How to Drink Kava With Locals In Fiji

A woman in Fiji sells fruit by the side of the road and laughs.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?

A native man in Fiji holds the kava root prior to a kava ceremony.

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 comes from a plant that has aged at least five years. Then it 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. But primarily kava relieves stress and increases relaxation. Please read about it and make your own decision. 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.

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The Kava Ceremony in Fiji

A elderly man prepares kava for drinking at a 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 sit on a woven grass mat. Leave your shoes at the door. Take your hats and sunglasses off. Make sure your knees are covered as a sign of respect.

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.

You have to drink the whole bowl offered to you. After each person takes their big gulp, the others clap three times and shout a word that sounds like “matha” and basically means “it is finished.”

When everyone is finished, the hosts wash and put away and often serve fresh fruit or other refreshments. After drinking kava, visitors are no longer visitors. They are welcomed members of the village and a part of the spirit of Fiji. Bula!

A woman waves as she sells fruit on the side of the road in Fiji.

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