Kava: Fiji’s National Drink

Bula! Welcome to Fiji, Zane Lamprey’s next stop on Chug! One of the most remote places in the world, Fiji is located in Melanesia in the South Pacific Ocean where the natives cherish a unique drinking tradition, the Kava Ceremony. Fiji Kava is used as a symbol to bring two groups of people together in order to break the barriers of unfamiliarity and to bond like neighborly friends. Following customs in Fiji, community leaders present Kava as a “host” gift when visiting a new village, at which point a specific protocol unravels.

Kava Ceremony

Zane discovers how two different communities of people gather and connect in a live Kava ceremony. The Fijian Kava ceremony is tied to numerous myths: that it makes you hallucinate, Fijians are obsessed with it, and it tastes downright loathsome. On the up and up, Kava comes from the root of the Yaqona (piper methsticum) bush, a relative of the pepper plant, and it happens to be one of Fiji’s biggest crops and exports. Kava is often mistakenly associated with Ayuhuasca, the hallucinogenic ceremonial drink from the Amazon. Truth be told, its effects are mild and it does not put you into a trance. Kava will, however, numb your face, and in larger doses, it puts you into a relaxed frame of mind. Too much imbibing will put you into a deep sleep. Maybe this could be the Europeans answer to Absinthe, otherwise known as the Green Fairy. Most Fiji islanders drink Kava daily, which could account for their slower more relaxed pace in life, something referred to as “Fiji time.”

Kava is consumed in two ways on the Fiji islands. As Zane experienced the root beverage, it was consumed in a ceremonial style, but it is also a casual drink consumed on a daily basis by the locals—just as people would drink a glass of wine or a hot cup of tea when they mingle with friends, or simply unwind from the demands of an average work day. Crafting the beverage involves grinding up the root, and then straining the liquid with water, usually with a twisted up shirt, into a large communal bowl.

Sugar cane has flourished here in the warm climate of Fiji and the Caribbean Islands for thousands of years. It is an important crop for the farmers here as sugar cane is the base for molasses and several other products.
Photograph by Inzane Entertainment/ A. Tad Chamberlain

Bula! The Fiji Familial Greeting

Once the Kava is strained and mixed, words are exchanged in Fijian, followed by clapping. Zane claps once as the communal bowl is passed to him, then he chugs the drinks in one large gulp, followed by a series of three claps. Once the communal bowl passes around the room, everyone is now considered to be friends and the true partying begins with dancing, singing, and eating. So Bula! Bula! Say it once or twice as the locals do. It’s hard to say the words without smiling, because the word is spoke throughout the isles of Fiji. Bula originates from the Fijian culture and means anything from hello, goodbye, welcome, love and more. Ultimately, Bula mean LIFE: a blessing of health and happiness. So Bula to you, now Chug!

 

ProTip: Kava is not to be confused with Cava, Spain’s answer to Champagne. Cava is a sparkling wine made in the “methode champenoise” style, which is the technique used to make Champagne, but cannot be called that since it’s not made in the French region delineated as Champagne. Cava is similar to Prosecco, the Italian’s answer to Champagne, but it tends to sport more flavor and sophistication. Kava, on the other hand, is a native drink made explicitly to numb your face, or better yet, to bring people together. It’s a warming community beverage meant to promote peace, friendship, and overall political bonding of tribal roots.

Don’t miss Chug: Fiji tonight at 7:30/6:30c!