Hawaiian Culture/
Traditional Kava Use

Kava kava was the food of the gods, just as poi was to the Hawaiians.
No religious ceremony was complete without the kava kava. (Ms. M.K. puku'i ca. 1942)

There are several native stories regarding the origin of kava kava in Hawaii. The most popular view describes 'awa as having been brought over to Hawaii from Kahiki (the ancestral homelands of various islands of lower and middle Polynesia) by the Hawaiian gods Kane and Kanaloa. Kane was the ancestor of the chiefs and commoners, forest, fresh water, sunlight and verdant growth; and Kanaloa was the Hawaiian god of the ocean, marine life, and healing. It is told that they planted 'awa throughout the islands.

The fact that kava kava was the cherished and sacred ritual beverage of the Hawaiian culture explains the nature of its ceremonial uses. Through prayers and joyful offerings of kava kava, the ancient people of Hawaii sought to ensure the well being of the population. Farmers offered kava kava to ensure the success of future crops. Canoe makers would offer kava kava to the Hawaiian gods of the forest when choosing a Koa log for a canoe. Between men, it served as a ceremonial gift; it was offered to the ancestral spirits on the domestic altar; it was fed (hanai mano) to the shark patron by fishermen, to ensure bountiful catches; it was offered to the spirits by mediums (haka).

The cup of kava kava was gazed into and drunk by seers to induce the desired passivity or trance. The kahuna lapa (medicine priest) would pray and drink kava kava sent to them by their patients to divine their illness and 'awa would then become a necessary component for their cure. Either the dried root or a cup of kava kava brew was a necessary offering to a god in many rituals: in the war rite, in consecrating a boy child, in the ceremonial initiation of girls trained in the sacred hula dancing and chanting, in prayer offered by the Kahuna, in seances in which a Hawaiian god or Hawaiian goddess spoke through a medium.

Traditional Medicinal Uses of Kava Kava

In ancient Hawaiian times it was used by all classes of people, especially fisherman, farmers, hunters and any whose strenuous work left them stiff and sore with fatigue. The difference between the kava kava drinking of ali'i and commoners was one of manner and purpose of using the drink. The ali'i drank for pleasure, the Kahuna class for ceremonial purposes and the working people for relaxation after labor.

Kava kava held the central role as an herbal medicine in ancient times and was used by Hawaiians for many maladies and illnesses. Research is being conducted to broaden 'awa's healing base, including research into its anti-cancer potential, improving night vision, weight loss and treating symptoms of menopause*.

Traditional uses included but were not limited to addressing the following ailments: inflammation of the urogenital system, chronic cystitis, difficulties in urinating, female puberty symptom, weakness, menstrual problems, dysmenorrhea, migraine related to women's sickness, headaches, general weakness, chills, sleeping problems, insomnia and general treatment of disease*. To prevent infections, rheumatism, weight gain, irritation of the respiratory tract & asthma, pulmonary pains, palsy, tuberculosis, skin disease, certain skin diseases, to cause desquamations (at the end of the cure, new healthy skin is formed), and to prevent suppuration*.

References citied Handy, 1972, Native Planters of Old Hawaii.- Kamakau,S.M. 1976, The Works of the People of Old.- Malo, D 1951 Hawaiian Antiquities -Maly, Kepa 1998 'Awa Cultural-Historical Perspectives in Hawaii.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to cure, treat, diagnose, or prevent any diease.