Kava Tonga

IMG_0544aIn Tonga, kava is drunk nightly at “kalapu” (Tongan for “club”), which is also called a “faikava” (“to do kava”). Only men are allowed to drink the kava, although women who serve it may be present. The female server is usually an unmarried, young woman called the “touʻa.” In the past, this was a position reserved for women being courted by an unmarried male, and much respect was shown. These days, it is imperative that the touʻa not be related to anyone in the kalapu, and if someone is found to be a relative of the touʻa, he (not the touʻa) will leave the club for that night; otherwise the brother-sister taboo would make it impossible to talk openly especially courtship. Foreign girls, especially volunteer workers from overseas are often invited to be a touʻa for a night but to do so they must not take offense too easily, as these days touʻas can be treated quite in a sexist manner. If no female touʻa can be found, or it is such a small, very informal gathering, one of the men will do the job of serving the kava root. This is humorously called fakatangata (all-man) or more humorously, a kaikuli (eating dog.)

The kava is served in rounds. Typically the touʻa will first stir the kava in the kumete, then pour some in the ipu (coconut cups) which are then passed from hand to hand to those sitting farthest away. They drink, and the empty cups are returned again from hand to hand. Everybody remains seated, cross-legged, although one is allowed to stretch the legs from time to time. Meanwhile the touʻa has filled other cups for those next from the farthest away, and so the drinking goes forth until those nearest to the kumete have had their drink too. Then the men talk again (about politics, sports, tradition & culture, jokes, or anything else) or they will sing a traditional love song, often accompanied by guitar. Some now-famous string bands have had their origin at a faikava. Finally the next drinking round starts.

In some of the outer islands of Tonga, kava is drunk almost every night, but on the main island, Tongatapu, it is usually drunk only on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Kava drinking frequently lasts as long as eight or nine hours. With the introduction of television, rugby is usually watched by the kava drinkers, and the songs are sung in the commercial breaks. On Saturday nights, a short pause for prayer is made at midnight (as the day moves to Sunday), and then hymns replace the love songs. These hymns are mostly traditional English melodies with new words in Tongan.

All important occasions are also marked by drinking kava, including weddings, funerals, and all church-related functions. For example, when a new king takes his throne or a new chief is established in his title, he must participate in the pongipongi, ancient kava ceremonies to make his rule official. These formal kava parties follow completely different rules. A male chief is now the touʻa, and the kava is very solemnly prepared by pounding the roots to powder (instead of buying of bag of already pounded kava powder). Once the kava is the right strength (as deduced from the colour), the ceremony master will call out the nickname of the first recipient using an old archaic formula (“kava kuo heka”). The touʻa will fill the cup and the cup is then brought, often by a young lady, to the intended chief, and brought back afterwards. Then the next name is called, and so forth.

5 Comments

  1. Kava is not only for occasions but it could help us reduce the stress in our lives, and it can even be used to prevent or decrease the amount of stress or anxiety.

  2. Yes you are right about that. Remember though I live on a small Island in the pacific. ‘Eua Island and I was writing about why we use Kava. There isn’t much stress here. We plant our food which takes about a week and when it’s ready we pull it up and eat it. No Stress Here.

  3. No stress, for the men…according to this article😉

  4. No stress for the men or women here. We are free Teressa. Women are in charge of the men here by the way.

  5. Tim: This sounds unbelievably cool. I miss a real party…Been too long. Hope you’re having a wonderful holiday (if in fact it is a “holiday” there — cause it seems like a holiday every day) and all the best for the coming New Year.


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