Category Archives: FRIENDS

KAVA IS NOT SEXY

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Fijian Kava Ceremony. Kava is being mixed in the tanoa (large wooden bowl). The long stick in the background is a bamboo pole containing water that is being used to mix the kava or yaqona.
Pacific woman in Philly (PWIP) recently read a story on-line about a Kava Bar that just opened in New York City called Kavasutra. Isn’t “sutra” a word that can mean something sexual in Hindu? So kava has become a sexual drink? Take it from me, there’s nothing remotely “sutra” or sexy about the national drink of the Pacific islanders.

Kava or yaqona is one of the most important drinks in the Pacific. What the formal tea ceremony is to the Japanese, the ceremony of drinking kava is to the people of Pacific.  In the Fiji Islands, it is enjoyed on both important and social occasions. It is offered to welcome guests and reunites community, families, friends, and even enemies together to socialize, discuss important events and mostly just to relax and “talanoa” (tell stories) at the end of the day.

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Dried roots of the kava plant.
Kava is crushed from the root or the stalk of a plant from the pepper family. The root or stalk is cut, dried and pounded to a fine powder. The powder is then placed in a cloth and mixed with water in a large wooden bowl called a tanoa. The liquid that is extracted is kava or yaqona.

After the kava is mixed, words of welcome often emphasizing the connections of the people at the gathering are said by a prominent or senior member of the household. There’s a rhythmic clapping (usually done 3 times and often a specific beat), not just two hands slapped together kinda clapping, but more of a cupping of both hands making the sounds a little deeper. After all the clapping, grog is then served in small coconut bowls for each person.

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Late Pope John Paul having his  first bowl of kava.
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Queen Elizabeth enjoying her kava bowl.

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Prince Charles downing his bowl of kava. Drink it all.
One person sits by the tanoa (kava bowl) to pour the drinks into the coconut shells, another person sits next to the tanoa (usually a child – I remember doing this job as a young girl) to carry the coconut shells, filled with grog, to the guests. The guests sit and form a large circle around the large tanoa. The kava is served in rounds. The most important guest or chief gets the first cup and then the rest of the adults are offered their drinks.

Kava drinking is a process that can take hours. It often depends on the number of “basins”, code word for tanoa that each group is willing to withstand. After the first tanoa, there may be 6 or more basins to go around. On weekends, people can drink from late evening to early morning. Don’t even bring the guitar out, that can only mean noon time grogging (slang for kava drinking) and singing. Just kidding.

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This Pacific woman in Philly (PWIP) loves to enjoy a kava session once in awhile and encourages safe and responsible drinking of our famous but not sexy drink.

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Fifita, a Pacific Person in Philly

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I want you to meet my good friend, Fifita,  another Pacific person in Philly. Fifita  comes from the island Kingdom of Tonga.

Tonga, an island in the South Pacific is 500 miles from Fiji. A flight from Tonga to Fiji takes about one hour. Fifita’s island is known as the Friendly Islands because of its kind reception to Captain James Cook when he visited in 1773. The inhabitants of my island, Fiji, were still into their cannibalistic ways during this period in time, so were not as welcoming to Captain Cook. Of course, that’ll be another blog.

I’ve known Fifita for 25 years. We met through our family physician, Dr B, who recognized that Fifita and I were from the same “ocean”. When Dr B mentioned that she had a patient from the island of Tonga, I did not believe her. I quickly got up from the table and asked, “Are you sure she’s from Tonga?” In my mind I was thinking, “In all of Pennsylvania, how can two Pacific ladies be living within minutes from one another and be seeing the same doctor!”

However, when Dr B said her name, I knew right there and then that she was from my “part of the ocean”. I gladly gave Dr B permission to give Fifita my phone number. She called me the next day and we’ve been friends ever since.

The perks of having a friend who comes from my part of the world is that there is someone who understands the culture, the food, the dance, the music, and the language. As an example, Fifita and I like our breakfast crackers dipped in sweet tea. It can’t be just any cracker, it has to be the one from Fiji. So when someone visits us from California or the islands, this is one of the foods we often request they bring with them. We also enjoy listening to Pacific music. It’s reminds us of the sounds of ocean waves and the feel of the sea breeze. With our music and our cuppa tea and soft crackers, we are happy Pacific women in Philly.

So today, I want to give a shout out and a big vinaka and malo le’lei to Dr B for the introductions and to Fifita for being a friend.