December 16, 2013

How to drink kava or yaqona in Fiji; things to do

How to drink kava or yaqona in Fiji

Fiji’s national drink is yaqona (pronounced yan-gon-na), or “kava” as it is known in other Pacific Islands.  In Fiji they also often refer to it by the nickname “grog.”  Made from the root of the pepper tree, which grows only in Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga, yaquona is bitter and potent.  I’ve heard yaqona described best as tasting like “peppery puddle water.”  It is non-alcoholic but has mild narcotic properties when taken over a prolonged period and in large quantities, and the United States F.D.A. warns of a possible link between kava and liver failure. 

learning how to drink kava or yaqona in Fiji
learning how to drink kava or yaqona in Fiji

Fijians consider it the drink of the Lord and start drinking it at around age 21.  In Fiji, the root is a form of  currency.  Traditionally, when visiting a village a guest brings a gift of kava roots to the chief as a sign of respect.  Sometimes villagers, visitors, and the chief sit on the bure floor while the chief conducts a blessing ceremony, and sometimes the roots are then pounded into a drink that is then distributed in one large bowl from which everyone drinks in a welcome ceremony indicating  goodwill and hospitality.  Pounding drums sometimes also accompany the ceremony.  On my visit to Fiji, I encountered this ceremony numerous times in many different ways—even in a demonstration at a resort shopping center! 

This is the etiquette of drinking yaqona:

●Don’t sip it. 

●When the bowl is presented to you, cup your hands and clap them together once.

●Accept the bowl and say, “Bula!,” or “Vinaka” (thanks).

●If it is a large bowl meant for a group, drink one gulp down fast.  If it is a small bowl for one person, drink it all down fast. 

●Clap three more times and say, “Maca!” 

●Return the bowl to the same person.

●Women sit with legs to the side only.  No one should point their feet at a chief or the kava bowl. 

●Women can ask for a smaller “low-tide” serving.  

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