Prime Minister Narendra Modi received a hearty welcome in Suva last month, complete with a traditional ceremony where men from the Fijian village – bare-chested and dressed in long grass skirts – performed and sang. Little did he know he’d also be greeted by an unusual guest at the ceremony – a muddy-colored, tongue-numbing, ‘intoxicating’ Fijian drink.
Made from the pulverized root of the pepper family plant, ‘Yaqona’ (pronounced Yangona) or ‘Kava’ is a traditional, non-alcoholic drink known to have ‘narcotic effects’, where the individual could experience fuzzy-headedness to mild euphoria. Turning down this drink is considered an insult in Fijian society.
The drink is known to taste like “puddle water” or “a cocktail of dirty washing water garnished with old socks”, but Narendra Modi did not hesitate once and drank it, without any change of expression, in one straight gulp (as per local tradition).The prime minister’s quaffing of the drink was accompanied by a thunderous applause.
The PM had landed a couple of hours earlier from a long flight from Australia, where he had spent five hectic days of diplomatic engagement, and was on the last leg of his three-nation tour, with the first stop having been to Myanmar.