Kava History

historical kavaKava History

Humans colonized the area of New Guinea and Australia about 40,000 years ago.   They gradually spread out into the islands of Western Melanesia, and later to islands further east.  It has been suggested by many that the cultivation of Piper methysticum began in earnest in Vanuatu about 3,000 years ago.  From there it was spread eastward by seafaring islanders, into Fiji and Polynesia, and west to New Guinea and Micronesia.  The kava plant is spread not by seed, but by the cutting of "cultivars" which are transported and replanted by humans.  The plant was then, and still is, made into a thick brew to serve as a folk medicine, the consumption of which is usually accompanied by some type of religious ceremony.  Kava was used as currency in trade, offered up at weddings, and consumed daily as an integral part of island society.  The earliest records of kava in the west come from the logs of Captain Cook's second voyage to the South Pacific in the late 18th century.  Kava was prepared by pounding or chewing the root.  In many areas virgin boys or girls were selected to masticate the kava, since they were considered to be pure and clean.   Nowadays kava is mostly pounded or ground rather than chewed.

orgin of kava

The following articles and links deal with the subject of the history of kava.

Technical Data on the Origin of Kava
An extract from "Legend and history: Did the Vanuatu-Tonga kava trade cease in A.D. 1447?" by David Luders, Journal of the Polynesian Society - V. 105, no. 3 (1996): 287-310

Kava and Kava Drinking
Deihl, Joseph; Anthropological Quarterly:V-5, no1-4(1932) p.61-68

Kava Drinking Ceremonies Among the Samoans -
S. Percy Smith




It has been suggested to me that our members would be interested. in the above subject, and as I had the opportunity of witnessing the function and its ceremonies in full force in Samoa, the following notes have been put together from my journal.

Seeing that Samoa has now become an outlying part of New Zealand under the Imperial Mandate, it has also been thought it would be of interest if a reproduction of my "journal," describing a boat-voyage round the island of 'Upolu might be acceptable to our members; but I must apologize for having to make use of the personal pronoun so frequently. During that voyage many of the customs of the Samoans were to be noticed in their old form, and as these will probably disappear soon, it is well they be recorded even if in only a cursory manner.


kava drinkingKAVA and KAVA-DRINKING

Rev. Joseph R. Deihl, S.M.

A pie, Samoa

    AVA, Awa, or Kava,—Yanggona in Fiji,—is a plant indigenous to many of the islands of the Pacific Ocean and is used in the preparation of a drink known by the same names.  It is a shrub with cordate, acuminate and many-nerved leaves.  Its numerous stalks spring direct and separately from the root stock, attaining a height of six feet and-often measuring two inches in diameter. The stalks are noduled much like bamboo. The root stock is the part used in the preparation of the drink, and is large, woody, and, when dried, of a light spongy appearance. The root takes from four to six years to attain such size and strength as render it suitable for kava-making, but becomes better and stronger with age.


orgin of kavaTechnical Data on the Origin of Kava
An extract from "Legend and history: Did the Vanuatu-Tonga kava trade cease in A.D. 1447?" by David Luders, Journal of the Polynesian Society - V. 105, no. 3 (1996): 287-310

    It is to the agronomist Lebot and his various collaborators that we owe the elucidation of the origin of domesticated kava.  Lebot's work in the early 1980s in Vanuatu produced strong circumstantial evidence for supposing that domestication of kava occurred in Vanuatu and subsequent publications, in particular Lebot, Merlin and Lindstrom (1992), bring the work to a conclusion.  In the latter publication the evidence is more direct and powerful than that presented by Brunton (1989), who argues that kava might have been domesticated elsewhere in Melanesia and seems to favour Papua new Guinea in this respect.