The Truth About Kava in Fiji

Before I left for Fiji I heard plenty about kava: that Fijians were obsessed with drinking it, that I would make you hallucinate, that it tasted terrible. Some of this was true, some of it was a flat-out lie. So I thought I would set the record straight about kava in Fiji.

Also known as Yaqona, kava plays a huge roll in Fiji’s culture and day to day life. It’s popular across the South Pacific but it is a particularly big deal in Fiji. Here is the down and dirty on Fiji’s “national drink:”

Kava is NOT a Psychedelic Drug

Sipping on Kava in Fiji

People tend to confuse kava with Ayahuasca, the hallucinogenic ceremonial drink from the Amazon. Kava, on the other hand, is not intended to give you visions or to put you into a trance. Its effects are mild: one or two cups will make your face numb, a large amount will make you feel relaxed and sleepy. Drink too much and you might fall asleep, but that is the limits of its power.

The majority of Fiji islanders drink kava on a daily basis with no ill effects. The popularity of kava in Fiji might help to account though, for the slow and relaxed pace of the islands and the popular concept of “Fiji time.”

Stacks of the plant Kava in Fiji wrapped in newpaper

Kava IS a plant

Kava comes from the root of the yaqona (piper methysticum) bush, a relative of the pepper plant. The root is ground up and then strained with water into a large wooden communal bowl (or sometimes a plastic bucket, depending on what you have on hand). Simple preparation for a simple drink.

Yaqona is one of Fiji’s biggest crops and exports. You are absolutely allowed to bring kava into the US, and can even buy it everywhere, even at the airport!

Drinking Kava in Fiji Can Be Ceremonial

Kava in Fiji is used as a symbol to bring two groups of people together. When visiting a new village it is essential to bring a gift of kava. The community then gathers and the kava is mixed. There are a lot of words, all in Fijian and some clapping. The chiefs partake first (the oldest male in your group can be your makeshift chief) and it is then offered all around in a communal bowl.

My inner anthropologist was buzzing when I was lucky to attend not one, but two kava ceremonies on our trip. When participating in the ceremony it is essential to dress conservatively and sit respectfully. If you are offered the kava in Fiji it is important to drink the entire cup in one go. Don’t sip it (it’s better to just down it anyway, once you taste it). Clap once before receiving the cup, drink up and then clap three more times.

Once the ceremony is complete then everyone in the room is now friends and you can get on with the eating and the dancing.

Kava Drinking Can Also Be Very Casual

Similar to how the Argentineans are constantly sipping mate, Kava is a near-daily beverage for many Fijians. After work, relaxing in the afternoon, pretty much whenever, small groups of friends and family will share kava from a communal bowl.

At our resort it was common to see the boys in the band sitting by the pool, strumming on their guitars and sharing a big bowl of kava.

Kava Does NOT Taste Good

The Making of Kava in Fiji

Well, I suppose it does to the Fijians, but I would call it a definite acquired taste. To me, and many of the westerners I spoke to, drinking a bowl of kava feels eerily similar to drinking a bowl of dirty water, In short: it tastes like mud. Bitter, peppery mud.

For me, the ceremony and community surrounding kava is far more powerful than the drink itself. Although it might give germaphobes some pause, I loved the communal and warm aspect of kava culture and the openness and acceptance that goes along with sharing the drink. Even in the quickly modernizing world of Fiji, where you’re more likely to see people hanging out in t-shirts and jeans than traditional garb, this drink holds a powerful and uniting place in society.

Planning a trip to Fiji? Try one of these places to stay:

The Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort offers guests an outdoor pool and swim-up bar, plenty of dining options and even spa services on site. This beautiful property overlooks the water and will help you to achieve ultimate relaxation.

The continuously voted best value hotel, The Fiji Gateway Hotel, offers guest free airport transfers, 2 restaurants, a poolside bar, 2 swimming pools, and even a giant waterslide! If you’re looking to visit Fiji on a budget, this is a great option!

If you’re looking for a luxurious experience, The Matamanoa Island Resort has it all. This 4-star hotel has its own private beach, tennis courts, massage services and everything else you could need to enjoy a relaxing stay in Fiji.

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Image of Fiji with text overlaying - The Truth about Kava in Fiji

Special thanks to Tourism Fiji for inviting us to Fiji and covering our stay. All opinions are my own.

47 thoughts on “The Truth About Kava in Fiji”

  1. In2002 I was in Fiji and loved the people and their Kava ritual. Last week, Jan 2016, I found a Kava Bar in West Palm Beach, Florida. Amazing to see. If Ur closer to Fla. Than Fiji, stop. In and try it.

  2. ..but u never experience the effects of it working, did u? I can tell, better keep drinkin’

  3. I’ve been in Fiji for 3 season in ouer sailboat i try kava and did not like but that is there tradition and i respect that. We Enjoy our time in fiji sailing surfing n fishing. Fijian are good friendly people
    if u never been there, fly to Fiji for a week

  4. Kava in the past is used to call demons from every four corners of the world. Physically, i noticed this by its muddy color and its taste. However…,imagine when you drink a cup of water or tea, does it fill up your stomach..? yes… but what about kava? it doesn’t …isn’t it ? that’s how i define kava……..absolutely weird…..

    1. Sorry is a plant made by GOD in the beginning and for your information all living things are made first and the last is you and me(people)..Please read the Bible great stories are there for everyone on this earth. I am not say that Kava is good, everything that is excessive is bad to the Body can name it..ha!!ha!!1ha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Why the UN etc etc etc waisting millions and millions of tax payers money to bring two bodies in good terms rather than use kava.

  6. hi…
    im currently doing my bachelor of law at university here in fiji . For my english unit i was given a topic for a 10 minute presentation and it was ”KAVA CONSUMPTION” . So since my family does not drink kava at all..i had to do research to find more info, and this definitely helped! thnx Steph! =D

  7. When you buy kava in Fifi at the open markets in Nadi or Suva, make sure you buy it already crushed up as powder. You usually only buy the roots when you are going to visit a village. Also, I am a very light drinker and it would take about 6 bilos (coconut bowls) to make me even feel a little woozy. However, if you go to the South Pacific country of Vanuatu, you will find kava there that causes hallucinations. It’s stronger for some reason, I think it is because of the way they prepare it or it could be the variety of plant. Not sure.

    In Fiji, you can buy kava in the souvenir shops. I saw it at “Jacks.” But if you can go to an open market to buy it, you can get it a lot cheaper and you buy it in larger quantities. I heard last week that you can take home 2 kilos per person on the plane. You might want to check with customs on the information.

  8. I used to live in Fiji and work there in my late 20s. I am female from Hawaii and I worked in the Fiji Government. I headed up a government program and had to write curriculum,books and produce educational videos. Every afternoon, the Fijian and Indian guys in the office would invite me to join them for a bowl of kava or (yaqona). I would glady take part and learned drink kava. (I would also pitch in and help pay for the bags of kava) We would talk about issues and I would learn a lot about what was going on politically. We would then go back to our desks and work. I could focus and write and create. It was amazing. I visited Fiji last week after not being there for over 20 years. My 15 year old daughter wanted to try kava. We bought some at the main market in Suva and later on we went to a resort off of the Mamanuca islands and took part in a resort type kava ceremony. When I worked in Fiji, 20 years ago, I went to many “real” kava ceremonies in the villages and for weddings and other celebrations. I’m going to try it next week to help me focus on my writing and creativity at work.

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