K A V A | the root of the south pacific


What if I told you that you can find true happiness in a simple and natural drink? Our friends down in the South Pacific may hold the secret to just that! Kava is a shrub-like tropical plant (3-6 ft. average height, roots used) that Pacific Islanders have been utilizing for the last 3,000 years to reach a ‘higher state of consciousness’ – or as a nice way to unwind with friends after a long day in the sun.

Kava is a treasured cash crop in Fiji, Vanuatu, Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga, and other South Pacific countries – today, our focus is on kava’s impact on The Kingdom of Tonga. We will be discussing the origins of kava in Tonga, its medicinal properties, and modern use in today’s societies. But before we get into that, here is a quick glossary of Tongan terms pertaining to kava culture (via Wikipedia + a few personal additions):


  • ‘Alofi – The kava circle
  • ‘Apa’apa – The masters of ceremony
  • Fakamatu’a – When members in the kava circle move from one sitting posture to another
  • Fakamuifonua – A formal procedure of preparing kava, employed only in the making of kava for the Tu’i Tonga
  • Fakanofo – Kava coronation ceremony
  • Fakata’ane – The ceremonial sitting position for Tongan men; knees widely extended, flat on the ground, feet folded beneath legs, body inclined forward, elbows across upper legs, hands near the lap. The left hand keeps the lower garment pulled up when necessary, as when assuming the position and rising
  • Fakatakape – To clean the bowl rim with fau fiber, as soon as the fiber is thrown into the bowl
  • Fakataue – To mix kava in a new bowl and bathe the edge of the bowl repeatedly with the strainer; to give the bowl’s interior the kava stain
  • Fakatomo – The central tap root or body of a large kava root, left intact
  • Fakatu’auho – Thick kava made from the small roots of the plant
  • Fakikava – To do kava (literally)
  • Fau – Fiber of the inner bark of the hau hibiscus sp. (a bundle of this fiber serves as a strainer)
  • Foko – The food or relish distributed at a kava ceremony
  • Fototenina – Lower chiefs
  • Hou’eiki – High chiefs
  • Luluki – The root of the kava plant
  • Kava – The plant piper methysticum; the drink made from a piece of root
  • Matapule – Working chiefs (assistants of lower chiefs)
  • Pongipongi – Ancient practice; kava brewed from scratch using the whole root (usually a task for a male tou’a
  • Tou’a – Kava ceremony server/assembler
  • Tu’i – The King


“Kava was named by the explorer Captain Cook, who chose a name that meant “intoxicating pepper.” While Captain Cook may have named kava, he didn’t discover it. Kava has been used for thousands of years by Pacific Islanders.” – WebMD

Each country has its own lore and legends about how kava was first found – Tonga’s story is a bit on the darker side.

According to locals and Tongan history, great chief Loau’s servant wanted to serve his royal highness a feast. Unfortunately during this time period, the island of ‘Eua (south of Tongataputu) was in famine. The servant searched everywhere, but could not find any food to serve to his chief. After a brief consultation with his wife, the servant decided to overcome this problem by sacrificing his only daughter. After gentle-yet-lethal smother-hug, the servant ended the life of his daughter in order to fulfill his ‘royal duties’. Dinner was served, but the chief quickly recognized the human meat and refused to eat it. The chief ordered his servant to bury his daughter’s remains and to bring him the plant that grew from the grave site the next Spring. The servant did as he asked and returned with a matured plant, fresh from his daughter’s plot (this plant was kava). Loau instructed the use of the roots of the plant to make into a drink for special ceremonies.

Watch this fun video for a visual reenactment of this ancient legend here.

M E D I C I N A L  P R O P E R T I E S

Kava is well-known for its social and ceremonial uses, but has also shown effectiveness in many medical treatments over the years. It is neither alcoholic or a psychedelic. A beautiful explanation is as follows by Planet Herbs:

“Kava has four main therapeutic properties. First it is one of the most powerful of all the herbal antispasmodics especially useful for relieving nervous tension throughout the mind and body. Second, it is an anti-anxiety herb that will quickly almost instantly dissipate effects of the many fears and apprehensions that are so much a part of the hectic lifestyle of nineties. Third, it is an effective diuretic with potent anti-spasmodic and anti-pathogenic properties making it useful for a variety of genito-urinary dysfunctions ranging from cystitis, prostatitis, venereal disease (such as gonorrhea), vaginal leucorrhea (including yeast infections), nocturnal urination and general fluid retention. Fourth, Kava is a carminative that improves appetite and digestion. The combination of these properties makes Kava useful for the treatment of arthritic and rheumatic conditions, which is one of its traditional medicinal uses among South Sea Islanders. Topically, kava can be applied as a fomentation or ointment for mild general anesthesia for the local relief of sore muscles. It can also be chewed and kept in the mouth for the temporary relief of toothaches.”

Here is a compilation of ailments that kava treats:

  • Toothaches & mouth sores
  • Sexual arousal
  • Eases menstrual discomfort
  • Promotes wound healing
  • Reduces pain & swelling in the uterus
  • Cancer prevention
  • Cold, flu, & tuberculosis treatment
  • Calms anxiety & stress
  • Treats insomnia & restlessness
  • Minimizes headaches & migraines
  • Reduces epilepsy symptoms
  • Eases Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
  • Respiratory & urinary tract infection relief

In the midst of the marvelous treatments that kava has to offer, there are still claims of it potentially having harmful long-term effects. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, there have been approximately 68 reported cases of liver toxicity following kava use. Because of this report, countries such as Germany, Switzerland, and Canada have banned kava from the market.

This claim is referred to by many as the “kava scare”, and is often believed to have been created falsely by the pharmaceutical industry because of kava’s growing reputation as a natural alternative treatment in Europe, thus out-selling their synthetic drugs. Sound familiar (cough cough, cannabis, cough cough)? Some may dismiss this theory, but one thing you can’t dismiss is the large gap in numerical comparison of deaths from pharmaceutical drugs and alcohol versus deaths from things like kava, cannabis, and other natural alternatives (68 deaths by kava and ZERO by cannabis total recorded versus hundreds of thousands per year by synthetic drugs and alcohol). To read about the safety of kava use (and tests proving it is safe), click here.

M O D E R N  U S E

Today in the South Pacific, kava use is apart of everyday life. In Vava’u, it is consumed on a nightly basis. In Tongataputu, however, kava use is reduced to Wednesdays and Sundays exclusively. One slight disadvantage for any female wanting to try kava in Tonga: kava ceremonies are for men ONLY. A little sexist, I agree, but it is a Tongan tradition. No worries! If you’re in the States, there are a few kava bars that you can visit to get that first experience:

F L O R I D A ,  C O L O R A D O , &  N E W  Y O R K

Kavasutra bars in West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Delray Beach and Melbourne, Florida, as well as in NYC, New York and Denver, Colorado – photo by Palm Beach Post – visit Kavasutra’s website here.

F L O R I D A  &  C A L I F O R N I A

Mystic Water Kava Bar in Hollywood, FL, and San Diego, CA- photo by Kava Bar Finder


MeloMelo Kava Bar in San Francisco, CA – photo by the bar’s website


Bula Kava House, located in Portland, OR – photo source here

To find a kava bar closest to you, use this kava bar locator.

Traditionally, kava root is grated and placed in a fau, then soaked and strained in a bowl/bucket of water until properly prepared. Now, there are many companies coming up with new ideas to make this process a lot easier for the everyday kava consumer. One of my favorite online kava merchants, Kavafied (give them a shout out on Instagram), has a very unique product on the market. I present to you, the ALUBALL®!

According to their website, this patent-pending shaker bottle allows kava-making to become as easy as a protein shake! I don’t know about you, but I am definitely hooked already! We are looking to try one of these in the near future, and will post a review pronto. Plus, I am DYING to try their Vava’u kava root powder, available for only $18 here.

I N  C O N C L U S I O N

Let’s be real, kava is a beautiful plant that has been used for thousands of a years by ancient Pacific Islanders to treat many ailments, as well as to wind down in the evening or celebrate an event. The migration of kava bars in the US is a great way to gain more exposure on the classic culture of the people of the South Pacific, as well as to spread its medicinal properties around to help reduce the use for synthetic drugs. I will be purchasing the Vava’u kava blend from Kavafied as soon as possible, and will be sharing my experience with you all in a future blog post. Stay tuned and stay golden!

☽ ☼ ☾



S O U R C E S :  Vavau.to | Every Culture | Herbal Legacy | Wikipedia | Ancient Origins

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Disclaimer: This post contains (1) affiliate link – we think it’s cool that in exchange for promoting brands (ONLY that we truly like and support), we can make a percentage from any purchased made by Escape to Vava’u readers. It is our motto to stay true to ourselves and what we love; in turn, we promote sparingly in effort to offer our readers products that we are obsessed with. Never will we only post for profit or promotional purposes.


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