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Kava: Ancient Origins

A blog by Ancient Origins.Net

The ancient origins of the ceremonial Kava drink of the Pacific

"The ancient origins of Kava drinking is known to trace back at least 3,000 years and is associated with both social and ceremonial function. It was, and is, highly valued for its medicinal uses as a sedative, muscle relaxant, diuretic, and as a remedy for nervousness and insomnia. But Kava is more than a traditional remedy for a variety of ailments. This botanical marvel has been used in parts of the Pacific at traditional social gatherings, and in cultural & religious ceremonies to achieve a "higher level of consciousness".

Kava, which is sometimes known is awa, is produced from a plant typically found in the western Pacific and is traditionally drunk by many of the island cultures of the Pacific Ocean, including Fiji, Vanuatu, Hawaii, and Polynesia. In Fiji, for instance, the kava drink is considered the national drink, and is widely consumed. Traditionally, kava was prepared by cutting the root into small pieces, being chewed by several people (often children or beautiful young women, because of their perceived reduced bacterial levels!) and spat into a bowl, where it was mixed with coconut milk. It was believed that the chewing procedure blended the root with enzymes in the saliva and promoted the extraction of the active ingredients of the root and generally produced a much tastier brew. The concoction was then strained through coconut fibre, squeezing the pieces of masticated root until all the juices were blended with the water. This was then decanted into another bowl for consumption. Nowadays, the root is ground, pounded or grated rather than chewed and spat out, although among some locals the traditional method is still practiced.

Although the drinking of kava may be quite casual, it also plays a central role in many ceremonies, including marriages, funerals, healing ceremonies, naming ceremonies, and initiation for young girls and boys. It even played a part in the coronation of King Tupou, the Sixth of Tonga, who took position in 2012. In Fiji, the kava has a symbolic function of bringing two groups of people together. When one visits a new village, it is obligatory to bring the kava root as a gift. The community then gathers to prepare the drink, and the communal drinking then begins. After the village chief has his cup of kava, the drink is offered to the rest of the community in a communal bowl. Before receiving the drink, tradition dictates to clap the hands once, then after finishing the drink, one has to clap three more times. Once the ceremonial drinking is complete, everyone gathered would be friends, and the rest of the celebrations can begin.

The kava drink is neither an alcoholic beverage nor a psychedelic drug. Nevertheless, it does have sedative and anesthetic properties. Whilst the effects of the kava drink may vary from one person to another, they are generally as such, if taken in a small amount: a mild feeling of sleepiness and drowsiness, relaxation of the body and the muscles, feelings of happiness, and numbness of the mouth, tongue and throat. When taken in a larger quantity, the kava drink may cause the loss of muscle control, sleepiness, the reddening of the eyes and the dilation of the pupils, and a general feeling of sickness."

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