Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Fiji Sun editorial from a lover of kava
This is a copy and paste job - but it may inspire some commentary. The author is not given but it sounds like someone who really imbibes the narcotic Pacific drink. What do you think? The word 'taki' by the way is used a lot in drinking circles to mean - come on, serve it up!
Time to tackle the taki9-Apr-2007
WHETHER Fiji’s Sevens team has won or lost the big one in Adelaide by the time you read this, one thing is for sure, the nation will have consumed its fair share of the traditional indigenous beverage, kava, to either console disappointed hopes or calm excited nerves. Kava is a water-based preparation used in the indigenous Pacific for purposes and occasions that are medicinal, social, cultural, political and religious in nature. In Fiji, kava is referred to as yaqona and derives from the plant of the same name which is cultivated for many years, harvested, dried, and pounded into a powder form that renders its active chemical properties fusible in water.
It is an ancient practice.
Today, yaqona’s chief consumers are not just indigenous Pacific peoples, but include a whole range of ethnic peoples. As pointed out by Fiji’s indefatigable Kava Council Chairman, Ratu Josateki Nawalowalo, yaqona also has commercial chemical properties valued by international companies. According to the Kadavu high chief, Fiji’s yaqona export presently represents a $20million contribution to its economy (and doubling every decade). Despite its cultural mystique and fanatical opposition from a number of misinformed sources, scientific knowledge of kava is not new. It has been described and researched by Europeans since the 18th century. In 1781, Johann Georg Adam Forster, a botanist on Cook’s second voyage, gave it the botanical name of piper methysticum meaning ‘intoxicating pepper’. Laboratory analysis of kava began at the beginning of the 20th century and by the 1960s research scientists admitted that ‘this description was not botanically valid’. It is not an ‘intoxicating pepper’ as is commonly thought of in regard to alcohol, nevertheless, early European observers (including some missionaries) in their ignorance, misrepresented kava and gave it a bad name. The colonial era in which European prejudices dominated indigenous world-views perpetuated this negative reputation. Some fanatics still preach against it.
Contrary to widespread speculation, religious prejudice, and poor journalism, yaqona is not an alcohol, is not intoxicating, and is not addictive. It can only be made alcoholic if one contaminates it by adding alcohol to it; it cannot be fermented. It is in no sense a Biblical ‘strong drink’ – unless one prefers a strong preparation mixed with additives which are not kava. Yaqona has no addictive properties, but, of course, the social occasions (such as Rugby Sevens) which use it, may be ‘addictive’ – as they are in every society. Over the past ten years hundreds of published references to yaqona have emerged which variously describe and analyse it from religious, scientific and/or cultural viewpoints. Undoubtedly, yaqona’s chemical-botanical structure, its putative psycho-physiological effects, its social and cultural use, its religious and political significance will continue to be observed and measured, if not commented upon and sermonised. The fact is, kava is one of the Pacific blessings found in nature. If God created nature, then yaqona is one of the best natural-healing gifts the divine will has bestowed on South Pacific peoples.
From a scientific-health point of view, there can be no argument for not enjoying yaqona. If there is any argument against its use, this can only be constructed from social-cultural norms and Biblical-theological distortions. As in all matters of cultural taste, yaqona is best left to the individual’s conscience and cultural context to decide what their response should be. It is irresponsible of non-experts to either advocate nor dissuade it to others except on the basis of scientific consensus. As with the aspartame controversy, the most responsible position to take is to consider the overall weight of evidence.
Regrettably, too many Pacific island church, business and political leaders take a position which abhors the use of yaqona (even for its medicinal purposes) yet will indulge risky pharmaceutical prescriptions and neutraceutical alternatives without so much as a shrug. While condemning kava they will not blink at high sugar and high salt diets or condemn the risk posed by alcohol. Some religious leaders take an extreme position not just for the sake of demarcating themselves from others (in terms of some imagined ethical piety), but from a mistaken Christian anti-theology of righteousness by works. They believe that their place in heaven depends on their public abhorrence of yaqona. In this respect, they should be mindful of the apostle Paul who used strong language to condemn all forms of ceremonial legalism. Some employers similarly think, wrongly, that their workers’ productivity has no hope of improving as long kava is found in the workplace. Unfortunately they prefer their anecdotal experience to hard scientific evidence.
Our Interim political leaders could take the controversy out of the tanoa by simply studying the scientific evidence for yaqona’s benefits and commercial potential – much of which was made available in the proceedings of the inaugural International Kava Conference which was held here in Fiji in 2004.
The papers presented there, the background research, and resulting scientific studies since have all confirmed what Pacific peoples and Fijians have know for thousands of years - and what the Nawalowalo-led Kava Council has reiterated: yaqona is a beneficial root drink which if used in moderate quantities in suitable times and settings, relaxes individuals and produces collective bonhomie.
As such, it must get the policy attention and economic attention from our Interim government it deserves. As in all things sacred, kava blesses its imbibers. Obversely, curse it, and you curse yourself.