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Our Kava - The Kava House Vanuatu

Our Kava 

Kava is a relation of the pepper plant and botanically known as: Piper Methysticum or the traditional beverage made by cold water extraction of the plants underground parts and basal stumps. The word is greek for ‘intoxicating pepper’. It was first discovered by Captain Cook in 1774 however was only properly documented by G.Forster in later years.

The kava shrub thrives in loose, well-drained soils where plenty of air reaches the roots. It grows naturally where rainfall is plentiful (average 2,000 mm/yr). Ideal growing conditions are 21–35 °C and 70–100% relative humidity. Too much sunlight is harmful, especially in early growth.

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The plant can grow as tall as 3 m, has large, heart-shaped leaves, and is vegetatively propagated exclusively by root cuttings. Most of Vanuatu’s kava comes from Penama,Sanma and Malampa Provinces.

In general, kava lactone content is greatest in the roots and decreases higher up the plant into the stems and leaves. The relative content of kava lactones depends not only on plant segment, but also on the kava plant varieties, plant maturity, geographic location, and time of harvest. The kava lactones present are kavain, demethoxyyangonin and yangonin, which are higher in the roots than in the stems and leaves, with dihydrokavain, methysticin, and dihydromethysticin also present.

The mature roots of the kava plant are harvested after a minimum of at least five years for peak kava lactone content. Most kava plants produce around 30-50 kg of root when they are harvested depending on year of maturity and variety of kava. Kava root is classified into two categories: chips from the crown root and lateral root. Crown root are the large-diameter sliced pieces that look like wooden poker chips. Most kava plants consist of approximately 70-80% crown root upon harvesting. Lateral roots are smaller-diameter roots that look more like a typical root. A mature kava plant is about 20-30% lateral roots. Kava lateral roots have the highest content of kava lactones in the kava plant

Vanuatu has over eighty varieties of kava however, only the noble varieties which make up 12 , can be exported in the global market. The Kava plant is cultivated and harvested using traditional methods, dried and shipped to Port Vila to be processed and packaged for the market. In Vanuatu, exportation of kava is strictly regulated. Only strains they deem as “noble” varieties that are not too weak or too potent are allowed to be exported. Only the most desirable strains for everyday drinking are selected to be noble varieties to maintain quality control. In addition, laws mandate that exported kava must be at least five years old and farmed organically. Their most popular noble strains are “Borogu” or “Borongoru” from Pentecost Island “Melomelo” from Ambae Island and “Palarasul” kava from Santo. In Vanuatu, Tudei (“two days”) kava is reserved for special ceremonial occasions and exporting it is not allowed. ” Scholars make a distinction between the so-called “noble” and non-noble kava. The latter category comprises the so-called “tudei” (or “two-day”) kavas, medicinal kavas and wild kava (Piper wichmanii, the ancestor of domesticated Piper methysticum). Traditionally, only noble kavas have been used for regular consumption due to their more favourable composition of kava lactones and other compounds that produce more pleasant effects and have lower potential for causing negative side-effects, such as nausea or “kava hangover”.

Kava is nature’s remedy to modern day stress, supplemented to reduce anxiety, strees, insomnia and other ailments.

A plant that was once only drank by chiefs and warriors in traditional settings, can be now made available to a wider range of people who appreciate the beverage and its etiquette .It is important that the kava terminology is understood for what it means and what each form is made of. This was a concern it the early years of kava trading.

Our Kava Culture

Kava is consumed in various ways throughout Vanuatu. Traditionally, it is prepared by either chewing, grinding or pounding the roots of the kava plant. In Penama Province, grinding is done by hand against a cone-shaped block of dead coral; the hand forms a mortar nd the coral a pestle.

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Kava is a particularly appropriate symbol of Vanuatu’s custom and national identity. Recent chemical and genetic analyses suggest that Piper methysticum was domesticated in northern Vanuatu about 3,000 years ago (see Lebot 1989; cf. Brunton 1989). Early farmers, perhaps first attracted by the plant’s medical uses, developed kava by selecting and cloning individuals of a Piper species (Piper wichmannii) that grows wild in northern Melanesia. From Vanuatu, Pacific voyagers and settlers carried kava cuttings eastward into Fiji and most of Polynesia (Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti and the Society Islands, the Marquesas, Hawaii, etc.), and also northward to two Micronesian islands (Pohnpei and Kosrae), and finally westward into scattered locales on the large island of New Guinea. Vanuatu, however, remains the zone of kava’s greatest genetic, chemical, and morphological diversity. More varieties of kava exist here than anywhere else in the Pacific (see Labot, Merlin, and Lindstrom)

Kava is consumed in various ways throughout Vanuatu. Traditionally, it is prepared by either chewing, grinding or pounding the roots of the kava plant. In Penama Province, grinding is done by hand against a cone-shaped block of dead coral; the hand forms a mortar nd the coral a pestle.The ground root/bark is combined with only a little water, as the fresh root releases moisture during grinding. Pounding is done in a large stone with a small log. The product is then added to cold water and consumed as quickly as possible. In Tafea Province boys chew, spit out, and infuse mouthfuls of rootstock for their elders to drink. The trick is to break up the root fibers in order to release the psychoactive, insoluble kava resins in a water emulsion. In town, the larger urban nakamals nowadays use hand-cranked or electric meat grinders to prepare their rootstock supplies. The taste is slightly pungent, while the distinctive aroma depends on whether it was prepared from dry or fresh plant, and on the variety. The drink has an earthy, peppery flavor. The colour is grey to tan to opaque greenish.

Kava prepared as described above is much more potent than processed kava. Chewing produces the strongest effect because it produces the finest particles. Fresh, undried kava produces a stronger beverage than dry kava. The strength also depends on the species and techniques of cultivation. Many find mixing powdered kava with hot water makes the drink stronger.In Vanuatu, a strong kava drink is normally followed by a hot meal or tea. The meal traditionally follows some time after the drink so the psychoactives are absorbed into the bloodstream quicker. Traditionally, no flavoring is added.

In most rural areas of the country, adult men gather at the end of the day to enjoy a coconut shell or two of kava. Unlike Polynesian societies that prescribe a polished etiquette of kava preparation and service wherein drinking order signifies local chiefly hierarchies, Vanuatu’s more informal kava drinking practices tend to accentuate male equality – men bring along kava roots and share them with relatives and neighbors. The plant is an essential token in the gift economy. People exchange kava at life cycle feasts that mark births, circumcisions, marriages, and deaths. They also exchange kava to resolve neighborhood disputes. The capacity of gifts of kava to reconcile and harmonize relationships reflects people’s expectations of the drug’s peaceable and tranquilizing effects on their bodies.

Kava Economy

Kava, today, is also worth money, in large part due to the growing numbers of urban nakamals in Port Vila that import kava rootstock from rural areas, principally Pentecost and Tanna islands. The plant is now a cash crop of increasing importance within the local market. It possesses a number of advantages vis-à-vis other cash crops (e.g., copra, cacao, and coffee), notably its high monetary return per work day.
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Kava, today, is also worth money, in large part due to the growing numbers of urban nakamals in Port Vila that import kava rootstock from rural areas, principally Pentecost and Tanna islands. The plant is now a cash crop of increasing importance within the local market. It possesses a number of advantages vis-à-vis other cash crops (e.g., copra, cacao, and coffee), notably its high monetary return per work day.

Despite the fact that it serves coconut shell cups of kava rather than bottles of beer, the nakamal has also borrowed practices from the Western bar. It prepares the drug in bulk. It charges money for a drink that, traditionally, was always a gift.

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Kava Kastom

Kava stands for shared Vanuatu tradition

 – kastom –

and that shared tradition bolsters sentiments of identity and unity. In the tradition, kava drinking ceremonies have been significant to sealing alliances, reconciling disputes and fostering relationships. In Vanuatu, contemporary political ceremonies, such as the opening of Parliament, the welcoming of foreign ambassadors, and the celebration of Independence Day, may all include the conspicuous consumption of shells of kava.

Kava helps mask and deal with tensions

 which are based on feelings about emerging economic and class differentiation, differentials in access to resources such as land, money, jobs, and knowledge, through education. What kava drinking does it to enhance a feeling of interpersonal universalism when many structurally profound changes are taking place. (Rubinstein 1987:57-58)

Contact The Kava House

PO Box 635
Mele Road
Port Vila
Vanuatu
Phone:
+678 22885
+678 77 22885
+678 55 22885

sales@thekavahousevanuatu.com
director@thekavahousevanuatu.com

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