Kava, locally known as yaqona or grog, is an integral part of Fijian culture. It is consumed ritually when welcoming visitors, sending village members on journeys, christening boats, laying the foundations of homes, casting magical spells, making deals, settling arguments and, as is usually the case, chatting.
Kava is traditionally served as a part of a ceremonial atmosphere, most commonly in welcoming guests into a village and on important occasions. When visiting Fiji, you will find yourself taking part in plenty of kava ceremonies, especially when you visit any traditional villages. It is customary to present a gift of Yaqona (kava root) to the village head as a long-held tradition in Fiji.
Traditionally, Pacific Islanders crushed, chewed and ground the root and stump of the shrub, then soaked it in cold water to produce a drink for ceremonies and cultural practices. These rituals were said to strengthen ties among groups, reaffirm status and help people communicate with spirits
Many Pacific Islanders who have settled in Australia have continued drinking kava or using kava extracts.
Kava is a drug made from the ground roots of the plant Piper methysticum, a member of the pepper family that also includes black pepper. It is a native plant found in the South Pacific.
Kava can be taken as a drink or as a supplement or extract. The drink is made from the crushed root of the yoqana (pronounced yang-go-na) plant. Legend has it that kava was the drink of choice for the kings and queens of many countries in the Pacific Islands. The kava is often used for sedative, hypnotic and muscle-relaxant effects. When drunk, it creates a sense of calm, numbness and relaxation for the drinker.
Your host will offer kava as high tide (full cup) or low tide (half cup). When presented with the kava, clap once and yell ‘Bula!’ (Fijian for hello). Drink the kava in one gulp if possible, clap three more times and end with the word Maca – pronounced ‘Ma-tha’.
You are expected to dress modestly and respectfully when participating in a kava ceremony. It is also a tradition to present the village chief with a kava root, which you can find at any Fijian market.
Guests will sit in a circle around a communicable kava tanoa (bowl) which is placed in front of the chief. The ceremony commences with the actual production of the kava.