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The History Behind Kava Ceremonies

Posted by Kava Sherpa on 1/16/2013

Kava ceremonies traditionally took place in the South Pacific Islands and played the part of sealing deals or treaties within the inhabitants of those island areas.


Although the specific applications and customs vary from tribe to tribe and island to village, one main tradition remains the same throughout them all. Whenever a visitor arrives to the area, they must bring gifts of Kava root to the locals in the area. Showing up as a visitor with nothing, or with old Kava root could get you sent away or worse! This tradition has been in place for centuries and still to this day is enforced.


When you arrive in one of these villages, the Chief is the most important individual there and he decides who stays and who is forced to leave. If you're lucky enough to attend a welcoming ceremony in honor of your arrival, the Kava bowl will take the spotlight and be the focus of attention. The idea is to not only welcome you to their home, but to give you a feeling of oneness with the earth and with their tribe.


Before you can even get to the ceremony, you must present your gifts to the guards. They will then bring them to the Chief and he will decide if what you brought was worth letting you into his village. Be sure to pay proper respect and do your research beforehand in order to ensure being able to enter, otherwise you may be declined and walk away empty-handed.


How is Kava Prepared?


Over the years, the common practice was to prepare the Kava plant by chewing or mashing the root into a pulp-like substance. The mixture was then mixed with water or other liquid and presented for consumption. Today, a more common practice is to grind the root into a powder and then mixed with liquid later. Typically the drink is presented in a coconut shell, this is according to tradition.


Before consumption, the ceremony must take place. During a traditional ceremony, you will receive a place to sit in the circle on a ceremonial mat. You must keep in mind that this is a very important time for the tribes and you need to be sure to respect the chief at all times. Things like raising your head higher than his, speaking up, or not keeping your legs crossed and feet pointing away from the bowl will get you penalized and possibly forced to leave.


Another issue that you may run into when seeking to experience one of these ceremonies is that if you don't know the native language, you're going to need a guide. All ceremonies are conducted in the language of the culture there. At times, you may be called upon to give a short speech, so please keep in mind that you should have something ready to say. It also helps to learn some of the native sayings or phrases to sprinkle in with your speech. This shows honor and respect to those in attendance.


The Traditional Ceremony


When the ceremony begins, the most important people will drink first, starting with the local chief. Patiently wait your turn and be sure to have done your research beforehand about what to do before receiving your cup as well as after drinking. Many tribes have traditions that must be repeated by those in attendance and if you forget what to do, you may be escorted out. This is another reason to have a guide, because they will be sure that you follow through with all the traditions in place for that specific area.


If your cup is ever empty, express it and you will be issued a refill. Also, when drinking the Kava, treat it like a shot and drink it all in one gulp. This is traditionally how it's done and you may receive a hard time if you choose to drink it differently. Although it may be distasteful, try to keep it to yourself if you don't like the taste.


One last thing to remember is to never show any dislike for the Kava drink. This is a sign of extreme disrespect and typically won't be tolerated well by the locals. Express thankfulness and gratitude and you may be offered more. Whatever you do, don't decline the drink! If you decline, even if it's done respectfully, it's a sign of disrespect and you will be escorted out. Just remember to do your research before arriving and bring a guide along and you should be able to partake in the local traditions and ceremonies without any problems!

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