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Kava – More than just a Tonic for the People

Cultivated and consumed by humans for well over 3000 years, Kava is still used today by a wide range of Pacific societies for medicinal, spiritual, and recreational purposes. The feelings of camaraderie that Kava drinking evokes have made it a symbol for peace and friendship in many island nations of the Pacific. Participating in a traditional Kava ceremony can be an insightful experience.

The ceremony is an integral part of village life in Polynesian, Melanesian and Micronesian cultures. Many believe the awareness invoked by Kava brings one into communion with the gods and their ancestors. If the opportunity arises or the invitation is extended to attend a  Kava ceremony within a local village (not one put on by your resort) there is no better way to gain an incite into the local people and their culture.

Kava Q & A

 

What is Kava? Kava is beverage made from the root of Piper methysticum - a species of pepper cultivated throughout the South Pacific. It is either chewed or pounded and mixed with water to produce a brownish brew to drink. Kava  plays a prominent role in social interaction.

The Benefits of Kava? The Polynesians value Kava for its medicinal properties and it is often sold as herbal medicine. When drunk, the active chemical acts as a sedative and general muscle relaxant, making it a natural choice for the relief of anxiety, stress and insomnia. The roots analgesic properties are also used treat a multitude of aliments like, phobias, sore muscles, PMS, and menopausal symptoms. Kava is also chewed to alleviate the symptoms of a sore throat.

What are the effects of Kava? Kava users report a state of relaxation, a mild euphoria without feeling drugged, along with decreased muscle tension and a greater clarity of thought. A tingling and numbness on your tongue is a good indication that it is having the desired effect. Kava is a very mild narcotic and guarantees a good nights sleep - you will wake up feeling well rested and energized. You know when you have had too much Kava when you have the overwhelming compulsion to sleep, however, you will retain the ability to think clearly right up to the time you drop off and even when consumed in great quantities, Kava will not fog the mind or produce delirium.

How long do the effects of Kava last? The effects of Kava lasts for one to two hours leading to a restful sleep with no hangover. The calming effect is said to last well into the next day.

How it tastes? Unfortunately Kava tastes like bitter muddy water - an acquired taste.

Where to go for a true Kava session (Fiji Only) In Fiji most resorts seem to have a kava night on offer, during which the version of kava is watered down, so to really experience Kava, sign up for a village visit and head for the highlands. If you are in any of the other South Pacific Islands - just ask a local.

Fijian Tradition In Fiji, old customs still prevail. Turning down an offer to drink a bowl of Kava is considered insulting. In traditional times, kava all over the South Pacific was prepared by young village girls, who chewed the raw Kava into a soft pulp before adding water. Today, the head of the ceremony mixes a powdered root with water in a large hardwood bowl, called a Tanoa. The liquid is then strained through a cloth to keep out the impurities. When ready, he claps cupped hands to make a hollow poping sound. Sitting crossed legged on the floor, guests are arranged in a circle and offered a small bowl made from half of a coconut shell containing the liquid. The guest must clap before and after drinking. Guests are served first, then others according to their status in the group. The drink is not to be sipped - It should be drunk in one continuous drink. The clapping of hands and the word "maca" signifies that you have properly emptied your cup.

Kava Etiquette - Things you should know.

  • Hats and sunglasses are not to be worn it shows disrespect to the chief.
  • Shoes are not to be worn inside buildings.
  • Women must have their knees and shoulders covered and it is respectful for men to do the same.
  • Never touch Fijian person's head, it is considered an insult.
  • When visiting a village, it is customary to take a gift of kava root. This can be purchased from local markets and does not cost much.
  • You will be asked to drink kava with the villagers on arrival.
  • It is customary to drink the bowlful in one gulp.
  • When you have finished the contents, return the bowl and clap three times.
  • It is impolite to sit with your legs stretched out in front of you.
Tags
and South Pacific Islands
And Cook Islands
and Fiji
Culture
History
Brent Narbey
Submitted by
Brent Narbey
: 8 Jul 2009 (Last updated: 21 Jul 2017)

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