An engraving of Samoan girls making kava, 1887.
Traditional kava ceremony, Fiji.
Kava ceremony, Fiji.
An old Fiji postcard showing maidens making kava.
Young maidens making kava, 1904.
Fijian warriors serving yaqona (kava).
Preparing King's kava by Samoan Princess.
Young ladies preparing and serving kava.
Village maid of honour, Samoa.
Traditional Fiji Kava Ceremony
In Fiji, the drink yaqona (kava) played an important part in public business and social life. The kava was mixed in large wooden bowls which were used for no other purpose and gained a bluish-grey glaze from contact with the kava. The drinking cups were made from coconut shells with the chiefs having their own cups which were tabu to anyone but themselves while the lesser men drank from a common cup.
Made from the dried roots of the shrub Piper methysticum, the kava root was cut into small pieces and was originally chewed but later grated to a pulp and steeped in water. The mixture was then strained, often through a bundle of hibiscus fibre, and was then ready for use. The tempo of the ceremony was governed by measured hand-clapping and the chanting of traditional songs. The mixing of the kava, the straining and the serving were all done with a high degree of skill and grace with every detail being watched by critical eyes.
Traditionally, the kava bowl was placed some distance from the chief. The chanting party was ranged on either side with the minor chiefs and ordinary people behind. When the kava was ready, a cup-bearer came forward, his cup was filled and he turned to face the chief. Holding the cup with arms fully extended, he slowly lowered his body until his knees were fully bent and every muscle was taut. At the appropriate point in the chant he would straighten up, approach the chief, stooping again he would fill the chief's cup and then squat before him. The chief drained the cup, and, amid hand-clapping and cries of maca! (empty!) spun it to the mat at which time the bearer returned for a fresh supply.
In drinking the kava, the right of chiefs to take precedence in order of rank was carefully observed; a high chief was followed by his herald (mata-ni-vanua) even if other chiefs were present. The details of the kava ceremony varied, however they were always occasions of ceremonial of which the yaqona vakaturaga (chiefly yaqona) and the yaqona meketaki were reserved for high occasions and very honoured guests.
For more information about Fiji yaqona please click here.
Traditional Samoa Kava Ceremony
In Samoa, no occasion of ceremony or importance takes place without the use of kava (also awa, kawa; literally 'bitter'), an intoxicating beverage brewed from the roots of the kava plant, of the Piperaceae (pepper) family. The peeled roots of the kava plant, Piper methysticum, and all exchanges of sociability are conducted under its influence. The concoction of the seductive beverage made from this root is attended with many ceremonious observances. A wooden bowl, a coconut cup, and a strainer are the implements used in making the brew.
The "maid of the village," is invariably called upon to brew the beverage, which ceremony, with her attendants, she conducts with becoming dignity. After carefully washing out her mouth in the presence of all assembled, she sits herself upon the matted floor with the bowl in front of her and with resigned manner and preoccupied countenance, begins to masticate the bits of roots handed her by the attendants. Piece after piece is chewed until the mouth is full and the cheeks bulging, when the mass is ejected into the palm of her hands and with a graceful swing deposited in the bowl.
Samoa kava ceremony.
This operation is repeated until the proper quantity of the root is secured. Then her hands are washed scrupulously clean, and her attendants, having poured the required amount of water into the bowl, the maid proceeds with the compounding. With a graceful rolling and twisting movement of the hands, she mixes all the undissolved portion of the root in the fou, or strainer, which, after ringing, is shaken out, and the straining repeated until the brew is finished.
According to oral tradition, it was said that centuries ago, the King of Tonga visited a distant island plagued by famine. The people had nothing to offer him, so one woman, in her zeal to offer the king good food, sacrificed her baby, cooked it and wrapped it in leaves as if it were a suckling pig. The king perceived in time that this food was taboo and ordered that the child should be given a princely burial. Out of the grave grew the kava plant which alleviates hunger.
In Hawaii, kava is also used as a sedative and narcoticum by Hawaiian healers.
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