Pacific's ceremonial beverage

Pacific's ceremonial beverage

  • Food For Sale

Pacific's ceremonial beverage

Throughout the Pacific they honour kava as ceremonial drink. It is the Pacific way of life. Kava is a tranquilising beverage. However, it is non-alcoholic. It has a very special place in most Pacific Island cultures.  

Kava ceremony is central to the formal life across the Pacific region. Natives perform these ceremonies with unconditional sincerity. It is with intense affection. Hence, participants observe a complete silence during the formal kava ceremony.

Fijian kava ceremonies

Kava ceremonies are important to mark special events throughout the Pacific. It may be to installation of a new chief or welcome an important guest. These ceremonies are common to celebrate weddings, birth or deaths too. Kava ceremonies link to spiritual rituals too. Hence, they need to perform ceremonies according to traditions.

Fijian kava ceremonies begin with new mats spread out across the floor. A hand-crafted wooden bowl known as ‘tanoa’ is put on the mat. The tanoa may be up to a metre wide for larger functions. However, smaller tanoa are available in the market too. Cowrie shells decorate a long fibre cord. It leads from the bowl to the guests of honour. There is a white cowrie at the end of the cord too. It symbolises a link to their ancestral spirits.

Ceremony officiants

There may be up to 60 to 70 people taking places around the tanoa. Thus far, the officiates are adorned with tapa, fibre, and croton leaves. It is common for them to smear their torsos with glistening coconut oil. Some may blacken their faces too.

When the guests arrive, they normally present a bundle of premium quality waka to the host. They will explain the purpose of their visit which is known as ‘sevusevu’. Hence, the host normally receive and acknowledge the sevusevu. It is customary, the host will make an acceptance speech.

Kava preparation

They will then clean and pound the kava roots in a tabili. It is like a mortar made from wood or steel. During olden days the used to chew the roots and put in tanoa. Kava pulp is then put in a muslin cloth or bag mixing happens in the tanoa. They may knead the kava in the ceremony. After this, they strain through ‘vau’ fibres which is commonly known as hibiscus.

The kava mixing person will display the strength to the ‘mata ni vanua’ who is better known as master of ceremonies. So, the mixer will pour out cupful into the tanoa. If the When the mata ni vanua believes the mix is too strong, he calls for ‘wai’ or water. He will then tell the mixer to ‘lose’. It means to mix. Hence, the mixer proceeds to mix. Kava consistency if often shown to the mata ni vanua.

Kava mixing

The mata ani vanua says ‘loba’ to the mixer. It means to squeeze. So, the mixer continues to squeeze the remaining juice out of the kava pulp. Thus far, it is put aside, and the mixer announces, ‘Sa lose oti saka na yangona, vaka turaga’. It means ‘kava is ready, my chief’. The mixer than runs both hands around the rim of the tanoa. They clap three times. Now, the mata in vanua asks to ‘talo’. It is time to serve.

The cup bearer will squat in front of the tanoa with a half coconut shell. It is known as ‘bilo’ or a bowl. So, the mixer fills the bilo. The cup bearer will present the first bilo to the guest of honour. Consequently, the guest of honour claps once and drinks it. Everyone else present at the event will clap three times.

Serving tradition

So, the next serve will be given to the mata ni vanua. Traditionally, the person drinking the kava claps once before drinking. Then, everyone follows with three claps after drinking. The person who sits next to the mixer will now call out ‘Aa’. Everyone will respond ‘maca’ to indicate bilo is empty. Now, the third serve is for the local chief. So, next bilo is for the mata ni vanua of the first local chief. Similarly, the same happens for the second local chief and his mata ni vanua.

After these six distinct people finish drinking, the mixer will announce, Sa maca saka tu na yaqona, vaka turaga’. So, the mata ni vanua will say ‘cobo’ which means to clap. The mixer then runs both hands around the tanoa rim. Everyone will clap three times to conclude the formal part of the ceremony.

Second mix

A second mix is prepared for everyone to drink. Thus far, participants maintain a complete silence during the drinking of the first tanoa. With this mix people are more relaxed and jovial. It is more of fun and relaxation mode.

Today, kava is more popular in powder form. It is easier to mix and serve. Thus far, you can bring your kava ceremony home. In Fiji, kava is known as ‘grog’ too. It common to consume kava in most social get togethers, religious gatherings and grog sessions. Kava has a calming effect, Hence, people normally drink for relaxation.