Kava in Fiji
Written, edited and directed by Lisa Fountain.
Learn more about the meaning and use of kava in Fiji.
By Lisa Fountain, 2015
Traditionally, Kava was only consumed by chiefs and elders during ceremonies and meetings. Others were only permitted to prepare and serve it. Today kava is available to anyone.
Kava plays a large role in the Fijian economy. In Kadavu, it is the largest source of income.
The Kava Ritual: Preparation and Procedure
Kava is made from the root of the kava plant. The root can be harvested after 3 years of maturation. It’s then washed and dried out.
Traditionally, the women had to chew the root into a paste before it was diluted. Today it is pounded into a powder from using a pole and a ‘Tabili’- made from an old gas cylinder.
The drink is made by diluting the kava in an tanoa – a bowl carved from Vesi wood. A filtering bag is used to strain the kava often made from sari material. Traditionally, they would strain it through fibres from the Vau tree. Kava powder is mixed in with water and strained four or five times before it is further diluted.
Before drinking, kava must first be blessed with a prayer, followed by two to five cupped claps, depending in the region. Cupped claps are a sign of respect in Fiji.
Kava is served and drank from a bilo. The bilo is a cup made from the shell of the brown coconut.
Kava is passed around the circle to each person. It is tradition that everyone clap once and say ‘Bula’ before drinking. After drinking, the individual claps three times. Kava has a numbing effect which is soothing and relaxing. Consumption of the drink is usually ritualistic and symbolic.
Kava is a Christian Symbol
According to some users, the drink can open up a channel to the spirit world. This spiritual use is debated by the Assemblies of God and the Seven-Day Adventist churches in Fiji. These groups banned kava drinking because they believed that the drink was used to summon demons.
Excessive kava drinking can be seen as a symbol of loss and weakness. Excessive drinking is often associated with failure at home and work and in supporting the church. However, the symbolism of kava drinking is more profound than taboos suggest…
Kava as a Symbol of Social Unity
Kava is often shared amongst family and friends, or during formal occasions. Men usually drink more often and larger amounts of kava; however, males and females often drink together.
The union and harmony between sexes can be heard in the traditional music often sung during these ceremonies. The deep male voice and high female voice are often given roles in singing, which creates a cooperative and melodious flow.
For men, kava is also a symbol of competition or a tool to assert strength and dominance. Some men try to outdrink each other (either in a playful or serious manner).
Kava is also a Symbol of Peace
Presenting a large quantity of kava to someone is a method of gaining forgiveness and restoring social harmony.