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By Zane Yoshida

Kava and New Zealand: A Blossoming Relationship

Kava and New Zealand have always had a close relationship – but it is now beginning to ‘blossom’.

We reported recently about the New Zealand prime minister, John Key, arriving in Fiji to a traditional kava ceremony. But it goes well beyond this.

With the proximity of New Zealand to the island nations of the South Pacific, such as Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, and Tonga, it is no surprise that a large number of ‘islanders’ have chosen New Zealand as their home.

In fact, around 7.5 percent of the country’s 4.6 million people identify with South Pacific ethnic groups. This makes it one of the ‘kava centres’ of the world.

Importance of kava in New Zealand

If you know any Pacific islanders you will also know that, wherever they go, their kava follows them closely behind! Its calming, relaxing properties are seen as a vital cultural connection with the power to put people back in touch with their island homes; and drinking kava is as much of a social routine for many NZ-based islanders as it is when they are back in their ‘spiritual home’.

The kava bowl is never very far away yet, in New Zealand, like in most western countries, its use has traditionally been restricted largely to the migrant communities.

Not anymore. Kava is making inroads into other communities, crossing cultural divides, just like in the US, Australia, and elsewhere. Misconceptions still exist about kava and its effects, as well as with the importance of quality, though.

Raising the profile of kava in New Zealand

The recent Fine Food New Zealand trade expo in Auckland included kava-based products, in recognition that it has become more ‘mainstream’. This is part of an attempt to promote more Pacific-grown products in the local and global markets. Exposure at this international food trade show also helps to educate the market about the noble kava varieties available.

Amongst many other Pacific products, Taki Mai flavoured kava supplements were showcased and, we are delighted to say, they went down a storm!

Joe Fuavao, of Pacific Trade & Invest and the Produce Company, noted that the kava shots had become a ‘crowd favourite’:

“It’s been a real a winner. I think a lot of people have been quite curious about the effects of Kava. They’re used to seeing it in powder form so now seeing the product packaged and well presented is certainly generating the interest amongst a lot of the cafes and bars.

“A lot of the cafe owners, the restaurateurs that have come across our stand – they’ve seen the word Pacific and started to have a look at what we have on offer,”

So, you may be seeing Taki Mai kava shots in more cafes and bars around New Zealand in the very near future.

By Zane Yoshida

The Ever-Present Kava Bowl: From Politics to Rugby to Surf

Whenever and wherever there is an important event or an esteemed guest arriving in Fiji, a kava bowl won’t be far away. And the more important the guest the larger the kava ceremony.

In the past few weeks, there have been several important events and visitors to the country – and all have received the ‘kava treatment’.

A kava comment causes a stir

First there was the opening of the 2016 World Surf League Fiji Pro tournament in Namotu, Tuvarua. The close relationship between kava and surfing is something that I wrote about previously in this post.

Then the New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, recently took up an offer from the Fijian Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, to visit Fiji.

He was welcomed in Suva by a 100-strong Guard of Honour and a traditional welcoming ceremony, where he drank kava and was represented with a traditional whale’s tooth.

His visit represented the first visit by a New Zealand Prime Minister in the past decade. Despite having their differences in the past, everything was as cordial as expected around the kava bowl. But all eyes were on the Key’s reaction to the kava…

On a previous visit to the South Pacific in 2010, Keys described the taste of kava as a mixture of muddy water and liniment and then, in answer to the question about what he thought of kava from Vanuata, he replied with the following (to every Fijian’s dismay):

“At the risk of offending them, slightly better than the Fijian kava, and on a par with Samoa.”

Fijian kava is known for its high quality, so this comment caused widespread raising of eyebrows around the Fijian islands, and probably didn’t endear Key to the majority of Fijians.

It was good to see that, though he may not be a kava lover, he still downed a shell from the kava bowl on this visit – as you can see by the picture. But he kept his thoughts on the taste of kava private this time!

Rugby balls and kava bowls

Bill Beaumont, the incoming chairman of World Rugby, was also in town for a committee meeting – the first ever in Fiji, since the World Rugby body was established in 1886!

Beaumont met with the Fijian Prime Minister at the Sofitel Fiji Resort and Spa and was treated, of course, to a traditional Fijian welcoming ceremony around the kava bowl.

As you can see just from the past few weeks, the kava bowl is an ever-present fixture in Fiji – from the halls of government, to the rugby field and out on the sea!

Have you had your shot of kava today?

Kava and New Zealand: A Blossoming Relationship
The Ever-Present Kava Bowl: From Politics to Rugby to Surf