In a Letter to the Editor of the Fiji Times, Paul Geraghty, Fiji's expert on the Fijian language writes in response to a letter where the writer says that drinking kava was only for chiefs and priests.
YOUR correspondent Korina Waibuta (FT23/2) has revisited the popular myth that yaqona was drunk traditionally only by chiefs and high priests.
This is not true.
There is abundant evidence that yaqona has been a popular social drink among all classes of men (and some women) for as far back as written records and oral traditions go.
For example, the shipwrecked sailor John Twyning reported in 1829: "drinking of kava is the invariable practice of the natives of all the Feejee islands, whenever they assemble together, either for business or pleasure."
In 1870, Australian journalist Henry Britton reported in the Melbourne Argus that Fijians drink yaqona "in large quantities", while white men often become "passionately fond" of it.
Even further off the mark is the extraordinary claim that missionaries introduced the tanoa, bilo and even piala!
The tanoa was introduced by Samoan/Tongan craftsmen in the mid-eighteenth century, probably replacing an earlier ceramic bowl (dari).
The bilo appears to be traditional, and the piala (as a cup for yaqona) was introduced by girmitiya in the late nineteenth century.
Interestingly, the tabili (yaqona pounder) was introduced by Solomon Islanders, also in the late nineteenth century.
So yaqona drinking is a truly multi-ethnic pursuit!