Suva (Fiji) (AFP) - Prince Harry sipped on the narcotic drink kava at a traditional welcoming ceremony in Fiji Tuesday as the island nation gave the British royal and his pregnant wife Meghan the biggest greeting so far on their Oceania tour.
After more than a week in Australia, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex began a four-day swing through Fiji and Tonga, arriving to huge crowds in the Fijian capital Suva.
About 15,000 people, many holding union flags and pictures of the royal couple, packed into Albert Park in downtown Suva for the ceremony led by elders in grass skirts.
They presented Harry with a large sperm whale tooth known as a tabua, a symbol of prestige in Fijian culture.
He was then given a cup of kava from a communal bowl, with the sixth in line to the British throne appearing slightly apprehensive as he looked at Meghan and his entourage.
He drew cheers from the crowd through when he gave the traditional toast "bula" and downed the concoction in one, clapping himself after he was done.
The mildly intoxicating drink -- made from the root of a relative of the pepper plant -- is commonly described as tasting like muddy water, and leaves the face feeling slightly numb.
"Thank you Mr President and you the people of Fiji for the warm welcome you've given us here today," he said.
"The Duchess and I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible over the next two days."
Fiji, a former British colony, became independent in 1970 at a ceremony in the same Albert Park venue that was attended by Harry's father Prince Charles.
Earlier, thousands of people lined the route as the royal motorcade made its way into Suva, with the couple's progress broadcast on live television to the archipelago's population of 920,000.
Harry wore medals from his own military service as he inspected a Fijian honour guard of soldiers wearing the distinctive sulu, a kilt-like white skirt with a zig-zag hem.
Meghan followed medical advice to cover up and minimise the risk of Zika infection, donning a long-sleeved white dress with a matching hat.
The news of Meghan's pregnancy had sparked fears among royal watchers about exposure to Zika virus, which is officially listed as a risk in Fiji and Tonga.
Zika can cause congenital deformities in unborn babies but there have been no cases in either country this year and Kensington Palace said Harry and Meghan decided to proceed with the trip after consulting doctors.
Experts say the risk of infection is low if travellers in Zika-prone areas wear insect repellent, as well as loose, light coloured clothing and stay indoors where possible.
The royal visit is taking place during an election campaign, and Harry and Meghan were due to meet leaders from all political parties at a state dinner later Tuesday.
The royals will travel to Tonga on Thursday before returning briefly to Australia then wrapping up the tour with a visit to New Zealand.