Understanding the Kava Culture of Fiji
The traditional Polynesian drink known as kava is thought to have originated either in Papua New Guinea or the Vanuatu archipelago over three thousand years ago.
But today, many other Polynesian cultures have taken root. Now it is consumed all over the South Pacific and the island of Fiji is no exception. As the Polynesian islands have started implementing kava into their culture, they have developed their own unique culture around the consumption of this relaxing substance.
In Fiji, the traditional word for kava is yaqona.
Fijians are proud of yaqona and consider it their national drink. If you are lucky enough to be invited to a village kava ceremony, it is considered polite to bring a gift as a token of appreciation to the village elder.
How to Consume Kava in Fiji
The consumption of kava is thoroughly woven into the fabric of Fijian society.
Nearly every significant rite of passage—whether it is a birth, marriage, or even the resolution of a dispute—is accompanied by copious amounts of kava. During these ceremonies, kava is prepared on the spot, as Fijians do not bring premade kava. The kava is pulverized, and water is added during the ceremony, whereupon it is strained through a bag into a bowl called a “tanoa”. It is customary for the village head or chief to drink the kava first and then everyone else at the ceremony drinks in order of their social ranking. The village elder will clap his once before consuming the kava and one time after.
Kava is Spiritual
Kava in Fiji is deeply connected to traditional spiritual beliefs.
One Fijian legend has it that kava came from the god Degei who wanted to provide human beings with kava to enhance their spiritual wisdom. According to another legend, kava comes from the island of Tonga, where the first kava plant sprouted from the grave of a Tongan princess who died of a broken heart.
In the distant past, only village elders and chieftains were granted the privilege of drinking this wondrous beverage, but today all segments of Fijian society can partake of it. Aside from ceremonial consumption, ordinary Fijians drink kava for recreational purposes to relax and socialize more easily. Many Polynesian cultures have traditionally restricted the use of kava to men, but in Fiji men and women drink kava in equal amounts.
Traditional Kava and Modern Kava Consumption
The use of kava has spread far beyond its traditional cultural homelands.
Today kava bars can be found everywhere from New York City to Colorado Springs. The latter city is home to Ohana Kava Bar, with two locations, the newest one on North Academy and Austin Bluffs. Remnants of the Fijian kava culture can be found here. The walls are adorned with traditional Polynesian masks. And when customers clink their kava bowls together, they do not say “cheers”—instead, they say “bula” which is the Fijian word for “to your health”.
For more information on kava cultures, just ask the owner Matt Clark or one of his knowledgeable kava bartenders, who he affectionately calls “kava slingers”.