Throughout history kava has been used for its relaxing effects. Its use dates back many thousands of years in the south Pacific. Knowledge of traditional kava distribution began in the late 18th century with the documentation of Pacific Island cultures. The first real documentation of kava in history came from Captain James Cooke in his travels.
Botanical kava history is somewhat of a mystery. Theories have been dicussed for many years concerning the exact botanical origin of the kava plant. Botanical evidence suggests that Melanesia is its origin. This speculation comes from the Piper species being most heavily concentrated in Melanesia. Large numbers of varieties of Piper methysticum are found in northern Vanuatu thus this area has been proposed to be the most logical point of origin of kava.
The Pacific Islands are broken up into three seperate "kava" regions:
All throughout history, kava has been reported to have been planted and consumed in all three regions. Though kava is common in the south Pacific, in some of these countries kava was not used or planted. In Polynesia, kava was not planted in New Zealand or the eastern fringes of Polynesia where it is too cold for the kava plant to thrive. In Melanesia the kava was not planted in New Caledonia or the Solomon Islands. In Micronesia, kava usage was pretty scarce and it was only found in Pohnpei and Kosrae.
In the current chapter of kava history, meaning today, kava usage and planting has declined to only a few countries. Kava is grown in Vanuatu, Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Pohnpei, and a few regions of Papua New Guinea.
South Pacific cultures have developed a great sense of respect for the kava plant and the beverage made from the roots of the kava plant. The kava drink, or kava tea, is made using only the roots of the plant and fresh water. The kava beverage has many uses in the South Pacific. Primarily, the kava beverage is consumed in a social manner but it is also consumed in ceremonies such as funerals or other religious events. Kava is also used medicinally for all types of ailments.
In Fiji they call kava 'yagona,' and it is considered the "National Drink." Originally only drank by the chiefs, Fijians have incorporated Kava into many social rituals. Kava ceremonies are performed to welcome guests, honor royalty, and, even, begin a business meeting. In a typical Fijian kava ceremony, participants would gather in a circle around a large kava bowl, known as a tanoa. The offering of kava would begin with those being honored according to their status. When drinking kava, participants would clap three times, say 'Bula,' a Fijian word meaning 'health' or 'life', drink their coconut shell of kava all at once, then clap twice more.
In Vanuatu, kava is drank only in the evenings after sunset. The Vanuatu-style preparation of kava is known to be the strongest and best in the world. The men of the village would gather in a house called a 'nakamal.' Here, the men would discuss the day's events after the virgins of the village prepared the beverage. In modern day Vanuatu, nakamals have grown to also include kava bars, where the kava beverage is served commericially. Kava can even be a gift to aid in resolving disputes between individuals and clans. On the island of Tanna in Vaunatu, a specific cultivar of kava is designated for this purpose. Kava preparation and drinking on Tanna can also illustrate much about a male's age, rights of passage and social status among other members of the village. The very young males could only observe; the uncirmcumcised, virgins would chew and and press the mixture of root and water; while, the older men would sit and talk until the kava beverage was ready.
In Hawaii, kava is called 'Awa.' Hawaiians view kava to be very sacred and have incorpated kava in a wide variety of religious rituals. In these rituals, kava would be used as an offering by a farmer for the sucess of his crops . Kava consumption by all Hawaiians, while limited only by supply, was endorsed by chiefs, village elders and healers to promote social ability and social cohesion.
Drinking kava has now spread to North America. Nakava, North America's first kava bar in history, has introduced thousands to kava in its traditional form.Nakava prepares the kava beverage in the same traditional manner that the nakamals of Vanuatu use. Experience the culture of the South Pacific by visiting Nakava in Boca Raton, Florida. The kava history book is still being written.