Pages

The Truth About Kava in Fiji

Pass it along:

Before I left for Fiji I heard plenty about kava: that fijians were obsessed with drinking it, that I would make you hallucinate, that it tasted terrible. Some of this was true, some of it was a flat out lie. So I thought I would set the record straight.

Also known as Yaqona, kava plays a huge roll in Fiji’s culture and day to day life. It’s popular across the South Pacific but it is a particularly big deal in Fiji. Here is the down and dirty on Fiji’s “national drink:”

Kava is NOT a Psychedelic Drug

People tend to confuse kava with Ayuhuasca, the hallucinogenic ceremonial drink from the Amazon. Kava on the other hand, is not intended to give you visions or to put you into a trance. It’s effects are mild: one or two cups will make your face numb, a large amount will make you feel relaxed and sleepy. Drink too much and you might fall asleep, but that is the limits of it’s power.

The majority of Fiji islanders drink kava on a daily basis with no ill effects. It might help to account though, for the slow and relaxed pace of the islands and the popular concept of “fiji time.”

Kava IS a plant

Kava comes from the root of the yaqona (piper methysticum) bush, a relative of the pepper plant. The root is ground up and then strained with water into a large wooden communal bowl (or sometimes a plastic bucket, depending on what you have on hand). Simple preparation for a simple drink.

Yaqona is one of fiji’s biggest crops and exports. You are absolutely allowed to bring kava into the US, and can even buy it everywhere, even at the airport!

Drinking Kava Can Be Ceremonial

In Fiji Kava is used as a symbol to bring two groups of people together. When visiting a new village it is essential to bring a gift of kava. The community then gathers and the kava is mixed. There are a lot of words, all in fijian and some clapping . The chiefs partake first (the oldest male in your group can be your makeshift chief) and it is then offered all around in a communal bowl.

My inner anthropologist was buzzing when I was lucky to attend not one, but two kava ceremonies on our trip. When participating in the ceremony it is essential to dress conservatively and sit respectfully. If you are offered the kava it is important to drink the entire cup in one go. Don’t sip it (it’s better to just down it anyways, once you taste it) . Clap once before receiving the cup, drink up and then clap three more times.

Once the ceremony is complete then everyone in the room is now friends and you can get on with the eating and the dancing.

Kava Drinking Can Also Be Very Casual

Similar to how the Argentineans are constantly sipping mate, Kava is a near daily beverage for many fijians. After work, relaxing in the afternoon, pretty much whenever, small groups of friends and family will share kava from a communal bowl.

At our resort it was common to see the boys in the band sitting by the pool, strumming on their guitars and sharing a big bowl of kava.

Kava Does NOT Taste Good

Well, I suppose it does to the Fijians, but I would call it a definite acquired taste. To me, and many of the westerners I spoke to, drinking a bowl of kava feels eerily similar to drinking a bowl of dirty water, In short: it tastes like mud. Bitter, peppery mud.

 

For me, the ceremony and community surrounding kava is far more powerful than the drink itself. Although it might give germaphobes some pause, I loved the communal and warm aspect of kava culture and the openess and acceptance that goes along with sharing the drink. Even in the quickly modernizing world of Fiji, where you’re more likely to see people hanging out in t-shirts and jeans than traditional garb, this drink holds a powerful and uniting place in society.

 

Special thanks to Tourism Fiji for inviting us to Fiji and covering our stay.

All opinions are my own.

,

25 Responses to The Truth About Kava in Fiji

  1. Sarah June 3, 2012 at 12:41 PM #

    Great pictures! Interesting information – I’d only heard of kava in a very vague way, so this is good to know. I’m definitely putting it away in my mental “Future trip to Fiji” file.

  2. Kristen - A Gypsy's Love June 3, 2012 at 5:57 PM #

    I suppose mud-flavored water would be better if it gave you hallucinations and feel-good vibes. ;)

  3. Ivy June 3, 2012 at 6:46 PM #

    Hah, thanks for the insight! I have a massive thing for cultural get-togethers with strange beverages. Concerning the taste of mud… As a child, I said pretty much the same thing about coffee, so… ;)

  4. Kaylin June 3, 2012 at 8:37 PM #

    I agree with all of this! It is very interesting to take part in a Kava ceremony (I also had to do so when in Fiji) and I hated the taste of it too. I agree that it tastes like dirty water. But the ceremony itself, which often involves really awesome Fijian singing is great. I would do it again just to do the ceremony, despite having to drink the muddy water again.

  5. Dylan June 3, 2012 at 9:34 PM #

    I’m not even going to begin describing how much I LOVE kava…

  6. Kristijan June 3, 2012 at 11:33 PM #

    Kava brought me here since in Croatian language kava is word for coffee.

  7. Chrystal McKay June 4, 2012 at 1:43 AM #

    I’d never heard of Kava – this was a great read. And incredibly lucky you got to partake in 2 ceremonies! How interesting! Do the Fijans use Kava for medicinal purposes or are there any uses for it other than uniting communities?

  8. Ali June 4, 2012 at 12:20 PM #

    Very interesting. I didn’t know anything at all about Kava before reading this. It doesn’t exactly sound good, but I guess you kind of have to try it when you’re there.

  9. Waegook Tom June 4, 2012 at 11:08 PM #

    Great post and photos, Steph. The description of kava at the end isn’t what I wanted to read while I was eating my breakfast though haha! Interested about the face numbing properties. New botox, perhaps?

  10. Amanda June 11, 2012 at 7:34 PM #

    Thanks for the great lesson on kava! Not sure I’d want to try it now that I know it tastes like mud… haha. What happens if you really can’t stand it? Is it incredibly rude to refuse the bowl?

    • Steph June 12, 2012 at 9:20 PM #

      Well at the ceremonies I went to you can opt out beforehand, but if you’re in you’re in for the long haul!

    • Mikaele Ilaisa Buaserau December 27, 2013 at 3:31 AM #

      No its up to you if you dont wanna drink its up to you…but if you are in a welcoming ceremony all have to have a bowl each..you cant refuse..but the second bowl..its up to us ..they wont force you..

  11. Emily June 12, 2012 at 2:13 PM #

    Ick, that does not sound tasty. But glad to know more about kava–I’ve seen supplements for it at some health food stores, but it’s probably not as potent or face-numbing. Very cool that you got to participate in some of the rituals for it. I wish we had something like that here in the States.

  12. ally November 19, 2012 at 1:43 AM #

    great pictures

  13. chris January 16, 2013 at 2:08 AM #

    its great to know that most of us apparently know what mud tastes like “)

  14. TED August 6, 2013 at 11:37 PM #

    I have drunk kava until i can barely stand up to much of it can get you very relaxed but the truth is you will only crawl into bed and fall fast asleep infact i plan to take some kava extract on my long flight to Austrailia just so that i can basicly fall fast asleep for most of the flight, my best friend is from fiji and his cousin drunk kava every weekend and i joined in often and afterwards we would eat the best curry in the world, two thumbs up to KAVA KAVA

  15. Matt December 7, 2013 at 6:08 PM #

    I’ve been drinking kava for a few years, and I absolutely love it. The taste doesn’t bother me all that much, and the effect is positively awesome.

  16. Angela A April 16, 2014 at 7:19 PM #

    BULA, I vIsited the pacific coast this past January and while I was in Fiji I had the pleasure of participating in several ceremonies that required me to drink Kava. The first time I only let it touch my lips. My lips was num for a few minutes. On the second occasion I sipped a little bit more than the first, and it really looks and taste like dirty water. This caused my whole mouth to be num for about 30 mins. Then on the third and final occasion I drank the whole bowl. Results – my mouth was num and my body felt very relaxed for about an hour or two. The bad thing about Kava is the taste. I don’t think I would want to drink it as much as the Fijian do. I do respect their culture and drank it out of respect. Had a BLAST!!!!! BULA

  17. jane June 10, 2014 at 11:08 PM #

    Great info here. I have a layover in Fiji (12 hours) and read somewhere there are places near Nadi airport where you can participate in a kava ceremony, but not can’t seem to find it. Any suggestions? Thanks.

  18. Ryan Biddulph August 1, 2014 at 6:25 PM #

    Hi Steph,

    I’m about to have a kava ceremony on our porch here in Savusavu in a few hours – or just a little meet and drink – so your post is super helpful.

    Thanks so much :)

    Ryan

  19. kyrstin October 10, 2014 at 6:13 AM #

    I’ve had the pleasure of drinking kava often due to the fact that my boyfriend is Fijian and came to America when he was eleven years old. It’s definitely an interesting concept to me since the practice of drinking it is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It is done by eldest to youngest… or by who is most important in family line due to respect… I’m always last since I am a female. Women don’t particularly drink it… but that doesn’t mean that they don’t. I wouldn’t say that two cup fulls will make your face numb… I’ve drank kava over thirty occasions… but, it also depends on who makes it and how strong the particular kava root is. It’s always been interesting to me that its not drank together like say when you take shots and drinking kava takes hours and hours to complete. Also, never drink it while you eat (unless eating snack foods to get the taste out of your mouth) always eat after drinking because it will make you sick. Drinking alcohol with kava will also make you sick as well. The taste is definitely not great, it most definitely tastes like muddy water… but, I feel like if you can drink alcohol… Drinking kava isn’t bad. Over time, it has gotten more and more easier to drink. You can also buy it all over the place… Plant shops or from relatives is where we usually get it. If you’re trying it for the first time… My recommendation is to make it weaker so it’s not so bad. Also, we always keep it in the refrigerator or the freezer… I’ve never asked why though. It does however give you the best sleep of your life and you wake up super refreshed… Not groggy (grug is another term Fijians use for kava because it makes you super groggy when you’re drinking it) like other sleep aids.

    • Steph October 10, 2014 at 11:47 AM #

      Thanks for the insight!

  20. Joe October 26, 2014 at 10:18 PM #

    Tried it on the Big Island. Bring it to the drinking water on the mainland!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Visiting Villages in Fiji - June 14, 2012

    [...] even if you don’t end up drinking the kava.See: An Essential Guide to Drinking Kava and The Truth About Kava in Fiji Drinking KavaAfter the introduction ceremony, there was dancing, clapping, food, and casual [...]

  2. 8 Reasons to travel to the Yasawa Islands Fiji - October 14, 2014

    […] Find out more about Kava on Twenty-Something Travel: The Truth About Kava in Fiji […]

Leave a Reply

css.php