The Culture of Kava

The Culture of Kava

April 16, 2021

If you are as invested in this magical plant as much as we are, you’re curious about what culture it originated from and the history behind it. If you're not, you will be now: indulging in kava started and continues as a cultural tradition in Western Oceania. Ugh I love cultural roots and it just so happens that kava roots are part of so many.

It’s a root whose beauty lies within it’s ability to be used for multiple purposes. Even those who have discovered kava just recently have different reasons for consuming it - I'd love to hear yours in the comments.

In the South Pacific Islands, Kava has been an important part of ceremonies. So much so that the ceremonies were named “Kava Drinking Ceremonies" - bet you don't know what goes on there.


“In Tonga, the installment of the king or a Noble title is not complete until a kava ceremony is conducted.” To clarify: a king is not yet a king until he participates in drinking some beloved kava which is very telling to how significant it is in certain regions.

Depending on the region, the ceremonies differ (boy do I miss ceremonies nowadays). One of those differences include the use of the object you drink the kava from: half coconut cups or bilos, or a tanoa. You might've seen a half coconut cup on our website *wink wink*

In some ceremonies, the first to receive the cup depends on the ranking. Whoever is highest in ranking, like the chief, gets the cup first and whoever is next to the highest rank gets the cup next and so on. “The ritual requires the Chief and every subsequent person to clap once before and 3 times after drinking, many times cheering ‘Bula!’ before a shell.” These traditions are carried on to this day, as traditions do.

On top of traditional ceremonies, kava was used in other ceremonies such as weddings, births, anniversaries, and funerals. Kava was often gifted in an exchange at weddings as beautiful symbolism of two families binding together. *awweee*

It may come as no surprise to you to find out that kava was used to treat ill people. As a holistic approach to illness, medicine men and healers were known to turn to kava for medicinal purposes. It was known to be used to help us for the same reason most of us purchase it to this day: treat anxiety, relax us, and sometimes even sedate us. Now, it’s become so common that what a leisurely glass of wine or beer is for us, is a daily cup of kava in the South Pacific Islands. *cheers*

Cultural Practices

In Vanuatu, where you will find the most varieties of kava, a kava bar is referred to as a "nakamal" which means a meeting place. You will find people socializing around there, enjoying some kava. Kind of like what a coffee shop is to a Southern Californian. (calling out myself)

In Tongan, women are only allowed to serve kava whereas men can drink it. This is a big part of courtship in this region as the drinkers may be interested in possible marriage with the server(oh la la). Because of this, the servers cannot be serving someone related to them. In the rare occasion that this does happen, that member is required to leave the club for the day for uh...obvious reasons.

Another aspect of this courtship is when a boy asks a girl to make kava. The act of making kava in a gathering is also known as a "Faikava"- this is code for "I'm interested in you." They plan a day and typically, the boy and some friends will come over to her house. There, the boy will help break the roots and the girl will mix and serve the kava. If this boy is interested, he'll linger after the friends leave - they call this an "ahh ahh". If he is extremely interested, he'll stay through the night, until sunrise. This is called an "aa aa aho ‘ia" and it is an extremely big deal. If this happens, soon the town will know and cannot think of one of them without associating the other.

In Hawaii kava is known as "awa". There are 13 varieties of kava grown there but the most popular ones are Mahakea and Mo'i. (say that 5 times fast) Hawaii has many kava bars as it is very popular out there for being a stress-reliever.

In New Guinea, their language alone carries 40 different words for kava out of 823 dialects. Here, kava is better known as "wati". Today, people use kava as a way to exchange. Although kava is not as common here due to it not being grown in this area, kava still lives on for many of the residents here.

In Samoa, kava is supposed to heal and bring truth to the forefront. Here, it is know as "'ava" and is very widely used in ceremonies as a sacred beverage.

Coming to the U.S

Rumor has it, kava bars came as an idea thanks to a man from New Caledonia who observed that there were no alcohol-free hangout spots for young adults to relax. (thank you, from a young adult) He came up with the idea of a kava bar in the 2000s. They were a popular thing in the Southern Pacific Region since the1980s; not so much in America.

Kava bars started as a men's only place, like mentioned with courtship in Tongan. This was where they can discuss matters after a long day of working. But over time, kava bars became open to everyone which has made it a common hangout spot in places like Vanuatu and Fiji.

According to the article History of Kava Bars in the United States (, this man from New Caledonia had lots of people doubt this idea, exclaiming no one in America will want to drink kava. These doubts were clearly untrue: just me writing this is proof. However, determined, he opens the bar with investors backing him in 2002.

It was named "Nakava" and opened in Boca Raton, Florida.

Kava bars are among us all around now, however the most common states in the US include Florida, Hawaii, and California.

One day, we at drinkroot dream of opening a kava bar of our own. It's only right that we learn about the culture and significance if we are going to step into that world.

We are strong believers that dreams come true but until then, be on the lookout for more kava insight.

See you next time, kava pioneer.

Spread the Love of Kava! <3

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