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.
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.
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.
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.