The Legend of Tongan Kava

The Legend of Tongan Kava

At Bula Kava House, we celebrate more than just our love of kava. We appreciate and respect the important role kava plays in the traditions and cultures of those places on Earth were kava is considered more than just a beverage, but a part of life.

For hundreds of years, in places like Fiji, Vanuatu, and Tonga, kava has symbolized a connection between the people and their ancestors. Cherishing this special relationship, kava ceremonies seek to connect the present with the past during significant moments like marriage, the passing of an elder, and the coronation of a new king.

While each of these nations has their own myth surrounding the “birth of kava,” perhaps no place better symbolizes the relationships between past and present more so than Tonga.

The Legend of Tongan Kava

On a remote island of the Tongan archipelago lived Fevanga and Fefafa. Despite the hardships of living alone on an isolated island with very little to eat, the couple remained happy and soon had a daughter named Kava kilia mai Faa’imata. For many years, the family lived on the island, content in their love for each other.

One day, while out fishing, the king and his men landed on the family’s island in search of some rest. The sea was turbulent and unforgiving that day, providing the king with no fish to eat. Hungry and disappointed by how the day had left him unfulfilled, the king ordered his men to scour the island to find him something to eat.

While searching the island for food, the king’s men came across the home of Fevanga and Fefafa. The couple welcomed the king and his men to their home. Honored by the king’s visit, Fevanga offered to provide the king with a feast.

Fevanga scoured the fields and forest of the island but could find nothing for the king to eat. Devastated by his inability to properly honor the king with meal, Fevanga decided that he must sacrifice that which he held dearest as a token of his respect. With a heavy heart, Fevanga killed and buried his daughter.

When informed of the man’s sacrifice, the king was truly touched by the tribute Fevanga had paid. The king instructed Fevanga to leave his daughter where she was buried, and told the couple that their daughter’s name would always be remembered until the end of time.

Returning to their daughter’s grave, the couple found that two plants had sprouted and started to grow – one from the head and the other from the foot of the grave.

Sitting by their daughter’s grave, the couple noticed a mouse chewing at one of the plants. After a few minutes, the mouse began to stumble about as if tipsy. The mouse then began to chew on the other plant, and soon was moving around quickly and rather excitedly.

As you probably guessed, the first plant eaten by the mouse was Tongan kava. The second, sugar cane.

To this day, sacred kava ceremonies are held whenever a new Tu’i Tonga becomes king. The people of Tonga view the cultivation and consumption of kava as a means of preserving their traditions and connecting with the past.

A Tradition Unlike Any Other

Mythology is full of these types of stories that create a fantastical origin for something we commonly enjoy. However, for the people of Tonga, the origin of kava symbolizes the connection they maintain with the land, ancestors, and culture that makes up their traditions and way of life.

In Tonga, Vanuatu, and Fiji, the cultivation and consumption of kava remains more than just a means of earning a living and a way to relax. One of the reasons why Tonga grows some of the best and rarest kavas we’ve had a chance to enjoy is largely due to the sacred nature the plant holds. To grow poor Tongan kava would be disrespectful to their ancestors, and would not honor the sacrifice Kava kilia mai Faa’imata made so long ago.

Check back with the Bula Blog next month as we continue to examine kava origin tales from around the South Pacific.

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