A Fijian Kava Drinking Ceremony
I've already talked about some of the cocktails, beer and bar snacks that can be found in Fiji. But such things are mainly for tourists. You haven't experienced the real Fiji until you get down on a hand-woven coconut mat on the floor and drink kava with the locals. Kava is made from the dried ground roots of the kava plant, a Pacific relative of the pepper plant. The root powder is put in to a small bag that is thoroughly kneaded and squeezed in to water as Ratu is doing in the picture above. The result is a muddy-looking liquid. At Navutu Stars they use a traditional-style hand-carved tanoa (bowl) from which to serve the drink to guests. However, if you travel more extensively through Fiji you might find you are sometimes offered Kava from a far less grand receptacle, like a plastic bucket or a weathered washing up bowl. I don't think this makes any difference to the taste.
Although Kava is drunk throughout the islands of Fiji, its main production takes place on the mainland of Fiji, Viti Levu from where the roots can be purchased.
During a Kava ceremony, the tradition is to sit on the floor with your legs crossed. When you are handed a coconut shell full of the drink, you should first clap and say "Bula" before accepting the cup and drinking all of its contents quickly, down in one. As you hand back the empty cup you clap three times and everyone else joins in. The word "Bula" described by one traveller as "one fourth of everything that comes out of a Fijian's mouth" actually means "health" or "life" but in practice is used as a greeting too. What I have described is a relaxed version of the ceremony which should get you by in casual, social situations. If you are required to attend a more formal ceremony you will need to brush up your knowledge on local protocols and pecking orders.
True to its apearance, Kava actually tastes like you might imagine muddy water would taste. The drink has a mildly numbing effect on the teeth and the tongue but otherwise it had no noticeable effects on us. According to some sources, it is meant to make you feel relaxed, de-stressed and sleepy, but since for me that just about sums up the whole Fiji effect it's hard to tell. It doesn't bother me in the slightest, but some people are apparently not keen on communal sharing of a drinking cup because of hygiene issues. If you are a germaphobe, you had better stay away from the Kava!
And do we like it? Erhm? Well, put it this way - we came home from a previous trip to Fiji with a huge stash of dried Kava root and big plans for throwing a Fiji party. Almost two and a half years later the Kava is still sitting in our fridge untouched and no such party has ever materialized. But when in Fiji - I can't get enough of the Kava ceremony. Any personal opinions of this drink aside, the chance to sit with a warm, friendly group of Fijian people and share such an important and historic part of their culture with them is always an honour.