Kava is celebrated all over the world and is used in many ceremonies and rituals. Although the preparation of kava is often the same, the customs for sharing kava are often different. Here are the ways that kava is celebrated in 6 different places outside of the US:
Did you know that Fijian people are some of the happiest on the planet? It’s no coincidence that they drink kava regularly. In fact, when visiting any village in Fiji it is customary to present a gift of kava root to the head of the village. The chief (or eldest man) in your group will present the root to the village chief, and then the villagers grind and strain the kava into a large wooden bowl. The bowl will first be offered to your chief, then the second, then the village chief, before it is offered to everyone else. When receiving a bowl of kava, you will be offered “high tide” or “low tide,” meaning a full cup or a half-cup. Then, you will follow these ceremonial steps:
Clap once with a cupped hand to make a hollow sound
Drink in one swallow
Clap three times
Say, “Mathe.” Dancing and festivities follow kava ceremonies in Fiji. (1)
Above: A grove of harvest ready Kava plants in the South Pacific
Vanuatu contains more varieties of kava than anywhere else in the World. Here, kava is consumed informally to emphasize male equality. Men will share kava with neighbors, occasionally to resolve a neighborhood dispute. In Vanuatu, kava is used to celebrate births, marriages, and deaths, as well as being used as a sacrifice to the gods, where they may pour out kava or spit it into the air. Kava is also considered a threshold to the supernatural realm. (2)
In Hawaii, kava is a social drink. Farmers use kava as an offering for a good season, and chiefs use kava to promote social structure. Kava was also used by priests to predict the cause of illness or an unborn child’s gender by reading the bubbles on the surface of the brew (3).
In Tonga’s informal kava drinking rituals, kava is served in rounds with those sitting farthest away being served first by the “tou’a,” who is usually an unmarried, young woman (in Tonga, women are not allowed to participate in drinking kava). The empty cups are then returned to the tou’a. The tou’a continues to fill cups and pass them around until everyone has finished. Men must sit cross-legged throughout the ritual. During the ritual, men discuss politics and sports, play guitar and sing until the next drinking round begins. Informal kava drinking can last up to 8-9 hours. Formal kava ceremonies follow different rules than informal drinking rituals. Instead of the tou’a, the male chief hands out the kava by calling the first participant, with a servant delivering the kava between the parties, and so on until everyone has finished. (4)
Above: Founder Matthew Masifilo with family and friends outside the royal palace of Tonga before the start of the 2015 Taumafa Kava ceremony.
Circumstances such as a royal death, a noble appointment, and a coronation call for a kava ceremony in Tonga that is known as Taumafa kava. Taumafa kava is the most important of all kava ceremonies held in Tonga, is rare in modern times, and includes the attendance of the queen. Everyone is seated in a circle, about 100 yards in diameter, while the queen resided in a pavilion at the end. The position of each person within the ring endorsed social structure of the kingdom. The queen is served kava first, and then noblemen, depending on their rank, would follow. The drinking of kava continues for a few hours, until everyone has participated and the queen returns home (5). Our founder, Matt Masifilo, was lucky enough to attend and participate in the 2015 Taumafa Kava ceremony that coronated King Tupou VI of Tonga. He along with other village elders from Kolonga, Tonga had the honor of escorting King Tupou VI to and from the Taumafa Kava ceremony. This honor is part of a tradition that dates back hundreds of years to the first King of Tonga.
Samoan kava rituals are similar to Hawaiian and Fijian kava rituals. In Samoa, kava is prepared by people called “aumaga,” who bring the kava to the chief of your group, like in Fiji. After the chief of your group is served, the ritual continues with serving the chief of the village. After both chiefs have participated, the rest of the parties are allowed to drink. Like Hawaii, Samoa kava rituals include drinking out of a coconut half. (6)
Pohnpei, one of four main islands in the Federated States of Micronesia, attracts many visitors with its kava culture. Pohnpei mythology tells the story of two brothers, ghosts or demigods, who created the kava plant out of their own skin. The brothers continued to plant this kava on Pohnpei, leading to a specific, respectful protocol for gathering, preparing and consuming kava. In order to maintain respect, there are certain rules to follow when drinking kava in Pohnpei. The first and fourth bowl is delivered to the guest of highest social standing, while the second is delivered to the guest of the second highest social standing, and the third to the queen. The fifth bowl is delivered to whoever prepared the kava. After these steps are complete, everyone else is allowed to participate (7).
Above: Freshly harvested Kava roots sun drying on a farmer's roof in the South Pacific.
People around the world may celebrate in different ways, but they are all using kava to come together as a community. Recently, the US has started to create their own Kava culture with kava bars opening all over the country. To read more about up-and-coming kava scenes in the US, click here: The Top Kava Bar Cities In The US
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