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Commercial growth could dilute kava's cultural significance

Alualumoana Luaitalo, Te Rito Journalism Cadet

There are fears kava's growing popularity is leading to inappropriate practices by ill-informed consumers, including kava chugging, twerking and stripper poles.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

A leading kava researcher says turning kava into a commercial product for places like the US is destroying its cultural significance.

Waikato University Senior Lecturer in Pacific Health, Dr. Apo Aporosa says when misinformation leads to myths regarding the use of kava, more education is needed.

He says the false sense of representation, such as the Magic Kava Bucket, strips away the appropriate use of kava.

“When you make kava in a shaker or a plastic bucket, that is not kava.

“When you put extracts of kava into a tablet, that is not kava.”

Aporosa says the next generation might lose the connection to the ‘va’, a respectful understanding of space between each other, socially, emotionally, and culturally.

He says seeing this loss of culture in a variety of spaces, including the US-based Pacific community, takes away the key role of facilitating a relational connection.

“It's the way that other cultures are taking what is ours, they're taking our identity.

“It’s the corrupted practice being modeled to non-Pacific peoples, suggesting this is how kava is 'culturally’ used and consumed by Pacific peoples.”

He says kava facilitates relational connections linked to culture and respect-based values, whether through formal protocol (isevusevu / lukuluku / so'otaga) or informally.

“Kava use, informed by culture and traditional knowledge, has been part of my family for generations. We grow with this, I don't know anything other than this … kava is my identity, so kava is part of me.”

Aporosa says some US kava bars are teaching patrons incorrect information about the culture.

“And then they mix up little drinks and they put flavors in and then they sell you this.

“But really what they're doing is that they're using the exotic other, in order to sell product.

He says other inappropriate practices include kava-chugging games, twerking competitions, and stripper poles for example, linking our respect-based cultural icon to soft porn.

Aporosa says losing sight of appropriate practices, causes all these other breakdowns of things that affect us culturally.

He says kava is putting the fala (mat) down, getting the kumete (kava bowl) off the wall and putting it on the floor, getting the gang together, whoever that is, male and female starting to mix the kava, ready for talanoa, it’s not a this or that, it’s a package deal.

Hero Image: Kava's growing popularity in the US and with tourists has experts on edge.

Supplied/ Todd Henry

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