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Be sure to try a bowl of kava when visiting Fiji.

If you are offered a bowl of murky grey liquid during your visit to Fiji, try it.

Yaqona, better known as kava, is Fijis national drink.

Yaqona is made from the pulverized root of a member of the pepper family, piper methysticum, long known by generations of Fijians to have medicinal qualities.

The drink has a very pleasant tranquilising effect on the body, while leaving the mind clear.

The drinking of yaqona is a tradition which is said to have been started by the Tongans.

Legend has it that the plant sprung up originally from the grave of a Tongan princess who died of a broken heart.

Tongan seafarers later brought the tradition to Fiji where in the olden days it was prepared by young, unmarried girls who chewed the root into a pulpy mass, before spitting it into a wooden bowl, or tanoa, and mixing it with water.

Nowadays, the root is grated or pounded before mixing with water.

It is then strained with the shredded bark of a tree or, more often now, with a piece of cloth, before serving.

The strength of the mixture depends on the amount of yaqona used.

In a formal ceremony, the authority to begin mixing yaqona is normally granted by the matanivanua (or the herald) of the chief guest present.

The mixer claps with cupped hands (cobo in Fijian), before and after the mixture has been prepared.

The server, or the cup-bearer, will then carry the bilo (cup) to the chief guest, who must cobo before and after he drinks the first cup.

The bilo must be emptied and handed back to the cup-bearer, who again must cobo to signify that the cup has been emptied.

Often the cobo is preceded by a shout: maca! (the cup is empty!). The order of the serving depends on the social status of those present, with the highest chief drinking the first bilo.

His matanivanua then drinks the rabe (or the second bilo).

So the next time youre offered a bilo of yaqona, dont refuse.

Its more than just an ordinary drink its an opportunity to participate in one of Fijis most ancient and important social ceremonies.

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