What is Kava? Taking Part in a Traditional Kava Ceremony in Fiji

Fiji is rich with culture and traditions that make for happy Fijians and blissful guests. Native Fijians are among the happiest in the world, and once you’ve arrived in the country of more than 300 islands, it’s not hard to see why. The opal-blue waters, palm tree lined beaches, and breathtaking mountains mean there is no shortage of incredible landscape—and water!—to explore. But even beyond the startling beauty of Fiji, the culture of the people here is warm and endlessly hospitable. Fijians value family and community, and villages work together to look out for one another. The warmth of Fijian culture is undeniable, and it’s one of the reasons travelers return again and again.

When visiting Fiji, you’ll be greeted with one essential aspect of the welcoming Fijian culture—the kava ceremony. This kava Fiji ceremony is a ritual practiced in villages all over the island, and participating in one is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in Fijian culture and traditions. If given the opportunity to join a ceremony during your time in Fiji, you certainly won’t want to miss out!

So, if you’re wondering, what is a kava ceremony? And how can I join one? Then you’ve come to the right place. Here at Namale Resort and Spa, we welcome you to gather our three weekly kava ceremonies, where you can sip kava and experience this age-old tradition for yourself.

Follow along to learn more about this ceremonial event and discover how you can attend one during your next vacation at our resort.

What is kava?

To understand the kava ceremony in Fiji, you must first understand its namesake: kava. Kava is a mildly sedative drink made when the crushed root of the yaqona (pronounced yang-GO-na) plant, a relative of the pepper plant, is strained with water into a large communal bowl. The drink was historically made by cutting yaqona roots into small pieces, which were then chewed (generally by children or young women) and spat into a bowl, where the contents were mixed with coconut milk. The chewing of the root was believed to extract the active ingredients while producing a more delicious beverage. However, this practice is no longer common except among some locals.

Though this kava drink in Fiji is not what most people would deem traditionally delicious, it is described by many as tasting somewhat like bitter, peppery, muddy water – but don’t let that deter you from the once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Also called yaqona after the name of the plant itself, or “grog” by locals, this ceremonial drink creates a relaxed feeling for the drinker and can result in some numbness around the mouth, lips, and tongue. This numbness is normal and should be expected—and the feeling is only temporary. That said, the most enjoyable aspect of kava is the ceremony and hospitality surrounding the drinking of it.


Why do islanders drink kava?

Kava is used to bring people together. It is part of Fijian life and accompanies any important occasion, from the welcoming of visitors to blessing new homes to settling arguments.

Yaqona is more common than alcohol in Fiji because it is consumed in a different way. The ceremony surrounding the drinking of the national beverage unites folks and makes even the weariest traveler feel welcomed.

However, kava is not reserved exclusively for special occasions. Many Fijians drink kava daily. It is not uncommon to see groups of friends or family sipping from a communal bowl together as part of a regular afternoon. Perhaps this is part of what contributes to the particularly contented culture of Fiji and what many visitors have referred to as “Fiji time.”


What is the purpose of a kava ceremony?

You’ll find Fijians participating in the yaqona ceremony as a way to show respect, welcome newcomers, or simply encourage friendliness and camaraderie amongst family and friends. A kava Fiji ceremony presents an opportunity for people to connect, whether joining families or inviting someone into the community.

Because drinking the kava drink in Fiji may numb your mouth, it’s believed this sensation can result in a sense of serenity and cordiality. As kava induces a relaxed state in the drinker, this ceremony usually leads to friendly and gracious interactions, even among those who have just met. Fijians believe kava to be a social unifier, which is why it is often served to end or settle a disagreement and even make peace between villages.
What is kava ceremony etiquette?
Because the kava ceremony is such an integral part of Fijian culture, it’s essential you treat their traditions with respect. When attending a ceremony, dress modestly and join the group on the floor on the woven rug. You’ll likely sit cross-legged in a circle.

Traditionally, kava is served to guests in bowls made from half a coconut and is given according to rank. Though kava drinking sessions are usually all male in Fiji, Fijians do not hesitate to offer kava to all guests, regardless of gender. Wait your turn, as the leader will go around the circle and eventually offer you a cup.

What is kava ceremony etiquette?

Joining a kava ceremony is easily one of the best Fiji activities to experience while staying on the island. Still, it’s important that you understand the traditions and customs.

Because the kava ceremony is an integral part of Fijian culture, it’s essential to treat their traditions respectfully. When attending a ceremony, dress modestly (more on that below). To keep with tradition, consider purchasing a Kava root at a local Fijian market and gift it to the Kava ceremony leader. It’s one of many wonderful finds you can shop for when hunting for the perfect souvenir.

Next, join the group on the floor on the woven rug. Typically, the group will sit in a circle. In Fiji, pointing your legs or feet toward others while sitting down is considered rude, so sitting cross-legged or on your knees is best. You can even place a sarong over your legs for extra coverage.

As the Fiji kava ceremony commences, you’ll notice that the main focus is on the communal kava bowl, called the tanoa. The leader will prepare the kava for the group in this special bowl. From here, the kava drink is served to guests in bowls made from half a coconut and is given according to rank. Wait your turn, as the leader will go around the circle and eventually offer you a cup.

Now what about photography? Is it considered poor form to take photos during a Fijian kava ceremony? In most cases, it’s permitted, but it’s always best to ask the leader for permission before taking out your camera.

What do you say before drinking kava?

When you are offered kava with the phrase “E dua na bilo?” (“Try a cup?”), know that you are being offered warmth, relaxation, and respect. Hard to refuse, wouldn’t you say?

When kava is served to you, you’ll be offered “high tide” (a full cup) or “low tide” (a half cup). When receiving the kava and preparing to drink, clap once and say “Bula” (the Fijian word for hello and love, much like “aloha” in Hawaiian), and then, ideally, drink the cup in its entirety in one gulp, followed by three more claps. Though the kava Fiji drink may have an interesting flavor, avoid making a face or showing your distaste, as this could be seen as disrespectful.

What Do You Wear In a Kava Ceremony?

Regarding Fiji kava ceremonies, it’s essential to be respectful and dress modestly. Women must cover their shoulders and wear a dress, skirt, or sarong longer than knee-length. As for men, they should also cover their shoulders and wear pants or long shorts. And because men in Fiji often wear their own sarongs, it’s acceptable for visiting men to wear them, too.

Are there other ways to incorporate kava into my visit?

Participating in the kava ritual is one way to connect to Fiji’s past. Aside from joining a kava ceremony, you can show respect when entering a village by presenting kava root (available at any local Fijian market) to your host. You’ll be showing that you have some understanding of the Fijian culture as well as beginning the kava ritual with honor. This kind gesture will be much appreciated!

How can I attend a kava ceremony in Fiji?

You can join an authentic ceremony right here at Namale Resort and Spa. This ceremony is a vital part of Fijian culture, and you’ll be greeted with a bowl at Namale’s weekly kava ceremonies as both a warm Fijian welcome and a sign of respect and appreciation for your stay at the resort. You’ll have the unique opportunity to begin your trip with an unforgettable ritual that connects you to the land and the people of Fiji.

Celebrations After the Kava Ceremony

After a kava ceremony in local Fijian communities, the atmosphere transforms into jubilation and warmth. This communal event, centered around sipping and sharing the traditional kava drink, is a cherished way to unite people, fostering unity and friendship. Once the ceremony concludes, the real festivities begin. There’s music and dance, inviting everyone to partake in the celebration. As kava’s soothing and calming effects set in, expect an ambiance filled with laughter, smiles, and an overall sense of joy.

This experience is more than just a ceremony; it’s an immersion into the heart of Fijian culture. The happiness and communal spirit are infectious, leaving you with a deep gratitude and a profound understanding of the local way of life. Participating in this celebration, you’ll feel warmly embraced by the community, creating memories that resonate with the true essence of Fiji’s rich cultural heritage.

Are you ready to sample some kava on island time? Contact us today to get a quote and learn more about booking your dream vacation with us. Between experiencing this beautiful kava tradition, basking in the stunning island scenery, and indulging in farm-to-table Fijian cuisine, you’ll want to book your next trip to Fiji before you even leave our resort! Be sure to check out special offers, too, as we offer all kinds of perks, from spa packages to wedding services.

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