Bula! This is the catch-all “hello” in Fiji, where you will be greeted by gathering villagers for a unique communal event known as a Kava Ceremony. Today we will talk about what a Kava Ceremony is, how to participate, and why it is a must-have experience for your Fiji vacation.
Grab a frothy beverage and take a seat. It’s time for a delicious adventure with me! Here be a 5-part series about cuisine all around the world, from the purple mountains majesties of the U.S. to the crystal blue coasts of Tahiti. You can find our previous Cuisine Blogs here:
Part 1: Tasty Tahiti
Part 2: Colonial Foods
Part 3: Gobble Up Greece
Ready to drool? Read on!
What is Kava?
Kava, also known as yaqona (pronounced “yang-GO-na”), comes from the euphoria-inducing root of a pepper plant called Piper methysticum. It is traditional to sun-dry the root before it is pounded up into a fine powder and placed inside a cloth (usually a shirt) to be mixed with water. Some villages will carry this water inside a bamboo shoot, which will be poured over the cloth. The mixer will then squeeze the cloth to create the kava. There is no fermentation, no seasonings, brewing or boiling — just cold water over a cloth filled with ground-up kava root.
The taste is very muddy and bitter (“kava” actually comes from the Tongan and Marquesan word for “bitter”), but it’s meant to be swallowed in a single gulp. Technically a mild narcotic, kava leaves a slightly numb, tingly feeling around the mouth and tongue of anyone who drinks it, along with a feeling of bliss and calm.
Did we mention this happy-drink is considered Fiji’s national drink? Ooh yeah.
Okay, so what’s a Kava Ceremony?
Community is a very important part of Fijian life. It’s easy to get lost in routine and go through the motions, and that’s why it’s important to have people around us to pull us back to reality. Reality isn’t just work, home, eat, sleep — reality is the people we love, the experiences we live, and the memories we share. This is true in America, and it’s true in Fiji.
Kava brings everyone together. Most families will gather on a daily basis for “Fiji Time”, where they will sit and drink kava. Kava Ceremonies are also held to welcome guests or at big events like weddings. Even disputes are resolved by each party sharing a bowl of kava. It is a part of daily life.
A Kava Ceremony extends past concepts as simple as drinks or tradition. It’s about families, friendships, and community.
What do you do at a Kava Ceremony?
First, before arriving at the village, pick up a kava root from the local market. Both genders must dress respectfully (no bare shoulders, nice dress or slacks, etc). Present your root to the Chief (usually the oldest male of your group), who will in turn give the root to the Host for mixing. The Host will then grind up the root into powder, strain it in a cloth, and mix it with water. The concoction, called grog by the locals, is put into a large communal bowl in the center of the room.
Kava is then offered as either a “high tide” (a full serving) or a “low tide” (a half serving). Clap once, take the bowl, and shout “Bula!”, then drink the kava in a single gulp (or as few as you can do). Then give the bowl back to the host, clap three times and shout, “Maca!” (pronounced “ma-tha”).
A Fiji Ceremony is a happy occasion. It is a time for people to get together and relax, joke around, and tell stories. Think happy hour, but more community-based and the drink of choice isn’t alcohol — though it produces similar effects.
Why is a Kava Ceremony a must-have Fiji experience?
There is nothing quite like getting to know another culture so very different from yours. As you sit in a room full of people smiling, laughing, and drinking kava alongside you, you can’t help but feel a part of something much bigger. There are too many people and too many places in this world to stay stuck in one place, one culture, one way of life.
The Kava Ceremony is an important part of Fijian life. It brings calm, peace, and serenity as you make memories you’ll remember a lifetime. So dive in. Become a part of something bigger. Learn the way of life in a culture world-renowned for holding a very happy people. And never forget the experience.
So I turn it back to you.
What was an unforgettable experience you had with a community? It doesn’t have to be travel-related. Sometimes the most touching group events are the ones closest to home.
For those who have been to Fiji, what was your favorite part of the trip? Did you try kava, and if yes, what did you think? Let us know in the comments or email me!
Ready for bliss?
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Wishing you bliss,
—Lindsey, the Sun Bliss Luxury Blogger
Ia Orana! My name is Lindsey and I am a luxury travel specialist from Minnesota.
I have trudged through blinding white winters, trekked through state fairs during horrid humidity, and come out the other end looking for a more blissful day in the sun. My agency is Sun Bliss Travel, which uses its industry connections and specialized knowledge to design magical luxury vacations for travelers who want unforgettable VIP experiences.
But I am not just an agent or a (woman-led) small business owner — I’m an avid traveler myself who loves sunsets, cats, coffee and cooking. I live in Minnesota with my adorable fiance and together we’ve built a life full of love, fun and bliss.