How To Approach Fiji’s Kava Drinking Ceremony

In short, approach it the way you should approach every opportunity, by just saying yes.

I was excited to be trying Kava in Fiji, for me it represented really getting a feel for the culture of this south pacific nation. Kava is a mildly narcotic drink which is also the national drink of the of the Fijian islands. It is made from the ground root of piper methysticum, a member of the pepper family native to the South Pacific and in particular Fiji.

Kava’s known to have a calming effect, similar to that of drinking alcohol. When the bowl is handed over to you and you lift it towards your mouth to take a sip, get ready experience a slight numbness around your lips, as though you’ve just injected yourself with the stuff dentists use.

Whilst drinking a South Pacific root, washed out with an old rag, may not seem or taste as nice as it sounds, Kava and the Kava ceremony possesses a huge cultural significance within the nation and allows travellers to experience and embrace one of the most incredible and opening aspects of Fijian culture.

Whilst Kava definitely isn’t something I would drink on the daily and after drinking it you will likely feel the need to wash out your mouth, the Kava ceremony is something that I wouldn’t pass up. It is a rare opportunity to be sat in a circle with the chief of a Fijian village as he gives you the chance to experience something truly unique.

There is a way to approach a Kava drinking ceremony and some specific things that drinkers must do:

  1. The participants will generally sit in a circle whilst seated on the floor.
  2. The chief will drink first and then the bowl will be passed around the remainder of the participants. Yes, everyone will drink from the same bowl.
  3. When it is your turn to drink, someone will hold the bowl in front of you. You should clap once and yell “Bula”.
  4. You should then take the bowl and drink the entirety of what is offered to you – try to push through the taste and not leave any.
  5. Hand back the bowl, clap three times and yell “Mathe”.
  6. once the circle is complete, you will be offered another bowl. Say yes if you can stomach it, politely decline if not.

In the end of it, Kava’s not going to taste like glass of Moet, but it’s not the taste that will stick with you. You won’t remember washing your mouth out afterwards, but you will remember the incredible experience of participating in a fundamentally important aspect of Fijian culture. Who knows when you’ll next be given the opportunity of sitting in a circle with the chief of a Fijian village as he invites you to partake in the ceremony of his national drink. Regardless of how it tastes, just say yes, because I can guarantee you’ll regret saying no.

1 Comment

  1. Joanne Black says:

    Very good description Jack


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