The Kava Ritual: Clapping and Saying Bula Explained

Kava Culture
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Across the world people are drinking kava. While they might be from different cultures a majority of them follow the same drinking ritual such as clapping and saying Bula before they drink their kava. This might seem weird at first but there is a great reason for it; read on below.

The kava ritual often involves people clapping and then saying the word ‘bula.’ The reason behind this is because clapping is thought to ward off the evil spirits that could plague the kava drinking session. The word ‘bula’ is said to wish your local community and those your drinking with good health and fortune. The kava drinking ritual at its core is designed to unite the local community and the ritual demonstrates that.

Depending on where you drink your kava you might clap numerous times before drinking. The team here at Kava-Bula is from the Hawaiian Islands and we grew up only clapping once before saying Bula however our Polynesian brothers will clap up to 5 times before finally drinking their kava. It all depends on where you are from.

Here is everything you need to know about clapping and the kava ritual.

Clapping Before Drinking Kava Is Designed to Scare off Evil Spirits

Nobody likes a buzzkill yeah. Well the same goes for drinking kava, which is why we clap before drinking kava to scare away those evil spirits which could dull the mood.

In all seriousness however the ritual of kava extends back thousands of years across the Pacific Ocean. Across many cultures, people clap before drinking their kava in unison to scare away any bad spirits which could be haunting family members or loved ones present at the kava ceremony. It is important to note that this is only to scare away the bad spirits as the good ones will recognize the sound of their friends clapping and come to join the kava session.

Kava at its core is designed around uniting the local community and providing support for loved ones. An average kava drinking session is not about the kava itself but rather is about those you are drinking with. Clapping is a cultural way of expressing unity with everyone present at the kava ritual.

Different cultures around the Pacific will clap differently before drinking kava. The further you go west across the Pacific the more claps you will encounter in the kava drinking ritual. Here in Hawaii we often will only clap once in unison before drinking kava but in the Micronesia and Melanesia islands you will often clap upwards of 5 times in rapid succession.

The clapping itself will involve everyone at the kava ceremony clapping in unison. To someone outside of the kava house this will sound like a herd of animals inside which is thought to scare away those who wish to hurt the kava session. Nowadays this is more of a traditional ritual rather than enforced however; nobody is going to take offense if you don’t clap.

Anyways, that’s why people clap during the kava drinking ritual. It is to scare off the evil spirits which could be lurking around.

Saying Bula After Clapping To Wish Good Fortune

Right after clapping you will notice that everyone will say loudly ‘Bula!’ This word is roughly translated to wishing your local community and friends drinking with you good health and fortune.

I am sure that you are noticing a theme here. Before drinking we clap to scare away the bad spirits that would dampen the mood and right after this we all yell ‘Bula!’ This is because we are pushing away all the bad things in life while also promoting all the good things. The idea is to make the kava ritual as inviting as possible for everyone involved and to push away all the bad moods which could be plaguing the kava session.

The kava ritual is designed to make people happy and socialize with those around them. If you attend a traditional kava ritual it will take several hours and you are expected to talk to those around you about your life and are encouraged to ask questions about theirs. It is a very open environment where everyone is expected to be positive.

That is why we say ‘Bula’ after clapping as a toast to those around us. After this, we then lift our kava shells and start to drink. Once the kava is finished we will then sit around for hours and talk with our neighbors about the month’s events.

It is important to remember that the second thing about the kava ritual is that we say ‘bula’ after clapping. The clapping is designed to ward off the evil spirits while the word ‘bula’ is designed to wish those around you good health and prosperity.

How Old Is The Kava Ritual?

This is a very hard question to answer directly. We know from old 17th-century Spanish documents that the kava ritual has changed considerably since the 17th century.

When Spanish explorers reached the East Indies in the 16th century they began to document this new society they found. On the island of Fiji they first encountered the kava ritual being used as a way to demonstrate the power of a chief within society.

The kava drinkers would form a semi-circle around a kava bowl. The chief would be at the center of the semi-circle and important nobles would fan out from the chief in order of their importance. Servants would then serve this council in order of importance and then the kava ritual would start. Clapping in unison the nobles would then say a word that Spanish explorers couldn’t understand before drinking their beverage.

However, kava at this point was used to communicate with the supernatural and consult the spirits of the afterlife. Only nobles and the chief would be present in these kava sessions.

From oral histories we believe that this form of kava ritual extends back thousands of years. Unfortunately, these ancient kava drinkers did not leave any written text regarding the kava ritual but we do know that they clapped and said something akin to ‘Bula’ before drinking their kava.

At a conservative estimate, the kava ritual is around 500-600 years old (formed sometime in the 15th century). However, if we factor in oral histories and mythology then the kava ritual might be upwards of 2,000-3,000 years old.


That’s about it everything you need to know about the kava ritual. The important part is to know that people clap to ward off evil spirits and to say ‘Bula’ to encourage good ones among those who are drinking.

As always it is important to remember that kava is a traditional drink designed to unite a community together. For hundreds of years, people have been drinking kava to socialize with old friends while getting to know new ones. When we drink kava we say ‘bula’ so ‘bula’ to you!


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