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Samoan Culture and Kava: Using the Tanoa and Fue

Samoa is a group of islands in the South Pacific. Kava is called “ava” in the their culture, which varies from other islands in the Pacific Islands. Kava has immense importance in Samoan culture and is consumed at most celebrations.

It is also consumed by leaders of the communities. In more recent times the effects of kava can be experienced by all villagers, but historically kava was reserved for a select few. For example, centuries ago, specific leaders would reserve kava for welcoming dignitaries, royalty and others of significant importance.

It would have been considered a great honor to be asked to attend a kava ceremony. Drinking kava in Samoan culture has spiritual meaning. The compounds within kava allow participants to feel calm and relaxed while also having a clear mind.

This may be one reason the people of Samoa are often called “the happy people”.

Below the Fa’a Samoa, or the Samoan way, and its use of kava is discussed in more detail.

Drinking Kava in Samoa

The kava used in Samoan culture and celebrations is of the greatest quality. Kava is extracted from the root of the piper methysticum plant that is found throughout the island.

Drinking kava in Samoa usually precedes and important event or celebration. It is often accompanied by chants and dancing among those at the event. These ceremonies can be to celebrate and welcome a visiting tribe, or for a wedding or even a funeral.

The tools used in processing and drinking kava are just as important in the culture as kava itself.

Each attendee will drink kava, typically using a coconut shell to scoop their kava from a Samoan Tanoa.

What is a Samoan Tanoa?

The kava drinking bowl is just as old as the Samoan culture. It dates to Samoan beginnings. A tanoa fai’ava means a kava drinking bowl. In its earliest creation, the tanoa had legs holding up a rimmed bowl. This bowl is where the kava roots were mixed with water to create the kava tea.

The bowl traditionally was made from a variety of hardwoods. In the earlier years, the bowls had only four legs with a straighter bowl that has its edges pointing upward. The bowl can vary in size from twelve to thirty inches.

They are not that deep, however. Usually they are only a few inches deep, and no more than six inches.

In more recent years, the Samoans have added more legs to the bowl.

Some reports say they did this for the purpose of selling them to tourists. At the time, tourists were supposedly charged by the number of legs. The addition of legs meant the shape of the bowl had to change also. It eventually became narrower and could hold more ava.

The bowls used by natives were often very plain, while the ones made for tourists were colorful and ornate.

What is a Samoan Fu’e?

Fly whisks, or fu’e, are used by chiefs and help to show their leadership. Fu’e are often made from coconut fibers or horse hair. They are braided and connected to a wooden handle.

Most high-ranking chiefs would hold the fu’e when they were speaking to the community. Throughout history hand held objects have been associated with authority.

Etiquette and Order

Samoan Culture and Kava: the Tanoa and Fu'e | Root of Happiness   Samoan Kava Bowl

A taupou, usually a female and in the ancient times, a virgin female, will prepare the kava for the villagers to drink. Behind the taupou is sometimes a male guardian called the manaia.

Ceremonies in Samoan culture start with welcoming words and the mixing of kava tea. The chief of the village is usually the host. Once the ceremony has begun, you are not allowed to speak out or move around. Showing respect to their traditions is expected.

An order is often followed in Samoa when drinking kava. Each person may have their own seat during an ava ceremony. For instance, talking chiefs sit in the front and hosts and guests to the sides. The ava mixer sits in the back with the tanoa and fu’e.

The sui’ava is the person who adds the water to the mixing bowl and sits to the right of the mixer. The Tufau sits behind the mixer and catches the strainer. He or she then shakes out any loose fibers and tosses the strainer back to the mixer.

The first person to receive kava is the chief leader of the visiting tribe, followed by the chief of the host tribe. The leading orators of each tribe are then served, with the visiting orator drinking kava before the host orator.

A kava divider will then call out names of guests to drink kava next. A kava distributor will take the kava to each person who is called.

Opening and Closing Words

The chief orator will welcome everyone and in the beginning, will call out “Ia Minuia”, meaning be happy. He may also include other opening statements, welcoming everyone. He will then take a drink and throw the rest of the kava over his shoulder.

The audience then says back, “Soifua”, meaning may you live. The audience also claps their hands in a slow, loud manner.

After everyone has been served, the orator will announce if there is more kava available to drink. Once all the kava has been consumed, a feast is served and enjoyed by all.

The Samoan kava culture has changed over the years, but not nearly as much as other, more modernized, islands. Keeping the culture true to its origins is important for the inhabitants.

If you are interested in trying kava but can’t take a trip to Samoa or the South Pacific, you can still enjoy the relaxing drink in a variety of ways. Kava can be purchased through alternative stores and online kava certified shops.

You can also visit a nearby kava bar. Kava bars are popping up all over the world, even in the South Pacific Islands. At a kava bar, you can ensure you are getting the proper amount of kava with each order.

Kava may be steeped in Samoan cultural traditions. Those traditions can be observed even in these modern times. Respect the tools, like tanoa and fu’e, used to create kava. Understand the importance of etiquette followed by Samoans. But also enjoy drinking kava tea.

Traditional Kava Preparation and Kava Ceremonies

Oceana, the South Pacific Islands, is an almost magical place on this Earth. It is exotic and beautiful. Just visualizing the islands within this region offers a calming feeling. Oceana is comprised of three main regions, all with distinct cultural histories. Immersed in each region’s culture is the use of kava kava or often called just kava. Each area has their own traditions surrounding the use of kava. These traditions include both the kava preparation and the ceremonial uses.

It has been stated that kava was domesticated to these parts of the worlds around three thousand years ago. Understanding the regions that make up Oceana is a fantastic way to learn why kava is such an important aspect of the area.

Regions of Oceana

Melanesia is a region that is comprised of Fiji, New Caledonia, New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Micronesia includes the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Mariana Islands, Marshall Islands, Nauru, and Palau.

Polynesia is a region with French Polynesia, Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga, Tuamotu Archipelago, and the Tubuai Islands.

Kava in Each Region

In the Melanesian culture, you may find locals sipping kava while sitting around a fire, talking of their Gods and mythical events and legends. In Melanesia, kava is said to give knowledge to humans.

Kava in the Micronesian history has been used to seal agreements such as marriage or business.

It is also used in Micronesia to celebrate funerals, to bless visitors, and to ask for forgiveness. It was originally used only by leaders within the community. Now, every member of the community can partake.

In the Polynesian region, spirits are thought to live on in animals and plants. This includes the plant piper methysticum, or kava.

Early in Polynesian history, only those of royal ancestry could drink kava and talk to the spirits.  It was used primarily in ceremonies and rituals. But over time, it has been used by everyone who wishes to enjoy its relaxing effects, and in any setting.

Harvesting Kava

The older the kava plant, the better affects you will experience. Mature kava plants are between five and ten years old.

When seeking the best quality kava, you will find it has been harvested from only the root of the plant. The stems, shoots and leaves are never used in kava preparation.

While it is possible to grow it yourself in a greenhouse, it is much easier to purchase kava from reputable suppliers. They acquire kava from South Pacific farmers who are qualified to source directly from the kava root. Farmers can easily sort noble kava, which is the best.

Because kava root does not last long once harvested, it is typically pressed into a powder form that can be dried and transported over great distances. This makes it accessible to people around the world.

Kava Preparation

Traditionally, kava root has been chewed, some cultures claim by female virgins while other regions claim children did the chewing. Whether female virgins or children, the root was chewed and then spit out into a cloth.

Kava root has also been pounded or grinded into a pulp. However, chewing produces the strongest effect due to the release of kavalactones. These are the chemical compounds that determine strength.

If grinding was chosen, it was done by hand and pressed against a hard substance. For some, a block of coral would be used.

The wet mixture was then strained. The liquid that was strained was then consumed.

The kava name varies throughout the regions. For example, in Hawaii, it is called awa. In Samoa, it is called ava. In Fiji, yaqona. And although the names may vary, the traditional kava preparation techniques are quite similar.

Today, kava preparation is much simpler. Once you find quality kava powder, mix the powder in water. Do not use hot water since this delineates the effects. After mixing the powder in water, pour the mixture through a strainer into a clean bowl. Drink the liquid left in the bowl.

Kava Ceremonies

The traditional use of kava before, during and after ceremonies is varied, although all are with immense value. Kava has been used to welcome new guests or say goodbye to others. It has also been used to start a celebration, such as a wedding.

It has been noted that many in the Pacific drank kava at dusk, before their evening meal.

Kava, due to its calming effects and tendency to make you feel happy, was used to start rituals involving business deals or to send workers off to complete projects. For example, kava was often used to wish blessings on fisherman as they went to hunt and gather.

At one time, the elders of the community would drink it to reach out to their ancestors for spiritual world for guidance.

Ceremonies such as the birth of a child and mending friendships involved drinking kava. It was a very political drink, offering conclusions to many situations, both positive and negative. Kava ceremonies were included in a variety of different celebrations.

Each region may have their own traditional, ancient chants that help facilitate the beginning or ending of a ceremony. This adds to the rich cultural history of the kava plant, making it more popular today.

Kava Moving Forward

Many Islanders continue to use and prepare the Kava traditionally. Throughout the regions, people drink kava in social settings and in private.

Kava’s popularity is increasing around the world. With the ability to export kava in the forms of capsules, powders, tinctures and more. Kava bars are making it even more accessible.

Across the nation, people are learning about the traditions, uses and benefits of kava.

For thousands of years, kava has been consumed and enjoyed by countless numbers of people. Among these, there have been relatively few complaints. That is an amazing record for any product.

This means that out of the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people drinking kava, only a handful had a negative experience that may have actually been a reaction to something other than the kava.

There are very few products in today’s time that can claim comparable results.

Kava’s long-term history of use offers all of us proof that it is a safe, natural way to ease tensions, relax and enjoy being with our peers. It also offers us an alternative to alcohol and other mind-altering substances, one that allows us to improve our mood without hindering our mental clarity.

For these reasons, we should continue to use kava and pass along its traditions, both in kava preparation and at kava ceremonies where people gather in celebration.

Understanding the History of Kava Drinks

There are many drinks on the market today. Smoothies, juices, coffees and teas are very popular around the world. This new trend is focused on better health, emotionally and physically.

There is one drink, however, that has been around for centuries. It is known to have quite a few benefits for health and even spirituality.

This drink is kava. Its history is as rich as its taste. Well, kava may not taste rich to everyone. In fact, it may taste bitter. But on the history of kava, everyone can agree on its richness. The history of kava drinks is a fascinating story, and has impacted the way we drink kava today.

Recommended by the American Academy of Family Physicians, kava has reportedly out performed St. John’s Wort and valerian.

Kava, By Any Other Name

There are many names used for kava drinks within the Pacific Islands.  The most common name is kava kava. And of course, the scientific name is Piper Methysticum. But in Hawaii it is referred to as “awa” and with one letter change, it is called “ava” in Samoa.

Residents in Fiji call it saqona. Other names include milik, kew, kao, and wurzelstock.

No matter what the name, kava’s discovery and its distinct traditions remain the same.

Kava Drinks Discovered

It is not recorded exactly how Pacific Islanders discovered kava many centuries ago. What history has recorded is Captain Cook’s discovery of it on his voyage to the Pacific Islands during the 18th Century. Apparently, this is when outsiders learned about kava.

Cook reported to people on his discovery of this “intoxicating pepper plant”, that the roots are used to mix with water and to be shared.

Kava was told to be a drink used in social gatherings such as ceremonies or rituals.

Ceremonies and Rituals

Kava Drinks Ceremony

In the South Pacific, kava drinks are served before every important ceremony or ritual. It is served in joyous times, when people offer up prayers for good outcomes. It is also served in times of sadness such as when someone passes away.

Kava is known as a sacred drink in every type of ritual and it has been considered the national drink of the islands in the Pacific.

If there is a wedding, kava is served before the wedding. If it is planting season, farmers drink kava while they pray for a good crop. Fisherman drink kava in hopes of catching a lot of fish.

In some cases, kava is offered to Gods as a sacrifice. Medicine doctors drink kava to help them discover solutions to the illnesses of their patients. Even mediums use kava to seek information.  It has been reported kava can open your mind and your conscious to achieve awareness.

Ceremonial use of kava is not as popular today in some of the Islands of the Pacific. It is believed the Samoan culture is one of the few that still holds high regard for kava and its benefits.

Kava Drinking Etiquette

When attending a ceremony on an Island that is steeped in tradition, there is an etiquette to follow. It is always an excellent idea to take a gift of kava root to the leader of the village as an offering of appreciation.

Women should wear a sarong and everyone stays seated throughout the ceremony. It is customary the Village Chief or Leader take the first drink. Once he is finished, everyone else may drink. Once this is complete, song and dance begin.

How to Drink Kava

The history of kava and its relation to ceremonies and rituals also includes a specific way to take the drink. For example, in Fiji, kava root is ground and mixed with water. It is then strained through fabric, sometimes by twisting a t-shirt.

The liquid strained is put into a communal bowl.

“BULA” is chanted, reports National Geographic. This is a way of saying hello or wishing positive things to come your way. After they say “Bula”, you take a big drink out of the communal bowl of kava.

Each culture within the Pacific Islands has their own cultural etiquette when it comes to drinking kava. Parts of their pre- and post-drinking routines may vary, but they all share the actions of showing gratitude and respect for the Gods.

Kava remains a drink used by Pacific islanders. The difference, it is used on a more frequent basis rather than only before rituals or ceremonies. Today, kava drinks are available for purchase in bars and restaurants. It can also be purchased in stores and online.

Just as many people include a cup of coffee in their morning routine, or a mixed drink in the evening, kava is used regularly and often daily by many by locals living in the Islands.

Kava Today

In America, kava use is becoming more and more popular in recent times. It has very little connection to ceremonies or rituals, however. Most kava drinkers in America are using it for its relaxing benefits.

Kava is purchased from a retail site, either physical or online. It can be purchased in powder form or in tea bags. There are also kava candies and strips, as well as root, paste or capsules.

When purchasing kava in these forms, it is important to find kava that is the purest. Often, kava is mixed with other herbs to reduce the potency. With a little research, you can find pure kava from reputable retailers.

The American Kava Association sets exacting standards for those selling kava. Find retailers, bars and even kava farmers who are certified by the American Kava Association.

If making your own kava drink is not what you are looking for, there are places you can go to enjoy the drink and have it served to you.

Kava bars are proving to be popular among regular users in America. A kava bar is simply a brick and mortar site that prepares kava drinks for its customers for them to enjoy immediately.

Kava bars provide a relaxing setting for people to gather socially and enjoy a drink that can have both physical and emotional benefits.

Drinking kava can have positive effects on your mind and your physical health. Whether you choose to visit a kava bar or make your own kava drinks, you will find yourself relaxed but with mental clarity.

Drinking kava is no longer used for just ceremonial events. You can incorporate it into your daily or weekly routine to lower stress and increase awareness.