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Visitor Facts for Tonga'tapu Nuku'alofa: 2108'00"S 17512'00"W

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Visitor Facts for Nuku'alofa, Tonga'tapu, Tonga

Kava Parties

Kava and ipu in the kumeteIn Tonga, kava is drunk nightly at "kalapu" (Tongan for "club"), which is also called a "faikava" ("to do kava"). Only men are allowed to drink the kava, although women who serve it may be present. The female server is usually an unmarried, young woman called the "tou'a." In the past, this was a position reserved for women being courted by an unmarried male, and much respect was shown. These days, it is imperative that the tou'a not be related to anyone in the kalapu, and if someone is found to be a relative of the tou'a, he (not the tou'a) will leave the club for that night; otherwise the brother-sister taboo would make it impossible to talk openly especially courtship. Foreign girls, especially volunteer workers from overseas are often invited to be a tou'a for a night but to do so they must not take offense too easily, as these days tou'as can be treated quite in a sexist manner. If no female tou'a can be found, or it is such a small, very informal gathering, one of the men will do the job of serving the kava root. This is humorously called fakatangata (all-man) or more humorously, a kaikuli (eating dog.)

The kava is served in rounds. Typically the tou'a will first stir the kava in the kumete, then pour some in the ipu (coconut cups) which are then passed from hand to hand to those sitting farthest away. They drink, and the empty cups are returned again from hand to hand. Everybody remains seated, cross-legged, although one is allowed to stretch the legs from time to time. Meanwhile the tou'a has filled other cups for those next from the farthest away, and so the drinking goes forth until those nearest to the kumete have had their drink too. Then the men talk again (about politics, sports, tradition & culture, jokes, or anything else) or they will sing a traditional love song, often accompanied by guitar. Some now-famous string bands have had their origin at a faikava. Finally the next drinking round starts.

Kava drinking frequently lasts a while and features singingIn some of the outer islands of Tonga, kava is drunk almost every night, but on the main island, Tongatapu, it is usually drunk only on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Kava drinking frequently lasts as long as eight or nine hours. With the introduction of television, rugby is usually watched by the kava drinkers, and the songs are sung in the commercial breaks. On Saturday nights, a short pause for prayer is made at midnight (as the day moves to Sunday), and then hymns replace the love songs. These hymns are mostly traditional English melodies with new words in Tongan.

All important occasions are also marked by drinking kava, including weddings, funerals, and all church-related functions. For example, when a new king takes his throne or a new chief is established in his title, he must participate in the pongipongi, ancient kava ceremonies to make his rule official. These formal kava parties follow completely different rules. A male chief is now the tou?a, and the kava is very solemnly prepared by pounding the roots to powder (instead of buying of bag of already pounded kava powder). Once the kava is the right strength (as deduced from the colour), the ceremony master will call out the nickname of the first recipient using an old archaic formula ("kava kuo heka"). The tou?a will fill the cup and the cup is then brought, often by a young lady, to the intended chief, and brought back afterwards. Then the next name is called, and so forth.

Public may attend any Kava Party - in fact you may be invited by the village that you are staying in, if you get to know the locals!

There are several Kava Parties in town, anyone may attend (including woman), for a $5 entry fee, or whatever you can afford - proceeds are given to a charity on the night (anything from a Village bus to the village school etc). And ladies may opt to act as "tou'a" if they wish. An awesome experience - and fantastic singing!

  • in the Police/Fire Departments right in the centre of town most nights from 7pm but it fills up later

  • Nasaleti Hall opposite the White Catholic Church
  • Outer villages have a Kava Hall - speak to your accommodation hosts as they will have information on a Kava Hall close by.