Drink Down the Fiji Vibe at a Traditional Kava Ceremony
If you've never heard of it, kava (which is also known as Yaqona, or grog) is a drink made from the root of a pepper called piper methstyicum. It looks a bit like muddy water, but packs a secret punch. It's not alcoholic or narcotic, but it has analgesic (pain relief) properties that make it very relaxing to drink. If this sounds like something you're not sure about but would like to try, then fear not, because a small dose of kava is perfectly harmless. It's merely loaded with Vitamin B, which acts as a natural muscle relaxant and antidepressant. And if you're not sure where to go to try it… Finding a kava ceremony in Fiji is about as easy as finding coffee in North America!
Kava ceremonies are used in almost every tradition of Fijian life, but you don't have to be local to give it a try. Traditionally, if you attend a village ceremony, you should bring a piece of the kava root with you to offer to the local chief; but in other areas this may not be necessary. In all cases, participants will sit in a circle before a large bowl of kava called a “tanoa,” with their feet facing away from the bowl. The actual drinking is done from a smaller wooden bowl called a “bilo” that is passed around the group. To prepare the drink, the root is ground into a cloth with a mortar and pestle, which is then dipped in water and massaged and squeezed into the tanoa.
For the kava ceremony itself, the host will begin by speaking in Fijian, but don't worry; you only have to know a few words to take part. The chief is the first to drink, and then the bilo is passed around in a circle. When the bowl is passed to you, clap once and say “Bula!” Drink the bowl down in one go before saying “Bula!” again and clapping three times. For extra politeness, you can also say “Vinaka,” or thank you. You'll probably feel your lips going numb, but it's perfectly normal. After another few rounds, you will feel your whole body relax and you might sweat a little, even though the drink is served cold. By the time you leave the kava ceremony, you should experience a tranquil light-headedness. You are now initiated as a true Fijian!
When to Go to Kava Ceremony
The best time to visit Fiji to partake in a traditional kava ceremony is between May and October because the weather is dry and the temperatures are a pleasant 78-86°F (26-30°C). You'll also avoid the strong humidity the island gets between November and April.
Odds n' Ends
While it's always sure to be hot in Fiji, dress for the kava ceremony in the same way as you would enter a church. Cover your legs and shoulders, and remember to remove your shoes before sitting down in the circle. Hats, shorts and sunglasses should not be worn.
If your kava ceremony is scheduled for a certain time as part of a tour, don't be surprised if it gets started late. Locals like to make frequent jokes about the fluidity of plans on the island, and will often exclaim, 'it's Fiji time!'
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