Kava drinking and Tongan culture

Kava drinking and Tongan culture

This week is Tongan Language Week – Uike Kātoanga’i ‘o e Lea Faka-Tonga. This is the second blog post for this week where the Pacific Cultures team highlight collection items that relate to Tongan language and culture.

This is a kumete, a wooden bowl used in Tongan communities for the preparation of kava, a beverage made from the roots of the kava plant. A person preparing kava will crush the roots into a powder-like form before mixing it in a bowl with water to suitable strength and taste.

Kumete (kava bowl), 1800s, Tonga, maker unknown. Purchased 1994 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (FE010327)

The most important use of kava is in meetings and ceremonies. Important guests and occasions are honoured with the formal serving of kava in coconut shell cups. Kava is also consumed informally, sometimes in kava clubs. While these informal kava drinking circles are often social, they are also important venues for the preservation of Tongan language and culture. Conversation, song, humour and even relationships are nurtured around the bowl through the sharing of the beverage among family and friends.

This image depicts a group of women in Tonga mixing kava. Longoteme, Tonga, by Ans Westra; photographer; 1963; Tongatapu. Purchased 2002. Te Papa (O.027212)

At Te Papa, we collect tangible items associated with kava drinking such as kumete, kava cups and photography of specific events. However, just as interesting are the intangible elements of culture that make these artefacts significant – the stories, tales and cultural practices.

Watch this video clip from the Tales from Te Papa series where the Reverend Tevita Finau explains how kava drinking can play a role in the arts of Tongan courtship. Click here to Go to video.

Look out too for the Tales from Te Papa book available from Te Papa Press: http://www.tepapa.govt.nz/TePapaPress/FullCatalogue/TePapa/Pages/100AmazingTalesFromAotearoa.aspx

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