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The Kava Ceremony

My name is Iliesa. I was born in New Zealand but my parents come from Fiji. In my house we have a big kava bowl which is kept safely in a cupboard. My parents brought it over from Fiji. It was a gift from my Dad's village.

Every weekend when the rugby is on, this kava bowl is used by my uncles for kava ceremonies.

In this photo you can see my Uncle Tuks mixing kava. His cousin is Joe Rokocoko who plays for the All Blacks, so Tuks and his friends like to have a kava ceremony to celebrate while they watch the game.

The kava comes from the root of a plant back in Fiji. It is prepared with only two instruments - a large iron pole and an iron cylindrical container.

First the men clean the roots. then they put the roots in the iron cylinder and bash the roots until they get shaped into little sugar like crystals. This takes a good two hours, depending on how much kava the men like to drink.

Starting at around 8pm, the men gather round the kava bowl which is called the tanoa. One man sits directly behind the tanoa and he mixes the kava. When all the men are gathered, the mixer brings out the sugar crystal-shaped powder (which is actually the kava), and starts mixing it using both hands, a basin of water and two cup-shaped bowls which are from the coconuts. Once the tanoa is full, the mixer calls the traditional chant. That's when all the people gathered clap their hands with a deep bass sound.

When the first kava is served, it is served to the most respected person in the house, for example a chief, an elderly man, or the owner of the house. When the kava is served to the most respected person, this person greets everyone present by saying Bula, and of course the people will reply to his greeting. After drinking and finishing his bowl, the people clap their hands three times again. This is traditional all over Fiji. When everyone gets their first drink, they would greet everyone by saying Bula as well.

Iliesa's Uncle making Kava, Photo by Iliesa

Iliesa's uncle making kava

(Photograph copyright Iliesa, 2003)