Drinking Kava

Drinking Kava in Vanuatu

Kava is the national drink of Vanuatu.

Ni-Vanuatu harvesting kava

Drinking kava in Vanuatu is a centuries-old tradition with kava being the national drink of Vanuatu. It is prepared by grinding the root of the Piper methysticum plant, mixing it with water and straining through a cloth filter. Kava is served communally in a large bowl and shared among all participants in turn.

Kava is an intoxicating beverage that produces mild-altering effects such as relaxation and mild euphoria. The roots of the kava plant are traditionally used to produce an intoxicating beverage known as “kava”. This same beverage can induce psychoactive effects, including prolonged states of intoxication, sedation, and muscle relaxation.

To understand how important kava is to Vanuatu culture, it is first best to understand the history of kava in Vanuatu

Vanuatu Kava History and Culture

Lapita People Drinking Kava

The Lapita people were the first to bring kava to the Pacific Islands. The Lapita people originated in Taiwan and spread throughout the Pacific, bringing with them kava. Kava was an important part of their culture and helped them develop into a society that could create great art, architecture, and technology.

Much is still unknown about the Lapita people and how they spread throughout the Pacific, but they are credited with having brought many plants and animals to new lands, including dogs and pigs. They also created a new form of pottery called “Lapita ware” which was made by layering clay on top of each other until it was thick enough to be shaped into bowls or plates. This allowed them to make large pots for cooking or storage purposes without needing to fire them in an oven first like other cultures did at the time (which could take days).

The Lapita people began settling down in what we now know as Vanuatu around 3100 BC. This was after traveling from Taiwan through Papua New Guinea (PNG) then onward towards Australia where they settled for a short time before continuing towards Fiji, then Samoa. After that, some went even further south all the way down into the Cook Islands.

It is these Lapita decedents that made Vanuatu the kingdom of kava from a historical perspective.

How kava differs in Vanuatu vs other countries.

Melo Melo Plants
Melo Melo Kava – a Vanuatu noble kava variety

Being the primary home of kava, this means that Vanuatu has the most amount of different kava cultivars. There are over 200 varieties of kava in Vanuatu, and each one has its own unique characteristics. They vary in size, shape, colour, and taste. Some are milder than others, while some have a stronger flavour. The different varieties are also grown in different regions, so they have different growing conditions—some are grown near water sources while others grow in drier areas.

It is important to understand that there are 2 distinct groups that these kava varieties sit into.

✔️ Piper methysticum (kava) commonly known as noble kava, which is also known as “yaqona” or “sakau” and has been used for centuries by indigenous people in the Pacific Islands and Melanesia, including Vanuatu. The roots of this plant are used to make a drink that is consumed socially and ceremonially. It is also used medicinally, especially for its purported ability to reduce anxiety and depression.

Tu-Dei Kava – one of the many wild kava cultivars in Vanuatu

✔️ Piper wichmanni, also known as “Tu-Dei”, which grows wild throughout the islands of Vanuatu. This variety has been used medicinally for centuries but was only recently discovered by Western science. It has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties and may be helpful in treating arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. It is not recommended for drinking.

Kava Preparation in Vanuatu

drinking kava on Tanna Island

In Vanuatu, kava is prepared using green kava roots, unlike most other countries which dry their kava root first, then mix it with water. This is because in Vanuatu, the kava plant is considered sacred and should be treated with respect. In fact, there are strict rules regarding how to prepare kava in Vanuatu.

On some islands such as Tanna Island, kava culture is bound extremely tightly to their custom. On Tanna, you can only drink kava when no women are present (especially menstruating women), and it must be prepared under strict custom guide lines.

In other words, drinking kava in Vanuatu can be a serious business! Always be respectful when doing so.

Drinking Kava in Vanuatu at a Kava Bar

Bamboo Kava bar

When you enter a kava bar or nakamal as they are referred to in Vanuatu, you will be offered a drink by the bartender. If you’re new to kava and not sure what to order, don’t worry! When you’re drinking kava in Vanuatu, your kava is usually served in a coconut shell and looks like muddy water. You may be able to see some sediment at the bottom of your cup, but don’t let that scare you—it’s all part of the experience!

The social environment at a kava bar is one of great equality. You can be drinking kava in Vanuatu while chatting with Politicians, Plumbers, businessmen and an unemployed guy all in the one night, all at the same table.

Kava Lounge