Kava Ceremony in Fiji Etiquette

Written By: The Planet D

When visiting Fiji you will find yourself taking part in many a Kava Ceremony.  It is an important aspect of visiting any village and it is customary to present a gift of Yaqona (Kava root) to present to the executive head of the village.

It can be a little confusing when you don’t know what to do, but don’t worry, the Fijian people are very patient and will talk you through the process.  

What to Expect at a Kava Ceremony in Fiji

To make things a little easier for your next trip to Fiji here are some facts and tips on what to expect when partaking in your very own Kava ceremony.

Kava Ceremony Etiquette

When entering a village in Fiji, it is customary to always bring a gift of kava root. Before you visit a village, you can be picked up at a local market.

Most tours already have Kava ceremonies planned so if you are going on an organized tour of a village, you will not have to bring a kava root.

What to wear to a Kava Ceremony in Fiji

tao villages fiji family kava ceremony

Women should always wear a sulu (sarong) and dress modestly.

Be sure to keep your shoulders covered.

If you don’t have a sarong a long skirt will work. Long shorts are acceptable as well. But I just simply always pack a sarong to tie around my waist when entering a village.

Men should dress respectful as well. Many men wear sarongs in Fiji, and you can too!

But wearing long shorts and short sleeved shirts that cover your shoulders is acceptable.

The eldest man enters the house first followed by the rest of the men and then the women.

What to Expect at a Kava Ceremony

Everyone must sit down and remain seated during the kava ceremony.

You are allowed to take photographs, but it is always respectful to ask.

When the ceremony begins, the chief (the eldest man in your group) presents the root to the Village Chief.

The ceremony then begins as the villagers grind up the Kava and strain it through a cloth bag into a large wooden bowl placed in the middle of the room.

It is then offered to your chief.

After your chief has had a sip, the village’s executive head drinks the Kava next.

Once the two heads of party have had their drink, it is then offered offered to the rest of the room.

The men drink first and then the women.

What to in a Kava Ceremony

deb drinking kava at kava ceremony village visit
Deb drinking Kava

When the kava comes to you, there are traditions to follow. When you drink kava be sure to follow these steps.

  • Clap your hands once with a cupped hand making a hollow sound
  • Yell: Bula!
  • Drink in one gulp
  • Clap three times with hands cupped to make that hollow sound again.
  • Say: “Mathe” pronounced maw-they

High Tide or Low Tide Kava

You will be offered the option of “high tide,” or “low tide”

A high tide means you would like a full cup.

If you ask for a low tide, it means they will give you a half cup of Kava.

The locals seem to like to give you a full cup to be respectful.

How you will feel after Tasting Kava

Once you drink Kava, you will probably feel tingling and numbness in your tongue.

Kava is a very mild narcotic and is known to make people feel relaxed. 

You are guaranteed to have a good night’s sleep after a couple of high tides and you will wake up feeling well-rested and energized.

Fijian people are known to be some of the happiest on the planet and somehow we think that the Kava may have something to do with that. 

Kava was once sold as a relaxant in the United States in pill form at one time, but they couldn’t capture the exact formula of drinking it fresh from the root.

How Does Kava Taste?

fiji feast after kava ceremony
Having a fun time at the feast

Like muddy water, literally.  With a bit of bitterness. It is how should you say…an acquired taste.

After the Kava ceremony – Celebrations

kava ceremony deb with cheif
How you feel after drinking Kava

Once the Kava ceremony is over, the festivities of song and dance can begin.

The Kava ceremony brings two families together and they are now one after the ceremony.

It is a big celebration after the Kava ceremony with dancing and music.

It’s a wonderful way to interact with the local villagers. Don’t be shy, join in the dancing. Fijians are the most friendly and welcoming people on earh.

After the Kava ceremony, the visitors are free and welcome to enter and explore the village as they please.

Read More about travel in Fiji:

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

20 thoughts on “Kava Ceremony in Fiji Etiquette”

  1. Firstly, as a participant at a kava ceremony, your hosts expect you to dress respectfully and modestly. It is tradition to present the leader (your host) with a Kava root, which you can find at any Fijian market. This will show your true understanding of the Fijian culture and the significance of the kava ceremony.

    Reply
  2. Bonjour,

    I am inquiring to know if I could use a copy of the first photo from this web page (ttp://theplanetd.com/kava-ceremony-in-fiji-etiquette/) for the publication.
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    Patricia

    Reply
  3. I am a photographer based in Canada. Recently I have had a few clients of Fijian origin. I was introduced to Kava by one such client. The first time I took it, I was anxious as to whether it would make my hands less steady to take pictures. The family assured me it’s nothing like alcohol. Just the relaxed feeling. I tried it. Loved it.

    Usually wedding shoots means 8 to 10 hours of shoot. My wrists do take a brunt of the heavy camera load. Kava just works like a miracle. Mind is clear, yet I am alert. It’s difficult to explain. I love the feeling.

    I am so glad I was introduced to Kava.

    Reply
  4. Hi everyone! As a first timer travelling to fiji I would love to try a kava ceremony but have worries as to whether it would make me sick. Do they use safe drinking water that is suitable for travellers to consume? I would image they would but I would hate to pick up a tummy bug that would ruin my trip.

    Reply
    • That’s a good question Sarah. I’m not sure how they filter the water, but we had quite a bit of Kava and were completely fine. I don’t know of anyone who got sick from Kava. I have a feeling it is like drinking alcohol. All the parasites and bacteria are fermented away.

      Reply
  5. I’ve taken Kava for my anxiety for years and only recently have started to look into it’s cultural importance and history in other countries. Thanks for this post.

    Reply
    • Interesting thanks Mike. I had heard that you can buy it in the pill form, I can believe that it would help with anxiety. You feel very relaxed after drinking it.

      Reply
  6. Hi Dave and Deb, thank you for sharing this! I love the formality of ceremonies like this. I’ve been intrigued with kava ever since I interviewed photographer Greg Davis for my blog. One of the best experiences of his RTW trip was drinking kava with locals in Fiji.
    .-= Jennifer Barry´s last blog ..Live Richly Round-up 8- Thanksgiving Edition =-.

    Reply
  7. Thanks for writing up these steps for a traditional Kava ceremony. My cousin in Hawaii had a few bags of powdered kava that we experimented with and I became extremely relaxed, good stuff! Would love to try out a real ceremony sometime!
    .-= Migrationology´s last blog ..Casinos- Fortresses and Egg Tarts- 12 Hours in Macau =-.

    Reply
  8. I really didn’t like the taste of the Kava (it’s like dirty sandy water, urgh) but the ceremony itself was fun, for sure. The traditional singing was so awesome. The first ceremony we went to, the guy who wrote the Lonely Planet Fijian phrasebook took us to it! Then the villagers took us out on a outrigger canoe at sunset which was amazing.

    Fortunately, as a woman, after the first cup of Kava I had the option of saying I didn’t want anymore. The Fijians assume it’s “too much” for women to deal with so they let you get away with it. Men have less of that option but if you’re a foreign guy, they don’t look down on you as much as they would a Fijian man who turned down Kava.

    My favorite part was shopping for the Yaqona (yang-oh-na) in the market in Suva. Some of the ones you can buy are HUGE and expensive! We had fun looking at all the different bundles at various stalls. Bargaining with the owners is the best part. 🙂

    Reply
  9. How fun! Years ago I had tried the pill form of Kava to help me sleep but it never did work well, I’m sure because you’re right – they can’t really distill the essence of the root and keep it strong enough in pill form…especially since most people would not like to feel a numbness…but Fiji is on my “bucket list” so now I will look forward to experiencing this ceremony!
    .-= Trisha Miller´s last blog ..Is Self-Publishing Your Book Right For You =-.

    Reply
  10. This was also a highlight for me on my trip to Fiji many years ago…I still remember it well.. We brought Kava and partook in the ceremony as a request to enter their village and to hike to their waterfalls (one of my BEST travel experiences!).

    How did you feel after the Kava? I felt like I was ready to go to the dentist! LOL
    .-= Melanie´s last blog ..Nov 21- First Time Flying =-.

    Reply
  11. You know there are so many things I wish I had better documented before I started blogging and my Kava experience is one of them. It was definitely a highlight for me in Fiji.
    .-= ayngelina´s last blog ..Viva Cuenca! =-.

    Reply
  12. Great post… what I want to know is how did kava taste?! I’ve heard it tastes just like muddy water.
    .-= Kieron´s last blog ..5 reasons we’re joining the gym before traveling =-.

    Reply
    • Great question Kieron, so good that I added the answer into the post. I actually meant to do that, so thanks for reminding me! And you are right. Kava tastes exactly like muddy water with a bit of bitterness. But really, it is just like muddy water. But the Fijians seem to love the taste. I think it is an acquired taste. Dave and I didn’t mind the taste at all.

      Reply