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Kava culture: Wikis


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Kava culture refers to the cultures of western Oceania which consume kava, and the religious and cultural traditions associated with it. There are similarities in the use of kava between the different cultures, but each one also has its own traditions.



In Hawaiʻi, at least 30 varieties of ʻawa (kava) were used for medicinal, religious, political, cultural and social purposes by all social classes, both men and women. Kava is the original pau hana drink of working people to relax and ease achy muscles. Kava was also given to fussy babies and children to calm them and help them sleep.

In 1992 during a presidential campaign visit to Hawaii, Hillary Clinton participated in a kava ceremony conducted by the Samoan community on O'ahu.


In Vanuatu, kava is drunk at night in a place called nakamal ("place for peace"). Nakamals are village clubhouses and in some places are open only to men. It is normally drunk from a glass or plastic bowl or an empty coconut shell in kastam (traditional) bars, which are open to both men and women. In these venues the emphasis is more on recreational purposes and socializing than on the spiritual or medicinal qualities of kava consumption.


A typical informal faikava in Tonga with the touʻa serving the men.

In Tonga, kava is drunk nightly at "kalapu" (Tongan for "club"), which is also called a "faikava" ("to do kava"). Only men are allowed to drink the kava, although women who serve it may be present. The female server is usually an unmarried, young woman called the "touʻa." In the past, this was a position reserved for women being courted by an unmarried male, and much respect was shown. These days, it is imperative that the touʻa not be related to anyone in the kalapu, and if someone is found to be a relative of the touʻa, he (not the touʻa) will leave the club for that night; otherwise the brother-sister taboo would make it impossible to talk openly especially courtship. Foreign girls, especially volunteer workers from overseas are often invited to be a touʻa for a night but to do so they must not take offense too easily, as these days touʻas can be treated quite in a sexist manner. If no female touʻa can be found, or it is such a small, very informal gathering, one of the men will do the job of serving the kava root. This is called fakatangata (all-man).

The kava is served in rounds. Typically the touʻa will first stir the kava in the kumete, then pour some in the ipu (coconut cups) which are then passed from hand to hand to those sitting farthest away. They drink, and the empty cups are returned again from hand to hand. Everybody remains seated, cross-legged, although one is allowed to stretch the legs from time to time. Meanwhile the touʻa has filled other cups for those next from the farthest away, and so the drinking goes forth until those nearest to the kumete have had their drink too. Then the men talk again (about politics, sports, tradition & culture, jokes, or anything else) or they will sing a traditional love song, often accompanied by guitar. Some now-famous string bands have had their origin at a faikava. Finally the next drinking round starts.

In some of the outer islands of Tonga, kava is drunk almost every night, but on the main island, Tongatapu, it is usually drunk only on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Kava drinking frequently lasts as long as eight or nine hours. With the introduction of television, rugby is usually watched by the kava drinkers, and the songs are sung in the commercial breaks. On Saturday nights, a short pause for prayer is made at midnight (as the day moves to Sunday), and then hymns replace the love songs. These hymns are mostly traditional English melodies with new words in Tongan.

All important occasions are also marked by drinking kava, including weddings, funerals, and all church-related functions. For example, when a new king takes his throne or a new chief is established in his title, he must participate in the pongipongi, ancient kava ceremonies to make his rule official. These formal kava parties follow completely different rules. A male chief is now the touʻa, and the kava is very solemnly prepared by pounding the roots to powder (instead of buying of bag of already pounded kava powder). Once the kava is the right strength (as deduced from the colour), the ceremony master will call out the nickname of the first recipient using an old archaic formula ("kava kuo heka"). The touʻa will fill the cup and the cup is then brought, often by a young lady, to the intended chief, and brought back afterwards. Then the next name is called, and so forth.

ʻUvea (Wallis)

On ʻUvea (Wallis Island) the informal kava parties are like those of Tonga, except that the cups are not passed from hand to hand, but young boys are appointed to run around, bringing the cups to the next person (as in the formal Tongan ceremony)When they get the kava they pass it to the next person on the side or to the person who haven't had one and the young one they are the one to go and get the water to mix with the kava.


On Futuna kava drinking is used to install a new chief, much as in Tonga.


In Fiji, kava (also called "grog" or "yaqona") is part of the fabric of life, drunk nightly by families and also used for important political and social events. The importance of the kava in Fiji is not so much physical, but a psychological event where stories are told and jokes bantered. It is often seen as a peace pipe between quarreling groups. During a visit to Fiji, the late Pope John Paul II drank a cup of yaqona during a traditional welcoming ceremony.


In Rotuma, kava has two contexts, ceremonial and informal. The kava ceremony, when it functions as part of any ceremonial event, is a highly political affair, with individuals served according to rank. In pre-European times, the kava was chewed by virgin girls, (marked by caked limestone on their hair), before it was mixed with the water to make the drink. Prior to European influences the kava ceremony was carried out with chewing and serving done by chiefly virgins, and mixing done by older, experienced and culturally aware women.

Nowadays, in the informal, social context Rotuman men commonly drink kava to relax, often while singing and dancing, and in some instances mix it with alcohol, evidence to its cultural shift in Rotuman society.

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