Kava Kava: Benefits, Properties?
Preparation of kava in Fiji. Photography 800. British Museum, Department of Ethnography
Kava, the drug of the Pacific
Kava (or kavakava, 'ava, yangona, gamoda) is a fermented drink made from the roots of a shrub in the family Piperaceae, Piper methysticum Forst, widely used as a recreational drug in New Guinea and in the islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.
The kava induces a state of peace, friendship and sociability towards others. It has properties soporific, analgesic, is a muscle relaxant and raises emotional levels.
The preparation of the more traditional kava is based on a premasticazione of the roots of the plant; "Individuals chosen to practice chewing before you clean your hands and mouth. They are usually children or young people with good teeth often come to their aid women. The chewing is done slowly and solemnly, as long as each piece of the root is reduced to a thin fibrous debris. The juice that accumulates in the mouth should not be swallowed up "(Lewin, 1928: 267).
Kava ceremony in Samoa (Smith, 1920)
Boluses so premasticati are placed in a container where water is added; premasticate bullets are pressed down into the water, so you come out the juice. The whole is then filtered to obtain a liquid of yellowish color, which is the final product of the process, ready to be ingested. The drink of kava does not form alcohol. The active ingredients of the drink are the kavalactones present in the roots of the plant.
The kava ceremony was originally played a religious role and strengthening of relationships and social hierarchies. Nowadays its religious function is held in Melanesia, while in other regions plays a social and political role in several of these and has developed its own function purely recreational and playful.
When using traditional religious kava was used for contact with the spirits of ancestors and divination, and was frequently offered to the gods; in these contexts, the drinking of kava is interpreted as a form of sacrifice to the gods (Turner, 1986). Traditional healers in Hawaii discovered the causes of a disease or the sex of an unborn child by observing the movements of the bubbles that formed in the cups of kava.
There is a rich mythology associated with kava, particularly the numerous myths about the origin of kava and its human use. See:
Myth of origin of the kava ceremony in the islands of Samoa (LD Holmes)
Myth of origin of the kava island of Tonga (V. Lebot)
To understand the role of the use of kava in the strengthening of the social hierarchy in a Polynesian tribe, see:
The modern kava ceremony in Samoa (LD Holmes)
In the Pacific Islands women do not traditionally had the right to drink kava, with the exception of the Polynesian and Micronesian women of high rank of Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, Hawai'i and Pohnpei, and elsewhere, women who had been through the menopause. As a result of contact with Europeans, the other women gained access to kava, as in Fiji and the Marquesas.
Hawaiian kava bowl. British Museum
Kava is also an important traditional commodity exchange and gift and plays a role in strengthening the bonds of friendship and inter-tribal. It is considered the "drug of the Pacific", metaphorically understood as "peaceful drug", the bringer of peace and harmonious sociability, agent and conciliatory invitation to dialogue, an antidote to anger and hostility. The drinking of kava is an act lived in a ritual at every opportunity to meet and discuss with many people, in many different areas of society, from the popular ones, to those diplomats and politicians.
Most of the islanders never drink kava alone, and in Fiji "drink kava alone" is synonymous with witchcraft.
The collective traditional drink of kava is generally silent; noise and bright light decrease its effects. In the case of dialogue among drinkers, it is customary to speak softly.
There is a close relationship between kava and sexuality, expressed with heterogeneous values, which vary depending on the tribal group. In some myths kava originates from the vagina of a woman; Some traditional beliefs identify the kava with the human penis or with human sperm. For the latter association, see:
The role of kava in homosexual relations between Gebusi of New Guinea (see Lebot et al.)
More frequently, the kava is the antithesis of symbolic and practical with sexual activity. The chronic drinkers drink lose interest in sex and Kiwai, New Guinea, it is reported that if a man intends to have a sexual relationship with a woman, you should not drink before the kava.
In several areas of use of kava is a certain symbolic opposition between this drink and alcohol, well expressed by the Hawaiian said "Man drinking kava is still a man, while the man who drinks alcohol becomes a beast "(Titcomb, 1948). The Presbyterian missionaries, and pentacostali Adventists strongly opposed to the use of kava, managing to eradicate it only in certain regions, while their battle led the spread of fermented alcoholic beverages, which had devastating results.
Currently the use of kava is no longer legally or morally condemned and traditions related to its preparation and consumption increasingly tend to be organized in a modern national institution. The Roman Catholics of Pohnpei have recently incorporated the kava rites of penance Christians and the priest consumes during the ceremony.
Another consequence of the opposition to kava on the part of Western religious was a modification of the traditional method of preparing the beverage; in different areas nowadays kava is no longer prepared by the technique of mastication, but the dried root is reduced to powder and then mixed with water. With this technique you get a drink from the psychoactive effects reduced.