The kava bar has a rich history and origin story that is not simply rooted in recreation and social drinking but also national identity, social policies, and contemporary politics. The kava bar can serve as a transformative agent way in the Pacific Islands in such a meaningful that academics even articulate that a useful and well-received form of governance in the Pacific Islands could parallel and embody the way of kava bar—or the “nakamal way.”
At a Kava Bar, Everyone is At the Same Level
The kava culture in New Caledonia parallels that of Vanuatu in that the nakamals are “supposed to be a place where lights and voice volume are low, thus contributing to the overall relaxing effect of the mildly anesthetic beverage” and the kava is consumed from sunset onwards. However, the kava culture in New Caledonia has a social dimension that can differ from rural areas and other Pacific Islands. Reportedly, kava bar owners often say that kava bars are “one of the only places in the French territory where all ethnic groups socialize, regardless of race or social background” and that “here, everyone is at the same level.” They go on to say that, “They can be business owners, doctors, students or workers. It doesn't matter. They all want one thing: relax after a day's work in a friendly place. Then they head back home.” One consumer drew parallels between the kava bar culture and French dining culture saying, “It's a little bit like the French bistro you find in France. This is where you can find the ‘regulars’ to discuss around a drink.” Kava usage—particularly in capitals—became somewhat “democratized” through the inclusion of non-noble men and women and consumption in kava bars local to the Pacific Islands.
All Paths Converge on the Nakamal
The premise behind the Nakamal is that is “offers the opportunity for different knowledge bases to come together and share information in a common space in which all can participate.” Thus it symbolizes a “process of dialogue in which knowledge from the difference components of society is distributed and commented on to be used in decision-making for the benefit of the community[…] [i]t is a way of sharing customary and contemporary experiences in an inclusive and educational manner.”
Although not all Nakamal are the same, the concept of the Nakamal is widespread throughout Vanuatu. This variation embodies the idea that it is not necessary for Vanuatu to seek absolute consensus but that its different actors—government, people, private sector, women, men, elders, youth, churches, and urban and rural citizens and chiefs—must be given the opportunity to come together and communicate their needs and aspirations. The Australian National University article succinctly concluded that “[t]he Nakamal way can lead the way to appropriate governance in Vanuatu by providing a form for the examination of best practices, both customary and parliamentary.”
All paths converge on the Nakamal.