Vanuatu in the future, you can experience a taste of it at Ohana Kava Bar, one of Colorado’s original kava establishments.
There is a location downtown near the corner of Boulder and Tejon, and another, newer location on North Academy Boulevard. The downtown location was founded in 2015 and features authentic Polynesian masks hanging from the walls.
It is a warm, relaxing environment where people from all walks of life are welcome. If you have any questions about kava or the cultures surrounding it, the owner Matthew Clark will be happy to answer them for you.