One of Fiji’s best known traditions and cultural experiences is drinking Kava. The soothing after effects of the drink brings an euphoria to travellers which encourages peace and friendship to all that participate in this special ceremony.
Fijians have been drinking this beverage for thousands of years believing bitter tasting concoction helps them reach out to their ancestors and gods. Now many travellers are experiencing Kava while visiting the islands of Fiji, but not all the ceremonies are the same. The best cultural experiences are had in a local village and not at your resort. This is true of most cultural experiences and especially true about participating in a Kava ceremony.
What is Kava?
Now you are asking yourself what is kava. Kava is from the pepper family of plants. Its official name is Piper Methysticum but is sometimes called Asava Pepper. The non-addictive medicinal plant grows in the South Pacific Islands where there is plenty of rain and the canopy above provided by various trees offer cover from direct sunlight. The plant grows to an average height of six feet and sports heart-shaped leaves that span 10 inches wide. Kava is harvested when the plant reaches four years old.
The harvested Kava plant is mixed into water after the plant is chewed or pounded into a powder. The result is a brownish looking beverage that tastes bitter or sour.
What is the Kava plant good for?
The Kava plant has been consumed for thousands of years for medicinal purposes. The plant is useful in helping calm people down much like a sedative. The medicinal value of Kava ranges from treating migraines and insomnia to anxiety and nervous tension to alieving problems of PMS and menopausal pain. After you drink Kava, you often feel more relaxed and locals believe the brown beverage brings clarity to your brain which helps you reach out to your ancestors and gods.
How does Kava affect people?
Consuming Kava makes people feel happy and relaxed because it’s a mild narcotic. The desired effects of Kava only last a couple of hours with after effects the next day that don’t feel like a hangover. When consuming Kava you will experience a tickling of the tongue which is an indication the mild sedative is working. Even though it’s a mild narcotic people don’t feel drugged or over powered by the sensations. If you consume too much, you will want to sleep. Your thought process will remain clear without paranoia or delirium until you finally nod off into sleep.
What to expect during a traditional Kava ceremony?
Most resorts on Fiji offer up a Kava experience but the experience is much different. Usually the beverage is watered down by the resort and does not offer the same effects as you would find at a local village during a Kava ceremony. So the best place to experience a traditional Kava ceremony is at a local village, and this is what we offer guests on night two of your Fiji tour. One thing for sure is that if you are traveling in Fiji and are offered a chance to participate in a traditional Kava ceremony, it is frowned upon if you decline.
The traditional Kava ceremony begins when the leader combines the powdery mix with water in a wooden bowl called a Tanoa. After straining the brown colored beverage through a cloth, the leader will clap his hands. During the ceremony guests are served first then others will be offered a cup based on their social status within the village. Guests of the traditional Kava ceremony will sit in a circle with their legs crossed while accepting the beverage in a small coconut cup. Before each guest drinks from their cup of Kava they must clap their hands. The appropriate way for guests to consume the Kava is by drinking the whole cup in one gulp. Sipping is considered to be improper. After consuming the beverage guests will clap again to show the group their cup is empty.
The does and don’ts of attending a traditional Kava ceremony
First off, never touch a Fijian on the head. The touching of a person’s head is seen as an insult. During the ceremony guests should not wear hats or sunglasses. Wearing these items is a sign of disrespect towards the chief or leader. Shoes should not be worn while guests are inside a building or house. Clothing should be worn by both men and women that cover their knees and shoulders. Guests must sit with their legs crossed and not stretched out in front them. Always consume your cup of Kava in one drink. Do not sip your cup and remember to clap three times after you finish gulping your Kava down.
In the end experiencing this tradition is a must do when visiting the Fiji Islands. Now that you know everything there is to know about a traditional Kava ceremony, it is time for you to enjoy this cultural delight. Just remember to find an authentic Fiji village to help you with your journey of experiencing a traditional Kava ceremony.