Libmonster ID: U.S.-1331
Author(s) of the publication: S. E. PALE


Candidate of Historical Sciences

Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Keywords: Oceania, cava, culture, low-narcotic drink

Kava is a weakly narcotic drink. It is made from the root of the plant of the same name, which has up to 100 varieties, differing in strength. It has been popular on the islands of Oceania since their settlement - that is, for at least two millennia.

Oceania is the region from the coast of Australia to South America, which includes about 25 thousand islands, on which 13 independent States are located and about the same number of Non-Self-Governing territories belonging to Australia, New Zealand, France and the United States. The largest state in Oceania is Papua New Guinea, twice the size of Japan, and the smallest is the island - state of Nauru (only 17 km long and 15 km wide).

Oceania is also commonly divided into three cultural areas: Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia.

Even at the dawn of the study of Oceania, European scientists adopted a classification of Oceanic crops based on the principle that their carriers use either kava or betel, another local weakly narcotic plant. Presumably, the "kava culture" developed in southeastern Melanesia, from where it spread to Polynesia and Micronesia. And the "betel culture" appeared later in northwestern Melanesia, while betel, unlike kava, did not receive a sacred meaning. Kava, associated with an earlier migration wave, became deeply embedded in the life of the islanders and received a ritual function. It was among the carriers of the "kava culture" in Oceania that totemism* appeared, associated with a complex social structure, and the "betel culture" forced the Oceanians to submit to a rigid tribal system, supported by the cult of veneration of the skulls of supreme leaders.

Today, kava has received recognition on all the islands of Oceania without exception. The most heated debate about which kava is better is between the two largest Melanesian states-exporters of this drink: Vanuatu and Fiji. It is believed that the birthplace of kava was still these Melanesian islands, from where today kava in dry form is sent to all corners of Oceania for sale in local supermarkets. However, with no less success, kava is grown in neighboring Melanesian states-Papua New Guinea, Samoa and the Solomon Islands.

However, in Fiji, kava is undoubtedly one of the most important components of the local culture. In 1969, the significance of the traditional drinking ceremony of this drink was marked by the issue of a 1 cent coin with the image of a ritual bowl for making kava on the reverse side.

Today, the process of making kava on the islands of Melanesia is no different from how it was done two thousand years ago. The men of the tribe work together to dig up the kava root (the plant is quite large, and it is not easy to dig it out).

Then they take a bite from the root, chew it, spit it into the common cauldron, after which the resulting mass is squeezed out - and the drink is ready!

Unlike the islands of Melanesia, in Micronesia and Polynesia, which were at a higher level of social development, drinking kava took on ritual functions. In particular, beautiful unmarried girls chewed and spat kava into the bowl - they then passed the drink to the leader in a ladle, and he let it go around in a circle for even distribution.

* Totemism is one of the earliest forms of religion of primitive society, which is based on a set of beliefs, myths, rituals and customs associated with the belief in the supernatural relationship of people with various objects, phenomena and creatures. Totemism is characterized by the perception of a totem (animal, plant, natural phenomenon, etc.) as a real first ancestor, whose patronage and protection ensure the life and well-being of all those connected with it by common ties of blood kinship (editor's note).

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intoxication of all participants in the ritual. The order and number of sips was also strictly regulated, depending on the rank of the person who was awarded this drink.

On the islands of Polynesia and Micronesia, non-nobles were forbidden to drink kava on pain of death. It was believed that kava was a drink that the great gods gave to great leaders, and only they and their entourage had the right to be drugged with a miracle plant. However, in Melanesia, where, unlike Polynesia and Micronesia, there were no complex hierarchical social ties, kava could be drunk by all adult males of the tribe, although only on holidays.

Currently, the production of kava looks much more hygienic: the roots are dried in the sun, then pounded, and the resulting powder is packaged in portions in cellophane bags, after which they end up on the shelves of Oceanic stores. Store-bought instant drink is poured out of the bag into water and stirred, or, following a more traditional method, wrap the dry drug in a cloth, dip it several times in a bowl of water and squeeze until the drink becomes yellowish-brownish in color.

Nowadays, the drink can be tasted not only in every cafe, but also literally in every house in Oceania: many tourists and travelers from Russia have already got acquainted with the taste of cava, not failing to share their impressions with the online community. From their stories, it can be concluded that the Russian spirit, which longs for a rapid effect, as from domestic vodka, is not able to appreciate the tradition of smooth drinking of kava for many hours, adopted in Oceania.

The fact is that kava should be drunk "correctly": several sips approximately every 40 minutes for at least 3 hours. The effect of kava when drunk " correctly "is to feel serene happiness and perfect calm (despite the not very pleasant taste of the drink, which some not without malice compare to" dirty socks"; however, the author could not find anyone who could describe the taste of"dirty socks").

According to the Europeans who first gave a scientific description of this plant 250 years ago, during the second voyage of James Cook to Hawaii, the ancient Polynesians used to say: "If you don't want war, drink kava with the enemy."

A surge of interest in kava in Europe, especially in Germany, which owned territories in Oceania, was observed in the 1880s, during the era of the creation of new drugs. In particular, kava was then used to treat venereal diseases. Over time, kava root became part of many medicinal products: as early as 1908, 34 tons of kava were exported from Samoa (then part of Germany) .1 By the 2000s, several dozen of the largest pharmaceutical companies (for example, L'Oreal) included kava in their products.2 An amazing property of this plant also lies in the complete absence of addiction and hangover syndrome (of course, only if the drink is consumed normally).

Excess of the dose and violation of the kava intake regime in the desire to achieve rapid intoxication often leads to liver intoxication, and on this basis, the European Union from time to time introduces or removes a ban on the use of the drink on its territory. But, in general, European countries are more sympathetic to kava than Russia and Ukraine, where this drink is classified as a "highly toxic substance" and has been completely banned since the early 2000s. However, this does not stop exotic lovers: kava can be ordered in our country via the Internet, despite the fact that importing a plant and selling it is considered a criminal offense.

In contrast to the Western world, China not only allows drinking kava on its territory, but also exports it to other countries, growing it in its fields. The main consumers of Chinese kava are the largest British, Australian and German pharmaceutical companies.

The historically suspicious attitude towards kava in the Western world was largely due to European missionaries who arrived in Oceania in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They denounced the drink as a "hellish drug" that obscures the mind and interferes with communication with God. Thus, at the request of missionaries in 1927, kava was completely banned in Tahiti (a possession of France).

However, this was not the case everywhere: for example, in Tonga and Fiji, the ritual of drinking kava as part of the traditional system of honoring leaders was successfully integrated into the hierarchy of Christian values.-

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thanks to the British missionaries.

However, alcohol after entering the islands of Oceania caused much more negative consequences for Oceanians than kava for Europeans after its arrival in the Western world.

The most severe consequences of alcohol intake were experienced by Australian Aborigines. In the 1970s, the death rate from alcoholism among the indigenous population of Australia exceeded all permissible limits. Finally, the Australian Methodist Church, which has spent almost a century fighting Aboriginal drunkenness, decided to replace the green snake with fresh-grown natural kava since 1980 (at the initiative of two Fijian pastors), and the death rate from severe alcoholism among the indigenous population of Australia has improved slightly.

A similar situation was observed in the capital of Vanuatu-Port Vila, where in recent decades drinking kava has almost completely replaced the use of alcohol, softening health statistics.

However, since the early 2000s, Australia has started a policy of gradually limiting the use of kava on its territory, arguing that its decisions are based on concern for the health of its citizens. In response to fierce protests from three hundred thousand Australian Aborigines and five hundred thousand Oceanians living in Australia, they were allowed to take the drink, but only for medical reasons (most often as a sedative). However, kava abuse among these populations has led Australia to limit the import of powdered kava to just two kilograms per person in 2007. And in 2011, the country introduced a complete ban on the use of kava in the territory of the capital of the country - Canberra. The ban was due to the fact that in the summer of the same year, an International Multicultural Festival was held in Canberra with the participation of residents of Oceania, who brought with them a considerable amount of this traditional drink - not only to recreate the relaxed Oceanic atmosphere, but also for the purpose of reselling it to avoid taxes.

In response to the ban, Oceanians living in Australia created the "Australian Kava Movement" under the slogan "Kava is part of our culture". Members of the movement have created their own website ( and even achieved the lifting of the ban on drinking the drink on the territory of Canberra, but only for the duration of the International Multicultural Festival with the participation of representatives from Oceania, which lasts about a week and a half. The ban remains in effect for the rest of the year.

Oceanic immigrants of Tongan origin oppose a possible total ban on drinking kava in Australia, claiming that this would violate their "right to pass on national cultural traditions to the younger generation"3.

By 2015, kava abuse in the state of the Northern Territory, where the majority of Aboriginal people live, had become a real problem for Australian public health. And today, the issue of introducing a complete ban on the import of kava into the country is on the agenda, not to mention the fact that the black market for kava in Australia has a multi-million turnover and is difficult to control by law enforcement agencies.

But the leaders of Oceanic countries that export kava - in particular, Fiji, Vanutau and Samoa-see in the intentions of the Australian side not so much concern for the health of Australians as political motives for putting pressure on Oceanic countries with similar economic methods.

Moreover, they insist that the Western world lift all sanctions against the import of kava. Their main argument is that kava, first of all, is much less harmful to health than alcohol or marijuana. Secondly, they indicate that the islanders who have been using this drink for two thousand years now do not have any side effects for health.

The Western world, represented by its unofficial part, i.e. the common population, is also not against the legalization of kava. Many sites in the European and North American parts of the world offering to buy powdered kava are in constant demand, which indicates considerable sales volumes that can bring profit to the budgets of Oceanic states.

In any case, Cava is one of the most exotic destinations for tourists in Oceania, the number of which is steadily growing every year.

In conclusion, it should be noted that, according to the fighters for the abolition of bans on the use of this drink, kava is truly "an integral part of the culture of Oceania", albeit unpleasant to the taste, but causing a serene complacency and not allowing islanders to lose heart under any circumstances.

And if travelers who find themselves in Oceania manage to taste the" sacred " taste of cava, then they will experience something that was worth traveling half the world for: the so - called Pacific Island Feel-an unforgettable "taste of oceanic life", which gives this drink.

1 Kava is all about peace, respect and dialogue: Huffman / / Vanuatu Daily Post, February 13, 2012 (Interview with Australian anthropologist Kirk Huffman for Radio Australia Pacific Beat) - from the author's archive.

Christopher Frazier. 2 A Brief Look at Globalization through Kava // Hohonu - A Journal of Academic Writing, University of Hawaii at Hilo, 2006 - ava.pdf

3 Darwin Tongans fear possible kava ban // Australiaplus, 5 December 2014 - http://www.australiaplus.eom/pacific/radio/program/pacific-beat/darwin-tongans-fear-possible-kava-ban/1396449


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S. E. PALE, KAVA: A DRINK THAT GIVES YOU A TASTE OF OCEANIC LIFE // New-York: Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.COM). Updated: 21.11.2023. URL: (date of access: 28.05.2024).

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