Kava in Fiji and Sevusevu

the Kava plant

Kava is Latin for Intoxicating pepper. Kava is a sedative and a anaesthetic. 
Yaqona is Fijian for Kava.
Waka is the lower half of the plant. Waka is stronger and is slightly darker in color 
Tanoa, the Kava bowl, is the made from the Vesi tree
Bilo is the coconut bowl you drink from. The Chief generally has his own bowl. 

You will also hear that Kava from Kadavu Island is the best in Fiji, not the Kava from Nasori, so don't get into a debate, just agree to keep the peace. The typical reaction from people when they first try Kava, is "eeew, this looks and tastes like muddy water!" And in all honesty, that is a fair comment. I don't think anyone could hold their hand on their heart and say they actually enjoy the taste. 

But it's something you become accustomed to. I remember my first bowl. While I can't say I was enthusiastic for my second, I did actually manage to drink eight...a good number for a first timer. And since then the taste has grown on me. Or perhaps it is the effects that I enjoy...whatever it is, I do look forward to being passed the bowl and sharing a drink with friends.

The Kava plant is a part of the Fijian way of life - possibly in a way that a typical westerner can't understand. Perhaps you have to be a Pacific Islander, and grow up with the Kava ceremony before you get an understanding of just how important the Kava plant and ceremonies are to the Fijian people.

If you look on Kava as just a substitute for alcohol, then you will never understand what it's really all about. Kava can be drunk at any time of the day, though usually a "session" takes place in the afternoon or evening. Also known as yaquona, or simply"grog", the way in which it is drunk is probably just as important (or even more so) than the actual consumption.

Kava Ceremony at the local village on the Robinson Crusoe day trip

The Kava Ceremony - Sevusevu

The actual specifics of a Fijian Kava ceremony can differ, depending on location. Some villages will do it one way, while another village will do something different. However, there are a few things that seem to be common to most places.

Everyone in the ceremony should be dressed accordingly in a Sulu. Women are also expected to have their shoulders covered and everone must remove hats, sun glasses and shoes.

Men sit crossed legged, the Sulu must cover the knees . The soles of your feet must not face to the front. Women can sit side saddle with the soles of your feet facing to the back. 

  • The person looking after the Kava bowl will clap (generally 5 times) to alert everyone that a bowl is about to be offered
  • Bowls are offered to people in order of importance (village chief and honored guests first)
  • The receiver will clap once, and acknowledge the person offering the bowl - "Bula Peter" for example
  • The bowl is drained in one draft, using both hands to hold it

Thank the person with"vinaka" when handing back the bowl

The effect of Kava

Perhaps I have a tolerance to it, or perhaps my self imposed limit of 8-10 bowls in a session isn't enough, but I have never found the effects of Kava to be anything more than a pleasant state of relaxation. And I drink the full strength local mixes. You will know a good mix when your lips start to tingle, not the watered down version that is generally presented to tourists.

I have seen people who have consumed far too much, and the result appears to be somewhat like a drunken stupor...but without the unwelcome side effects of too much alcohol. One of the effects is a slight numbing of the lips and tongue. But this is only minor, a similar feeling to when you have been sucking on an antiseptic throat lozenge. Another effect, is that you may feel less inhibited, and also that you get clarity of thought. You might also find that you need to think through what you are going to say - this is one reason why Kava is so often drunk during a discussion with friends or during a village meeting. If you have to pick your words, then it is more likely that you will say something worth listening to.

Find out more about Side Effects and Benefits of the Kava Plant.

Small local village Sevusevu welcome

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