I am a full-time traveling registered nurse, fitness enthusiast, and nutrition expert. Every morning I wake up intending to bring awareness of the importance of health and spiritual wellness, especially to the traveling community. At Messy Bun Traveler, we promote travel that allows the traveler to either kick-start, maintain, or enhance a healthy lifestyle. So whether you're someone who travels for business, travels for pleasure, or new to travel and looking for health advice while on the road, this blog is for you!
Privacy & Disclosure
The Messy Bun Traveler is designed to bring you fun stories, destination guides, and healthy travel advice. To help cover the cost of running this site, all posts are sprinkled with hand-selected affiliate links. When you click on one of these links and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. I only accept affiliate links and paid advertisements from brands I believe in, trust and use personally. Thank you for your continued support!
If you’re planning a trip to Fiji, you may have the opportunity to participate in a traditional kava ceremony. This ceremony is customary in Fijian culture and is most certainly a bucket list experience.
One of my very first international trips was a service-learning opportunity through college. I applied (and got accepted) to join a group of college students and spend two weeks on a remote island in Fiji to help build a community kitchen.
This incredible opportunity forever changed my perception of the world and sparked my interest in travel!
There was no electricity in this village- just a small generator that ran from 1-3 pm that we could use to charge our cellphones and cameras. Oh, and speaking of cell phones, there was no cell reception here either.
We didn’t have access to showers, bathrooms, or running water, for that matter. We went to the bathroom in a small outhouse that we had to hand-pump ourselves to flush. To shower, we had to walk a quarter-mile up a hill to a waterfall, where we bathed with our clothes on. Of course, we were dirty again by the time we hiked back down.
We had one spigot of water to wash our hands and brush our teeth in the morning.
Because I was part of my college’s health sciences department, me and two others (one an instructor in the nursing program and one a student in the nurse practitioner’s program) volunteered at the village’s small health clinic.
We treated many ailments, including an infected stingray bite, ear infections, conjunctivitis, and other skin infections (pretty common when you live in a tropical climate with hardly any means of sanitation). We also led a CPR class for the village children to learn life-saving measures.
I saw and learned so much. Ultimately, I learned to appreciate the things I had at home that I had always taken for granted.
But I learned something else to- how to live without electronics and appreciate the value of being present with the people around you.
Fijian people are known to be incredibly friendly. And after spending two weeks there, I understood why. They didn’t have cell phones and televisions to keep them occupied and antisocial. All they had was the presence of each other’s company.
They loved swimming together and playing sports like soccer and rugby. They loved mealtime, where everyone sat and shared a delicious meal with good conversation.
And they spent time together every evening, partaking in a kava ceremony.
Kava is a plant that is indigenous to the South Pacific islands. The kava plant has been used for centuries by the people of Fiji and other Polynesian cultures for spiritualistic ceremonies, social gatherings, and medicinal properties.
Kava is made from the root of the Piper methysticum plant, and it has a narcotic effect when consumed. Kava contains a chemical called kavalactones (where the drink gets its name), which are believed to be responsible for its relaxing effects.
Kava is usually prepared by soaking the kava root in water. This produces a brown liquid (which looks like dirty water) that can be drunk straight.
In Fiji, kava is an integral part of social life. Kava ceremonies are often used to welcome visitors to the village. Kava is also drunk in informal settings such as family gatherings and friends getting together.
The effects of kava vary depending on how much is consumed. Still, generally, kava produces a feeling of relaxation and well-being. It can also reduce anxiety and tension, and many people find it helps them sleep better.
Kava is an essential part of life in Fiji, and kava ceremonies are a central part of the culture. The ceremony is a decorous event that typically takes place in the evening, and a specific set of steps and protocols must be followed.
Kava is prepared by grinding the plant’s root into a powder, then mixed with water to create a thick, muddy liquid. This liquid is then strained into bowls, and each person participating in the ceremony takes turns drinking from one of the bowls.
It starts with everyone sitting down in a circle around the village chief. During this time, the kava is prepared by grinding up the kava root and straining it through a cloth bag and straight into a large, wooden bowl. This bowl is then placed in the middle of the circle.
It is customary for the Village Chief to take the first drink of kava (also called grog). This is done with a half coconut shell dunked in the bigger bowl and then passed to the chief. Once the chief approves of the batch, the men will be offered kava drinks first, and then the women will follow.
When it is your turn to consume the kava, I was taught by the villagers to do the following:
It is important, especially for women, to dress appropriately for a traditional kava ceremony in Fiji. Women should dress modestly and wear clothing that covers the shoulders and knees.
The best and most appropriate way to do this is by wearing a traditional sulu (sarong).
I purchased mine at a local market before heading off to the village. Because we did this ceremony multiple times throughout the trip, a couple of the village women were kind enough to let me borrow their sulus.
Shorts, tank tops, and revealing dresses are inappropriate for a kava ceremony. Since you’ll be sitting on the floor either cross-legged or kneeling, you should avoid wearing skirts or dresses that would prevent you from sitting comfortably in this position.
Never point the bottoms of your feet to the chief, as this is considered disrespectful. The best way to sit is either Indian style (cross-legged) or kneeling with your feet pointed behind you.
Sitting with your legs stretched out in front of you is considered inappropriate and very rude to the chief and village elders sitting across from you.
Kava itself tastes like muddy water with a slightly bitter, earthy taste. It’s not the most pleasant, in my opinion, but I got used to it and, after a few bowls, didn’t mind it as much. I did feel like it made me incredibly thirsty, so I made sure to have a bottle of water with me during the ceremonies.
My first time trying kava, I was a little nervous, as I had heard stories about some weird and powerful effects of the drink. Even still, I decided to give it a try, and I’m glad I did.
The kava ceremony was incredibly relaxing, and afterward, I felt a sense of calm and well-being. I didn’t drink much, but I did feel like it helped me sleep better at night and made me feel well-rested in the mornings.
As soon as the kava went down, I felt a tingling and numbness in my mouth, especially on my tongue and around my lips. This is very common when consuming the drink.
For many people, kava’s effects can range from a calming relaxation to mild hallucinations. Consuming on an empty stomach can produce a mildly euphoric high, easing anxiety, stress, relaxation of muscle tension, and increased sociability.
The kava ceremony is an essential social ritual in Fiji. It is a way for people to come together and share experiences (much like sitting at a bar drinking alcohol in Western society).
This Fijian ceremony is a time for storytelling and sharing, and after drinking the kava, participants usually feel relaxed and euphoric. Many villagers I spoke with say that it helps them connect with others on a deeper level.
Kava is generally considered safe when consumed in small and even moderate amounts. However, kava has been seen to cause liver damage when consumed in large quantities or when taken with other medications that affect the liver.
Also, while in a remote village in Fiji, it’s important to ensure the water used to prepare the drink is safe to consume and does not contain any bacteria or parasites that could get you sick.
As always, if you’re unsure if a kava ceremony in Fiji is safe for you to partake in, it’s best to ask your healthcare provider.
* We will never share your details with any third party