Taki MaiTaki Mai

By Zane Yoshida

Maybe you got to this post because a friend mentioned kava to you; or you became curious from something you saw in the grocery store or on TV.

Kava is becoming more popular in the west, but it has been popular for many centuries in the Pacific Islands – and Fijian kava is some of the finest around.

Fijian roots

If you’re American you may know kava from Hawaii. Taki Mai uses only Fijian kava from one island and that produces the consistent and predictable relaxation effect that kava is famous for; the business is run by a Fijian and all the kava is grown, harvested and prepared for export on the island of Ovalau, Fiji.

The Taki Mai team is very proud of its Fijian roots and we’d like to share with you how the kava is traditionally prepared and drank where we come from.

Who knows – one day you might find yourself on holiday in Fiji and being invited to a kava ceremony where you are the guest of honour. The following information will be very useful!

The importance of kava in Fiji

Preparing and drinking kava in Fiji is more than just a way to refresh yourself or relax.

It is deeply interwoven with ritual and deeper meaning; kava ceremonies used to be very religious experiences that invoked the gods; they have also traditionally been used by the peace-loving, friendly and hospitable local Fijian people to welcome guests to their islands.

Kava is also drunk in social gatherings, when big decisions are made between communities and families, and it is often used as a “deal clincher.”

Traditionally any visitor to a Fijian village would bring kava root and with this, request permission from the chief to enter the village. It is still a nice touch to do that today.

This is followed by a sevusevu ceremony, where the kava root would be presented to the chief and the ancestral spirits appeased.

Kava preparation

The ancient way was for a young virgin to chew the kava into pulp and spit it into the tanoa bowl, before mixing it with cold water! This horrified the British colonials who rules Fiji as a protectorate from 1874 until 1970 and the practice has been somewhat “modernised” you’ll probably be glad to read.

Nowadays, it is pounded in a mortar and pestle until it becomes powdery, then placed in a cloth, dipped in water in the tanoa and squeezed until the beverage is of the required strength and consistency.

The kava drink is consumed from a coconut shell or bilo.

The Sevusevu ceremony

During a kava ceremony it’s important to respect the chief by keeping your head lower than his at all times and pointing your feet away from him. Normally you will take your place on a locally woven mat in a semi-circle arrangement, facing the chief.

When it’s time to drink, the most important (chief) drinks first. When the bilo is refilled and passed around to you, you should clap once with cupped hands and say “bula” as a sign of gratitude. Take the coconut shell in both hands and raise to your lips and drink the contents in one go. Then hand the shell back, clap three times and say “bula” again.

One last point – if you get invited to a kava ceremony then dress code is full cover, including legs and shoulders; avoid all modern accessories like sunglasses and take your shoes off before walking into the ceremonial hut.

Follow the above and you’ll be showing respect and will receive respect from the locals in return. Not forgetting that you’ll also find the whole experience of drinking kava this way a lot of fun!

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Kava – The Fijian Way