One thing you’ll notice when you visit Fiji is the welcoming warmth and happiness of the people. Walking around in the markets, you’ll notice they are quick to smile, and have a genuine interest in talking to you about your plans. Are they happy because they live in a beautiful island nation with white sand beaches in the shadows of towering palm trees? Or maybe they are happy because there’s more than 300 islands in their nation to choose from? Perhaps another reason they might be happy is because they drink kava.
Drinking kava is an important ceremonial tradition for the people of Fiji. It’s a heritage that’s easily shared between family and guests alike. Locally known as grog, kava is made from a root of the Yaqona plant, and can be purchased in paper bags at markets throughout the country. Once mixed with water, the process of drinking kava is a ceremony, and a way to take in the local culture.
What does kava taste like?
We were lucky enough to be staying with Fijian friends having a barbeque. Knowing that we wanted to try kava, the hospitable family purchased a few bags of grog to initiate the ceremony. Kava is not cheap, as one bag of the crushed root costs about $40 USD. In my opinion, the taste of kava can only be described as like drinking dirt. It has the mineral taste of soil, and the texture of gritty sentiment. But don’t let my description dissuade you. Some enjoy the mild sedative effect that it has.
Once the kava is mixed with water in a large wooden bowl, often passed down through generations, the kava is served from half a coconut shell which serves as a cup. The participants sit around in a circle, and the mixer serves the kava. The recipient claps once, says “Bula”, takes the coconut cup filled with kava, and drinks it one gulp. They hand back the cup to the leader, and clap three times. The process is then repeated for the next person and so on. Once everyone in the group has drank, the mixer themselves drink as the last participant. The group pauses to enjoy the moment, and chat among themselves. Then the whole ceremony is repeated once one of the group voices they would like another cup.
What does it feel like?
Before embarking on this journey, people would tell us drinking kava makes your lips numb and your eyes heavy. I myself did not experience the tingling or numbness of the mouth, but I did feel the sedative qualities after a few cups. It was a point of discussion with others in the group, and I found that conversation came more easily, now that we had the experience of drinking kava together.
Kava is a significant cultural ceremony in Fiji, important to the Fijians as a way of socializing and building bonds of community. There’s nowhere else in the world that you can partake in the experience, and for that reason alone, I think it’s a unique activity that’s worth the participation.
Have you been to Fiji and tried Kava? What did you think?
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