Relax With Your Friends And Drink Kava

July 1, 2011 Posted by Douglas Fabbozzi

“First the mouth and throat turns slightly numb, then within minutes a pleasant dreamy sense of well-being washes over the
drinker.”(Stuart Parker, Fiji Times, Dec. 7, 1995, pg. 7. )

Though out the Pacific the kava plant is used for many purposes. I live in Hawaii and have traveled to Fiji and Samoa. I have friends from those islands as well as Tahiti, Tonga, Kiribati, Nauru, Vanuatu, Yap and many others. While most islands have medicinal and ceremonial uses of kava – they all use kava socially! Here in Hawaii I mostly drink kava kava with Hawaiians and Fijians; even though we drink socially (just imagine the boys getting together after work for several hours) there is still respect and a little ceremony each time we sit in the kava circle!

When drinking kava we all sit in a circle (as much as possible) so no one is in front of, or behind anyone else, and we sit on the floor so no one is higher or lower than another. We sit on a large woven pandanus leaf (lauhala) mat and at the head of the mat is a large, carved wooden bowl called the tanoa (kanoa). This bowl is made for drinking kava, and only kava – it is not used for anything else. Attached to the front of the tanoa is short natural rope made from coconut husk fibers and tied to the end of the rope is a pure white cowry shell; this shell and rope are stretched out towards the chief or guest of honor.

Water is poured into the tanoa and the mixer places some kava powder into a cloth and then begins to gently massage the cloth in the water, which gradually takes on a tan colour and then turns opaque. After several minutes all the fine powder in the cloth has dispersed into the water. At this point a coconut shell cup is dipped into the kava and passed to the guest of honor to judge the strength of the mix: if too strong then more water will be added; if too weak then the cloth is returned to the mixture for more massaging. When it is just right the mixer runs both hands around the rim of the tanoa and claps three times then announces that the kava is ready to drink!

The server will dip the coconut shell cup into the kava and pass it to the first drinker who will clap once, accept the cup and down the entire contents in one shot. When done he, and the group, will clap three times in appreciation and the coconut shell cup will be passed back to the server. The cup will be dipped again and passed to the next drinker around the circle, again and again, until all have had a cup to drink. After a short break, the process is repeated.

It is not a race to finish the tanoa as quickly as possible, rather it is a time to talk story, relax and enjoy each others company and the shared mutual experience of the kava ceremony. There is no standard length to this break – the mixer, or someone else will clap their hands to signal the start of another round. Once the tanoa is empty, if everyone wants to continue, a new bowl is mixed and the kava party continues often for many hours (and more bowls!).  If you’re looking for a source of quality, Pacific Island kava check out Kulea Farm Kava Company.  There are no leaves, stems or peelings – just 100%  pure kava!

“When the mixture is not too strong, the subject attains a state of happy unconcern, well-being and contentment, free of psychological excitement. At the beginning conversation comes in a gentle, easy flow and hearing and sight are honed, becoming able to perceive subtle shades of sound and vision. Kava soothes temperaments. The drinker never becomes angry, unpleasant, quarrelsome, or noisy, as happens with alcohol… The drinker remains master of his consciousness and his reason.”(Pharmacologist, Louis Lewin – 1896)

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