The people of Fiji have to be among the friendliest, happiest, warmest people I’ve ever encountered. Everyone one – young and old – greets visitors with full-faced smiles and a hearty “bula,” an all-purpose greeting that is shouted enthusiastically dozens of times a day.
Kava is a popular drink in Fiji, so if you are a guest in someone’s home or a special visitor to a village, you’ll be invited to participate in a Kava Ceremony. Many resorts offer Kava Ceremonies as well to introduce visitors to this special part of their culture.
What is Kava?
Kava is a grassy-like plant that grows in the South Pacific islands. The drink is made from the root of the plant. The best kava is aged at least five years and then either chopped up and mixed with water or the shredded root is simply dredged through water in a large wooden bowl.
It looks like dirty dishwater or a mud puddle. The taste is hard to describe. It certainly doesn’t taste like dishwater or mud. It has an herbal quality to it. Some say it tastes a bit like anise and some say it has a narcotic affect. I felt a bit of a ting on my tongue for a while. The taste was not unpleasant, but it’s not something I would crave either.
The Kava Ceremony in Fiji
The kava ceremony is formal and taken quiet seriously by the Fijian people. Usually held in a village meeting hall or other public gathering space, participants are seated on a woven grass mat. Take your hats off and your sunglasses, and make sure your knees are covered as a sign of respect. Leave your shoes at the door as well.
After the chief takes the first drink of kava from a wooden bowl and deems it of good enough quality to serve to guests, then the same wooden bowl is used to serve everyone in the ceremony. Let’s hope kava has some sort of antibiotic component to it, but no one with me picked up a cold or any other nastiness as a result of drinking kava.
After each person takes their big gulp – and yes, you have to drink the whole bowl – the others clap three times and shout a word that sounds like “matha” and basically means “it is finished.”
When everyone is finished, the bowl is washed and put away and often fresh fruit or other refreshments served. After drinking kava, visitors are no longer visitors. They are welcomed members of the village and a part of the spirit of Fiji.