The tanoa is a specifically carved wooden bowl for mixing and serving kava. In Fiji, it is believed that the tanoa originated in Lau, the southernmost group of islands. Within the Lau group, Ogea, Kabara and Fulaga are renowned for their tanoa making.
Vesi, a native hardwood is specifically used to make tanoa. However, due to the popularity of this timber for all wooden handicrafts, particularly within growing tourism markets, vesi is now an endangered species. Tanoa are now being made in mahogany and raintree.
To make tanoa, the appropriate tree is chosen and felled with the trunk cut into slabs. Each slab is sawn down the center creating material for two tanoa. A large axe is used to shape, hollow out the bowl and carve the legs. A small axe with a rounded blade will smooth the surfaces.
Fijian tanoa is distinctive from other Pacific Islands, with the bowl being more wide than deep and having an “ear” located between the legs, marking the face of the bowl. The intricately carved broad lip is sometimes inlaid with shell—a style that is now widely practiced due the high tourist demand.
The tanoa is an integral part of Fijian culture. It is the center of the meeting place during all ceremonies. It is used to welcome visitors, new and old family and friends. It is the vessel to formally request permission or seek forgiveness. Wars have been averted and new alliances born around the tanoa.
Filimone Kotoiono Vusoniua of Naividamu village in Fulaga, Lau has taken his tanoa making to another level by collaborating with glass blower, Alice Hill. Together they fashion tanoa of wood and glass. Works by the duo can be seen at Hot Glass Studio on the Coral Coast.