Tongan Kava Ceremony-Taumafa Kava

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The Kava Ceremony is held to memorialize a royal death, marriage or bestowing of an honorary title or coronation. It is attended by the King.[1] Kava is the ceremonial drink, a tradition which dates back to the tenth century. The drink originated on the islands of Tonga and Eueiki.

The coronation ceremony is known as fakanofo in Tongan society. The President oversees this, and the would-be king is guarded by two trusted Matapules.[2]


Diagram below showing the seating arrangements of chiefs, nobles and their matapules in the kava circle


Below is a list of terms associated with the "Kava ceremony".

  • ʻAlofi - The kava circle
  • ʻApaʻapa - The masters of ceremony
  • Fakamatu'a - When members in the kava circle move from one sitting posture to another
  • Fakamuifonua - A formal procedure of preparing kava, employed only in the making of kava for the Tu'i Tonga
  • Fakata'ane - The ceremonial sitting position for Tongan men, knees widely extended, flat on the ground, feet folded beneath legs, body inclined forward, elbows across upper legs, hands near the lap. The left hand keeps the lower garment pulled up when necessary, as when assuming the position and rising.
  • Fakatakape - To clean the bowl rim with fau fiber, as soon as the fiber is thrown into the bowl
  • Fakataue - To mix kava in a new bowl and bathe the edge of the bowl repeatedly with the strainer; to give the bowl's interior the kava stain
  • Fakatomo - The central tap root or body of a large kava root, left intact
  • Fakatu'auho - Thick kava made from the small roots of the plant
  • Fau - Fibre of the inner bark of the hau hibiscus sp. A bundle of this fibre serves as a strainer.
  • Foko - The food or relish distributed at a kava ceremony
  • Kava - The plant piper methysticum; the drink made from a piece of root
  • Luluki - The root of the kava plant

Procedure and Preparation[edit]

The following is an account from living celebrants which describes the making and serving of kava at a Taumafa Kava:[2]

The matapule positions himself to the right of the president. He says "Ui ha'a mo tokonaki", the command to source the materials. The assembly then takes place in front of the kava mixer, who stands across the end of the kava circle. This occasion is attended by the king alias (ngaahikava) who is attended by the angaikavas, special names given to the king's attendants.

The matapule says, "Hao ha tangata" (Come and fetch the kava root). One of the angaikavas comes forward to carry the kava root to the lower end of the circle. There the root is pounded by a hammer stone on a stone anvil. This technique bears no resemblance to a former procedure in which the root was chewed instead of being pounded.

The pulverized kava is next placed on a mat to the right rear of the kava mixer. This is followed by "Langlolango mei." One of the angikavas rubs the interior of the bowl: "Kaukau 'i 'ai tanoa" as it is known in Tongan. The other angikava picks up the bowl holding the brim with his right hand, in an act called hiki tanoa. This bowl is placed before the ngaahikava and the kava is poured into the bowl from the right side of the mixer. It is finally kept on a piece of tapa, or mat, so as make the position favorable for leaning over.

The mixer, with graceful hand movements, mashes the kava together in the bowl. The mash is massaged on the inner surface of the bowl, tipping either side of the bowl's rim. The king is invited to have a look at the interior of the bowl. There is also a matter of hierarchy. The king, if higher ranking than the president, says "Holo 'a e taumafa ni" (Knead this drink), or "Kuo holo kava ni" (This kava is kneaded).

The attendant to the right replies, "Kuo holo: tukuatu" (It is kneaded). The bowl is lowered, tilted towards the matapule. "Tuumalie pe kae palu" (All right, mix). "Tafoki kimoua" (Turn), addressed to the two helpers on either side of the bowl, who turn inwards. "Ai haamo vai" (Put in your water), at which many people run for water, the helpers shouting, "Vai!" (Water!) to the people in the toua. Those who bring water in coconut shells first deposit it before the bowl. The helper on the right hand then takes water and pours it into the bowl, while the mixer kneads the kava in the water. "Vaitaha" (one water/almost enough). One helper ceases to pour water; the other alone applies water. "Taofi vai" (Stop pouring water). They stop adding water. "Palu fakatatau pea tui haafakamau" (Mix equally) and "Tui haafakamau" (probably the method of twisting the fau fibre strainer). With a double flourish of the hands the mixer mixes the kava and ends abruptly, resting his hands on the edge of the bowl.

Then the right-hand helper throws the fibre strainer on the bowl. In this kind of kava party the strainer is very large and is called unu. Skilfully, the mixer wets the fau and wipes the edge of the bowl, being very technical and formal in his movements. Then he begins to strain the kava, a process called in this ceremony milolua. He carefully and slowly pulls the strainer through the water with both hands. He then raises it, one end in his left hand, twists it and lays the twisted fiber on his left forearm, the one end still clasped in his left hand; then he reaches under his left arm with the right hand, takes hold of the end of the strainer lying on his arm, wrings the liquid from the strainer into the bowl, and turns his hands over and shakes the pieces of kava out of the strainer onto a mat to his right. The operation is repeated, but this time, instead of shaking the kava particles efe out of the strainer, he throws the strainer behind and away from him.

Then the right-hand helper, noting on careful inspection that the kava is ready, calls: "Ma'a e kava ni" (This kava is clear).

The right-hand matapule answers:, "Tokonaki 'o fakatau" (Prepare to serve, wring out the kava). Then men from behind the mixer come forward with the cups. These servers are called fakatau kava, as also is their serving of the kava (fakatau, the man who wrings out the kava into the serving cups; to wring the kava into cups for drinking). As they hold a cup over the forward edge of a bowl, the mixer squeezes the kava from the restored fau strainer into it.

The right-hand helper says: "Kava kuo heka" (The kava is taken up). The right-hand matapule chants in answer, "Ave ia ma'a..." (Take it for... naming the one to be served). The first cup goes to the left-hand matapule. Each time the chants are repeated. The second cup goes to the man to the right of the right-hand matapule. The third cup goes to the king or president. This is continually repeated until everyone within the kava circle are served. They then take exactly (no more, no less) 30 seconds to finish the entire cup.


  1. ^ "Taumafa Kava",
  2. ^ a b Bernice P. Bishop museum- Bulletin 61-gifford tongan society
  3. ^ [1]

External links[edit]