Taki MaiTaki Mai

By Zane Yoshida

Christmas is rapidly approaching and it’s time to get the drinks ready.

Hot toddies? Mulled wine? A bowl of punch? Egg nog? Or a kava shot?

What’s your tipple going to be this Christmas?

Here we take a look at how kava and Christmas go together and, more broadly, how kava fits into the religious and cultural make up of the Pacific Islands – and in particular Fiji, where our kava comes from. You’ll see that Christmas is a period when a LOT of kava is drunk , because it is party season!

Religious ceremonies in Fiji

In Fiji, religious ceremonies are plentiful because of its multi-racial and multi-cultural population.

There are Christian Methodist churches, Hindu temples and Islamic mosques throughout the country.

Many of the native Fijians are Christian because of their conversion by Christian missionaries during the days when Fiji was a British protectorate between 1874 and 1970. On Sundays you will see Fijians worshipping in most villages around the nation.

Christmas Day, Boxing Day (the 26th of December) and Easter are all national holidays in Fiji, just as in much of the rest of the Christian world.

The large influx of Indians and other South Asians into the Fijian population between 1879 and 1916 (mainly indentured labour brought to Fiji by the British) ensured that the other religions became very well represented too. The Hindu festival of Diwali and the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday are two days when all of Fiji enjoys public holidays.

In addition to these holidays, Fiji’s major cities and towns have annual festivals to celebrate important assets that contribute to local prosperity – such as sugar, coral or flowers.

Kava traditions

In the Pacific islands, Kava has been traditionally consumed at almost all social, religious, and political gatherings for many centuries.

You can see from all of the religious and cultural holidays mentioned above that the kava bowl makes frequent appearances all through the year in ceremonial form.

It’s not just a social drink – kava has been used through the centuries as a way that the leader or chief of a village would connect with the spirits; it is seen as having almost magical powers.

While it is used widely in social contexts nowadays, you can begin to see the real esteem with which kava is held in Fiji when you observe or attend a religious kava ceremony.

The kava (‘yaqona’) ceremony

The Yaqona (pronounced ‘yangona’) ceremony is a way of honoring the national drink of Fiji. The ceremony is overseen by a village spokesman who is the only one who can give the authority to start mixing the kava.

Once it is prepared by being mashed, mixed with cold water and strained into a large bowl, a coconut shell (“bilo”) is passed to the chief guest who must clap once and then drink the kava in one go. The cup will then be passed around in order of seniority.

Kava and christmas cake

During the upcoming Christmas and New Year season, with the days off work, there will be a festival atmosphere around the islands of the South Pacific.

Many functions and parties will be held and yes – kava drinking will be a common feature at virtually all of them. It’s a must.

As you’re enjoying your turkey, ham and Christmas cake this festive period, bear in mind that somewhere across the world, there will be large groups of islanders passing around coconut shells full of kava!

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Kava and Christmas Cake?