Kava - an icon of Pacific identity and Tangata Whenua?

In an article published in the journal Pacific Dynamics, University of Waikato research’s Dr Apo Aporosa and Jacinta Forde consider the significance of kava within tikanga, and ask whether this plant and drink – most often associated with the cultural practices of the peoples of the tropical regions of the Pacific – also plays a key role in Māori cultural expression.



The article, says Dr Aporosa, draws on understandings of Māori’s pre-migration use of kava (in Ra’iātea, near Tahiti) to argue that after their arrival in Aotearoa, Māori continued to use kava (a plant that would not grow in the colder climates of their new home) in a metaphoric way. This figurative use of kava can be seen in pōwhiri and whakatau (the welcoming of guests).  
With kava now widely available in contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand, having been brought here since the 1960s by Pacific migrants, Aporosa and Forde suggest this provides opportunity for Māori to move their metaphoric kava use to active re-engagement with their former Pacific cultural keystone species. Drawing on the comments of several Māori kava drinkers which are presented in the article, it would appear some are already using kava in a manner that is adding to their tikanga, kawa and sense of identity as Māori.
The authors also suggest that the recognition of metaphoric kava use in tikanga can be used to encourage the wider use of kava among Māori, a traditional substance and icon of identity which facilitates clear-headed korero and does not lead to the socio-cultural damage commonly associated with alcohol.



“It’s estimated that there are more than 20,000 kava users in Aotearoa/New Zealand on an average Friday or Saturday night, with increasing interest and uptake of this indigenous drink by Māori.”


Based in Te Huataki Waiora School of Health at The University of Waikato, Aporosa (of Fijian ancestry) also works with the School of Psychology's Traffic and Road Safety Research Group where he is investigating driver safety following kava use at traditional consumption volumes. Jacinda Forde (of Tongan ancestry) is currently finishing her doctoral research which investigates toheroa, a rare breed of shellfish and Māori taonga, in the University of Waikato’s Anthropology Programme.

The full article, entitled Māori and kava: New drug fashion or re-engagement with ‘kava’?, can be viewed online here.