“E dua na bilo?” (`Try a cup?’)


Fijian culture is epitomised by this single word that originated from the native tongue of the Pacific Island nation. However very few foreigners are aware of the actual meaning of Bula, they’re only able to associate it with the country.

Bula means life. It can be used in many contexts ranging from hello, goodbye, thank you, welcome, love among many other meanings. So when thinking of Fiji, you think Bula.

When engaging with the traditional Fijian way of life, there’s no more culturally enticing element of their society than Kava. When you think of Fiji, you think of Kava. But what do we actually know about the traditional alcoholic beverage? Common beliefs and questions arising with it include:


  • The general belief is that Kava is said to contain a very high alcoholic content, so how strong is it?
  • Another conception of Kava is that it can act in the same way a psychedelic drug would in that it can impact the brain causing an individual to hallucinate. Is this fact or fiction?
  • Are its origins entirely Fijian?
  • The belief is that the beverage is consumed by all ages, is this true? If its alcohol content is as strong as it is said to be, this raises further questions.
  • Why is it acceptable to consume alcohol at a young age in Fiji and why does this differ from Australia’s attitudes towards drinking restrictions?
  • Most Australians seem to be aware that Kava is a mixture of water and natural plantation, so how is it made and what are its exact ingredients?
  • Another myth suggests that the drinking frequency and strength of Kava contributes somewhat to the laid back attitude of the country. A big claim, but does it hold any logistical truth?
NGS Picture ID:1422477

Fijian men in traditional clothing powder kava for a ceremonial drink.

Many Australians including myself ask these questions, so why is this?

Australia has a strong drinking culture dating back generations where binge drinking is an issue within society. Beer, wine and spirits are highly popular and a prevalent part of the country’s economy. So naturally, the idea of a strong alcoholic, possibly hallucinogenic foreign beverage appeals to our society. Is this a good thing? Probably not when considering the big picture, but it clearly reflects the Australian way of life. I’ll answer these questions to clarify the role and importance of Kava to Fijian society.

My personal interest surrounding Kava stems from several areas. Matt Whitehead, A close friend from Hay (country NSW), had a group of native Fijian men join the local rugby league team. The men were flown in from the country on a working Visa where they spent the next six months. Matt told me the men made Kava for him and his family from local growth and ingredients. He told me the alcoholic content was strong, the methods of how they made it and why they all new how to make it with such ease.

I’ve always had an interest in Kava stemming from Matt’s experience without ever acting on it. Fortunately for my personal interest the Digital Asia subject coincided with my brother’s wedding, conveniently in Fiji mid-semester.

During my week stay in the country I intend to investigate Kava for the final assessment task of the subject. I will aim to convey the importance of Kava to the Fijian people using a multimedia project including images, Tweets, video and local knowledge. I will analyse how and if the beverage is advertised and sold to the general public. I will speak with locals about the manner, volume and frequency in which they consume Kava. I will provide a gallery of original images to aid the presentation of how the Kava is made. Raw video footage will also be gathered to further enhance the appeal of the project as well as audio from interviews if the locals are willing to comply with the recording.

Furthermore, I will create a comparison with popular Australian beverages such as beer and wine. I will compare the different attitudes locals have towards alcohol and how each fits into both their lifestyle and economy. I will provide a brief study of alcohol consumption and production in Australia as a reference point to Kava’s influence on society in Fiji. With alcohol playing such a huge role in Australia and being the source of numerous debate topics in the country, this cultural comparative study will shed light on the issue.

The large majority of my autoethnographic encounter won’t be available until the trip is completed, allowing me to come back to Australia and reflect on the experiences.

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