A Drink Enjoyed for Centuries – The History of Kava

A popular drink in the Pacific Islands for over 3000 years, now, kava-kava is consumed before the beginning of any important religious rituals or ceremonies. It is commonly taken at formal functions, get-togethers of senior members of the village and social events. However, the islands witness a complete kava ceremony only when guests of special repute arrive for the occasion. They come with a bowl of kava and suitable drinking tools. The container or the bowl is kept between the guests and the makers of the drink, then, the drink is poured into a cup by a chose person who then turns to the visitors and serves it first to the guest of honor.

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How was kava traditionally prepared?

The preparation of kava-kava was elaborated by George Forster in 1777. He was a naturalist, journalist, and a revolutionary. He accompanied his father, who was a renowned naturalist too, on many scientific adventures, one of them being the second Pacific voyage of Captain James Cook. According to George Forster, “the kava juice is extracted from the roots of a kind of pepper-tree. The roots are first made into pieces and then are chewed by people who later spew out the pulp into a bowl containing coconut or cold water. After this, the mix is filtered through the coconut fibers and then emptied into a separate bowl for consumption.”

There are legends that link the origin of kava’s popularity with a Samoa-born girl who left Fiji to marry a chief back in Samoa. On route back to Samoa, she noticed two hillside plants, one of which was being chewed by a rat. After chewing, the rat fell asleep. This very incident made the girl realize that the plants contain some comforting properties. The plant was kava. She decided to bring the plant with her to Samoa. In Samoa, these plants found a more congenial environment to grow. A chief from a nearby island took roots of these two plants with him in return for two egg-laying hens. Of the various legends, this is the most famous Samoan story which speaks about the growth and history of kava everywhere.