Ava: or Kava \Ka"va\, n. [Polynesian.] (Bot.) A species of Macropiper, the long pepper, from the root of which an intoxicating beverage is made by the Polynesians, by a process of mastication; also, the beverage itself. (Source: http://dict.die.net/kava/)
Hence an Ava Ceremony is a ceremony to distribute, prepare and drink ava. It's purpose (coz it's not just an excuse to get tipsy) is as a ceremony of Welcome. It's evolved quite a bit I imagine, because basically, its a fancy way for old men to sit in a circle, have a chat and drink some home brew prepared by one of their daughters. As a way of welcome, they'll offer some grog to the new guy. Of course, nowadays its a drawn out process involving chief title holders fighting for the chance to say the official speech of welcome, the highest chief's maiden daughter prepares the ava and a fair bit of "gift" cash gets splashed around. All the cash splashing is endured by families that have little in the way of cash and little more than their cultural pride and unwavering faith in God to provide. This cash splash by those who can't afford it is a common gripe in the Samoan culture. It makes you wonder why we didn't just stick to the old way and just sit around and get drunk and be merry together. hehe.
Yesterday's affair was more a showcase of culture for our foreign friends rather than an all out cultural event, as such. So it was practically free of the cash splashing that is perceived as a shortcoming of cultural heritage - and you couldn't help but appreciate it for what it simply was - a beautiful traditional welcome. Witnessing it and being part of it, despite the fact that my damn headpiece was on so tight I thought I would pass out mid ceremony - all the cash splashing was oblivious to me and only patriotic pride and appreciation remained.