Kava culture

Kava cultures are the religious and cultural traditions of western Oceania which consume kava. There are similarities in the use of kava between the different cultures, but each one also has its own traditions.


In Fiji, kava (also called "grog" or "yaqona") is drunk at all times of day in both public and private settings. The consumption of the drink is a form of welcome and figures in important socio-political events. Both genders drink kava.


On Futuna kava drinking is used to install a new chief.


In Hawaiʻi, at least 30 varieties of ʻawa (kava) were used for medicinal, religious, political, cultural and social purposes by all social classes, both men and women.


In Rotuma, kava has two contexts, ceremonial and informal.

The kava ceremony, when it functions as part of any ceremonial event, is a highly political affair, with individuals served according to rank. In pre-European times, the kava was chewed by virgin girls, (marked by caked limestone on their hair), before it was mixed with the water to make the drink.


Main article: Samoa 'ava ceremony

In Samoa, kava (called 'ava) is drunk at all important gatherings and ceremonies. The kava is prepared by a group of people called aumaga. It is brought to each participant by the tautua'ava, or 'ava server, in the order proscribed by the tufa'ava, or 'ava distributor. Usually, the highest chief of the visiting party is served first, followed by the highest chief of the host party, and then service proceeds based on the rank of the rest of the participants. The drink is served in a polished coconut half. The overall ceremony is highly ritualized, with specific gestures and phrases to be used at various times.


A typical informal faikava in Tonga with the touʻa serving the men.

In Tonga, kava is drunk nightly at kalapu (Tongan for "club"), which is also called a faikava ("to do kava"). Only men are allowed to drink the kava, although women who serve it may be present. The female server is usually an unmarried, young woman called the "touʻa." In the past, this was a position reserved for women being courted by an unmarried male, and much respect was shown. These days, it is imperative that the touʻa not be related to anyone in the kalapu, and if someone is found to be a relative of the touʻa, he (not the touʻa) will leave the club for that night; otherwise the brother-sister taboo would make it impossible to talk openly, especially about courtship. Foreign girls, especially volunteer workers from overseas are often invited to be a touʻa for a night. If no female touʻa can be found, or it is such a small, very informal gathering, one of the men will do the job of serving the kava root; this is called fakatangata ("all-man").

The kava is served in rounds. Typically the touʻa will first stir the kava in the kumete, then pour some in the ipu (coconut cups) which are then passed from hand to hand to those sitting farthest away. They drink, and the empty cups are returned again from hand to hand. Everybody remains seated, cross-legged, although one is allowed to stretch the legs from time to time. Meanwhile, the touʻa has filled other cups for those next from the farthest away, and so the drinking goes forth until those nearest to the kumete have had their drink too. Then the men talk again (about politics, sports, tradition & culture, jokes, or anything else) or they will sing a traditional love song, often accompanied by guitar. Some now-famous string bands have had their origin at a faikava. Finally, the next drinking round starts.

In some of the outer islands of Tonga, kava is drunk almost every night, but on the main island of Tongatapu, it is usually drunk only on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Kava drinking frequently lasts as long as eight or nine hours. With the introduction of television, rugby is usually watched by the kava drinkers, and the songs are sung in the commercial breaks. On Saturday nights, a short pause for prayer is made at midnight as the day moves to Sunday, and then hymns replace the love songs. These hymns are mostly traditional English melodies with new words in Tongan.

Formal versions

All important occasions are also marked by a more formal ritual of drinking kava, including weddings, funerals, church-related functions, and royal occasions. A formal kava ceremony is a component of the accession rites for a King of Tonga, who must participate in the pongipongi to make his rule official.

Formal kava parties follow completely different rules. A male chief is now the touʻa, and the kava is very solemnly prepared by pounding the roots to powder (instead of buying bags of pre-pounded kava powder). Once the kava is of the right strength, as deduced from its colour, the master of ceremonies will call out the nickname of the first recipient using an archaic formula (kava kuo heka). The touʻa will fill the cup and the cup is then brought, often by a young lady, to the intended chief, and brought back afterwards. Then the next name is called, and so forth.

ʻUvea (Wallis)

In ʻUvea (Wallis Island) during the informal kava parties the cups are passed by young boys who are appointed to run around, bringing the cups to the next person. When they get the kava, they pass it to the next person on the side or to the person who has not had one, and the young ones they are the one to go and get the water to mix with the kava.


In Vanuatu, kava is traditionally drunk at night in a place called a nakamal. Nakamals are village club houses and in many areas are open only to men. Kava is normally drunk from an empty coconut shell.

In urban areas of Vanuatu there are large numbers of kava bars, which are open to both men and women. The availability of kava is signalled by a lantern at the entrance, and many kava bars are identified by the colour of their light. In these bars, kava is generally served in plastic or glass bowls instead of coconut shells.

In all these venues the emphasis is more on recreational purposes and socializing than on the spiritual or medicinal qualities of kava consumption.

In northern and central Vanuatu, kava roots are traditionally ground using hand-held stone grinders, while in southern Vanuatu the traditional method of preparation involves chewing the roots then spitting the resulting paste into a container. Current methods involve preparation in rams (in which kava is pounded in a section of pipe), meat-mincers, and mechanical grinders. After grinding the kava is mixed with water and sieved before serving.

The residue from kava preparation, known as makas (a Bislama term derived from megasse "sugar cane residue"), may be re-used to prepare additional batches of the drink, although these are much weaker than the original batch.

On Survivor: Vanuatu, contestant Chad Crittenden briefly fell ill after drinking a rather potent kava during a native ceremony he attended as a reward.

See also


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