Kava making in Fiji early 1900

Yaqona Vakaturaga -
the Chiefly “Kava” Ceremony

The Yaqona2 or Kava Ceremony is an important and a hallowed component of the seven ceremonies that forms the traditional Fijian welcome rituals. Accorded to Chiefs, Tribal Leaders, and high Dignitaries, the presentations and the drinking of Kava signifies highest respect and deepest reverence for the Chief, for his or her people and the land (“vanua”) from whence they hail. The completion of the kava ceremony marks the occasion when the visitor and the visited become one people, striving for the same purpose.


Fijian kava ceremonies and other traditional protocols are presented and observed in “silence”. People seated crossed legged on the floor or on the ground at a lower elevation than the chief guest signifying a bond of humility and respect. A “dignified silence” is observed by everyone all throughout the ceremony, accept for the “Matanivanua” who directs the ceremony and act as the link between the people and the chief.

Drinking Kava

Kava is mixed in a wooden bowl called “Tanoa” carved from a hardwood “Vesi” (intsia bijuga). Attached to
the front end of the Tanoa, is a string made of coconut husks fibers with white cowrie shell(s) tied at its end.
This string is called the “Sau”.

When the Sau is rolled out, it signifies that the commencement of the
ceremony and when rolled back, it marks the end of the kava ceremony. The honored guest is seated
directly in front of the Sau.

Kava is served in a coconut shell called “Bilo” carried around by the cup/bilo bearer the “Tu Yaqona”. When
presented, the recipient drinker must clap his/her hands three times, take the bilo and drink the Kava
until empty in one gulp. The tu yaqona will proclaim “maca” (pronounced- mother) to signal the emptying of
the bilo.

Everybody will clap their hands. Kava is usually served in pairs, the first cup is for the chief quest, the second is drunk by his/her “Matanivanua” (Herald) on behalf of the people. The herald is known in some Pacific cultures as the “talking

chief”. The matanivanua decides the strength of the kava mix and the number of people to drink.

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About the author: Aaron Taravaki
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