Yaqona, kava drinking ceremony
In Fiji the drinking of yaqona (pronounced Yangona) or kava, is a common ceremonial and social custom. The yaqona ceremony has great significance in Fijian life but is now considered a social drink as well as a ceremony.
Yaqona drinking is common in Fijian villages and it is quite normal to see groups of men gathered around the tanoa swapping stories as the bilo, a half coconut shell, is passed around. In Fiji the old customs still prevail, in fact turning down an offer to drink a bowl of Yagona is considered insulting in Fijian society.
The tanoa is a large wooden bowl carved from a single piece of Vesi (hardwood). Yaqona is made from the root of a pepper tree. In times long gone, the Yaqona was prepared by the young girls of a village who chewed the pieces of the root into a soft pulpy mass before the water was added.
Today the root is pounded in a pestle and mortar or by machine.
After the water has been added the gritty pieces are strained through a bundle of vegetable fibre usually the shredded bark of the Vau tree. Today cloth is used. The ceremony is performed in the presence of the guest of honour, the guest of honour is seated cross - legged in front of the tanoa from which protrudes a thick rope of coconut fiber decorated with white cowries shells.
This is called Tui-ni-Buli and is pointed towards the guest of honour. The master of ceremonies, acting on behalf of the guest of honour, directs water to be added to the root.
When satisfied that the mixture is right he indicates that the preparations may continue. The yaqona is strained and when the portion is ready, the cup-bearer, with much ceremony and respect, presents the guest of honour with the first bowl.
When he has drained the bowl in a single draught, there is a cry of 'maca' (pronounced maatha) meaning "it is drained" accompanied by the clapping of hands.
The master of ceremonies is next to drink followed by guests in order of rank.
This ceremony retains great significance in Fiji. However, social yaqona drinking is very informal.
All visitors can try yaqona as a social drink.
Kava has a pleasant calming effect on the body, while leaving the mind clear.
Unlike alcohol, there are no hangovers.