Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Kava

I wrote this to Sashi recently describing Kava, and figured it would make an interesting blog entry.



Kava is a root, the Fijians grind it up, wrap it up in silk (or a stocking) and stir it around in a big bowl filled with water (kind of like a teabag) until enough of it has permeated the water.

They then sit around in a circle with the bowl of Kava in the middle. The same guy who did the mixing dips a smaller bowl (traditionally he uses a coconut shell, and the big bowl is carved from Vesi wood) and he will pass you the shell. You drink it in one shot - its rude not to - and then give the shell back to him. He will then fill it and hand it to the next guy, and this keeps going until all the kava is gone.

They do this at everything; weddings, sales of land, while sitting around waiting for the bus, the taxi drivers do it while waiting for customers at the airport, the air traffic controllers drink it at the airport at night (where I had it when I was doing work for the Fijian air traffic control people). From what I understand, no major transaction is legal without the ritual sharing of Kava.

It looks like muddy water, tastes like shit, and makes your mouth numb. After a while you get groggy and start thinking in slow motion, you laugh, talk shit, stagger around, etc. Makes your drool a lot too. Its like being drunk, but with no hang-over, and unlike alcohol, I don't think that Kava does you any harm. I did notice that a lot of the younger people I met, especially the girls, don't drink it.

I actually brought some Kava back from Fiji and one night Marta (the Spanish chick I was living with at the time) and I sat around and got fucked up on it.

Interestingly enough, that tradition carries over into the way Fijians drink alcohol. If there are a group of friends drinking beer, they buy 40s and then one guy takes a small glass, pours you a shot, hands it to you, you drink it and pass it back, and so on. Not all Fijians drink beer that way - I only saw this on the smaller, more remote islands. I was fortunate enough to get invited to drink with some Fijians like this when I was in Delaikoro, which was pretty damm cool.

Supposedly the kava root is some sort of cousin to the pepper. In the US they sell pills with kava extract for stress relief, I've seen them in Wal-Mart but I haven't tried them.

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