The Hawaii Pacific Islands Kava Festival Saturday at UH promotes the plant’s cultural significance

Katie Young
Friday - October 07, 2005
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Diamond Head Cove Health Bar owner Marcus Marcos (left), Brianna Beard, Uncle Charles Gasper and Ernie Cruz, Jr. toast ‘awa
Diamond Head Cove Health Bar owner Marcus Marcos
(left), Brianna Beard, Uncle Charles Gasper and
Ernie Cruz, Jr. toast ‘awa

I’m staring at this half of a coconut shell filled to the brim with muddy liquid and I hesitate.

“Stir it around with your finger before you drink it,” advises Mike Machado, the man who has brought MidWeek to Hale Noa, an ‘awa bar on Kapahulu Avenue. “All the good stuff is at the bottom.”

“Here goes,” I say, before taking a big swig from the coconut shell. “Hmmm ... tastes like dirt water.”

Machado laughs, knowing this is a common response from many first-time drinkers of ‘awa (or kava), which is made from the Piper methysticum shrub. The roots of the kava are prepared by pounding or grinding them and soaking them in cold water.

“What has ‘awa done for me?” Machado repeats my question. “I sleep very well. I seldom drink anymore. In fact, I’ve all but lost my taste for alcohol. The friends I’ve made are some of the most grounded, conscious, creative people you would ever meet.”

Machado has been an avid ‘awa drinker for six years, ever since Hale Noa opened in 1999, becoming the first ‘awa establishment in Hawaii, and in the nation.

The popularity of ‘awa has grown tremendously in the last decade. Today there are two establishments that serve ‘awa on Oahu - Hale Noa and Diamond Head Cove Health Bar on Monsarrat Avenue - and a newly created ‘Awa Development Council, whose sole purpose is to promote the education of ‘awa in the community.

Two years ago they held the first ever Kava Festival at the Lyon Arboretum. The event drew more than 2,500.

This weekend the ‘Awa Development Council (ADC) will host the second Hawaii Pacific Islands Kava Festival from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday on the University of Hawaii Manoa campus between Varney Circle and Hamilton Library.

“The event is being held in an effort to promote an awareness of the plant’s usage and its cultural significance throughout the Pacific,” says Machado, also a festival representative.

In addition to Hawaiian crafts, foods and games, there will also be speakers who will talk about ‘awa’s use in Hawaiian medicine as well as entertainment including local artists HAPA, Makana, Kupa’aina, Vaihi and Weldon Kekauoha. Admission is free.

Of course the main attraction will be the ‘awa itself. Chef Elmer Guzman as well as the chef of Halekulani Hotel will produce some ‘awa dishes, and there will also be a booth giving away samples of the drink.

Chair of the festival and ADC president Jonathan Yee is a full-time project engineer, farmer and kava distributor. Yee, along with other farmers, will be selling some of their baby ‘awa plants at the festival.

The theme of this year’s festival is also the motto of the ADC: “I Maluhia Ka Honua” meaning, “So the world may live in peace.”

Ask any regular drinker and they’ll tell you that world peace is possible - if everyone would just drink enough ‘awa.

“If you’ve had enough of it, it’s impossible to feel anything but tranquil,” says Machado.

Local entertainer Ernie Cruz Jr. agrees. He’s been drinking ‘awa for years and is a regular act at both Hale Noa and Diamond Head Cove Health Bar.

“It seems people treat each other nicer when they’re drinking ‘awa. You don’t get the emotional crying in their beer or ‘like beef’attitude,” he says.

Owner of Hale Noa, Keoni Verity explains the effects ‘awa has on the body: “It relaxes your muscles, it’s pain relieving, you feel calm and euphoric,” he says.

“While it’s relaxing and soothing, it’s also mentally stimulating. You’re very thoughtful. Your internal dialogue becomes much richer and fuller. Then comes the drowsiness part. On the back end, you get very tired.”

Cruz introduced Diamond Head Cove Health Bar owner Marcus Marcos to ‘awa in 2001. Marcos had been working in the corporate world for more than a decade and decided it was time to venture out on his own. “I wanted to open a small smoothie shop and I love ‘awa too,” he says. We want to have people come and experience something social and cultural here.”

Marcos says there is a big local following, but tourists come and love the experience as well, telling him it was the highlight of their vacation. He has live music four nights a week and grinds his own ‘awa in the back.

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