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Tongan Language & Culture: Taumafa Kava

By the 9th Grade Digital Studies Class

Mana Academy is the only school in Utah that offers Tongan language classes to meet graduation requirements for high school students. In our Tongan language class, we not only learn the fundamentals of the Tongan language but we also learn about different cultural ceremonies. A significant ceremony within the Tongan culture is the Taumafa Kava, a traditional kava ceremony where a member of the Royal family is present.

Legends say that when Momo, the 10th Tu’i Tonga, came to the island of ‘Eueiki, the only inhabitants of the island, Fevanga and Fefafa and their daughter Kava’onau, did not have anything to feed the king and his attendants, so they cooked their daughter as a food offering for the Tu’i Tonga. When the Tu’i Tonga Momo heard about the act, he refused the offering but was honored by their sacrifice. He told them to bury their child and not disturb the ground. After the parents buried the child, two plants sprouted from her grave: the kava plant at her feet which is bitter and sugar cane at her head which is sweet. Lo’au, another important chief in Tonga, composed a chant to instruct Fevanga and Fefafa on the appropriate use of the kava and sugarcane.

Since that time, kava has become a significant part of Tongan culture. The root of the kava plant is dried and then crushed to a fine powder, mixed with water to make a drink. Kava is served during many occasions such as during coronations of leaders, weddings, funerals, and many more. Kava is symbolic of the land, its people, the culture, and the traditions that they practice. It brings the past into the future and binds them together, meaning that the people cherish their history and their traditions and continue to pass it down to the next generation.

The Taumafa Kava is held when a new king in Tonga is installed with the title Tu’i Kanokupolu. Our Tongan language class is learning how the Taumafa Kava is organized. We are all assigned different roles in the circle including the king’s matāpule, the nobles of the realm, the preparers and servers of the kava. Our third and sixth graders are also helping in the kava ceremony.

Kava represents the four pillars of Tongan virtue or faa’i kavei koula: respect, humility, commitment, and keeping good relations. It is said that when Tongans drink kava, they drink the land in honor of the sacrifice made by Fevanga and Fefafa, and to remind all Tongans to live by these four virtues. This is why kava has deep-rooted importance in Tongan culture. It marks friendship, achievement of milestones in life, and unity among the people.

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