Kava in the dark

Nakamals open when the kava has been prepared in the afternoon, and stay open until it runs out. Word is the kava is best drunk as soon as it is made, so the drinking starts and ends early.

After work it’s time to drink kava with the men: a chief, the bosses. About ten of us stand in a circle in the dark holding shells (plastic bowls) with thick dark-grey liquid that smells like pepper and vegetation.

Having received a formal welcome from the chief, we down the shells in one go.


With running eyes and a screwed up face, I glug it down.

How do you like the kava, a colleague enquires

‘Delicious’ I reply

They laugh.

I’m doing my best to regain my composure


There is much spitting afterwards, to be rid of the taste.

We sit on bamboo benches under a thatched roof.

One’s ability to gaze at the banyan tree and the lights on the other hill is enhanced. The world is pretty and sparkly. And deeply content. And pleasantly disjointed.


I feel welcomed and accepted.


This is the time for storian (story-yarn), telling stories in low voices at a slow tempo. With lots of pauses. The words come out slowly, lest they get muddled up.

The exceptionally chilled atmosphere is overlayed with subtle cultural practices. There is much respect for the kava.



In the office the next day, I’m greeted more warmly than previously. We have shared an experience that will make it easier for me to connect with my colleagues, which will make it easier for me to do my work. Sharing kava is a gentle and refined experience compared to the horrors of the Australian office Christmas party or team building event.


I make an observation to a fancy consultant who seems to spend a lot of time flying around the world being particularly intelligent:

It’s a bit like taking a really mild dose of acid, don’t you think?

A hard to read look crosses his face, then he carefully asks how much I had drunk.