AHH… ‘AWA’

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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“I go through three five-gallon buckets every two days,” says Marcos, who gets all his kava from a farmer on Molokai. “There’s a lot of stressed out people in the world. I have all kinds - doctors, lawyers, professors ... they all come here and drink ‘awa.”


Marcos himself drinks ‘awa daily. He also loves wine. “The difference between the feelings is night and day,” he says. “I can have three or four bowls of ‘awa and feel great the following day. There’s no such thing as a hangover. When I drink wine, the next day I get a hangover or I’m more lethargic.”

Those who are reluctant to try it are mostly just afraid of the unknown, he says.

Jonathan Yee, president of the ‘Awa Development Council pours some ground ‘awa in his Kahalu‘u nursery
Jonathan Yee, president of the ‘Awa
Development Council pours some ground
‘awa in his Kahalu‘u nursery

Because of the cultural significance of ‘awa, there is a certain protocol to consuming it. Verity has a few tips for first-timers.

“It’s served in a bowl. You down it like a big shot, then chase it with some water. You wait 10 or 15 minutes, then have another one. Most people have three or four a night,” he says, also warning you cannot consume it with alcohol or certain types of medications.

Then, sit back and enjoy the live music. Hale Noa, which is lit only by candlelight, features artists like Cruz, Barry Flannagan and Makana on a regular basis. Verity asks patrons to turn down their cell phone, use their softest speaking voices and most importantly, be polite and kind to each other.

“Kava becomes more and more about listening than talking after a few bowls anyway,” he says, noting in Hale Noa’s six-year existence, they’ve never had one altercation or argument.

“It’s one of the friendliest places on Oahu,” he says. Verity also dispels some rumors about ‘awa. “It’s not bad for you. It is a diuretic, so you have to drink a lot of water. It’s not about doing drugs. You can’t get addicted to it. There are no side effects if taken in moderate doses. You don’t build up a tolerance to it, you build up a sensitivity to it. And you never acquire a taste for it. But it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever had.”

The ‘awa community in Hawaii has grown steadily, but quietly. Both Hale Noa and Diamond Head Cove Health Bar don’t advertise, being careful not to over-commercialize ‘awa. But Marcos and Verity, along with Yee, hope that people all over the world will try ‘awa, understand its cultural significance and appreciate its social appeal.

Today there are more than 200 kava bars in places like Vanuatu, and in New Caledonia, says Verity, there is one kava bar for every 20 people.

“The urban kava bar has become the new sacred place for kava consumption,” he says. “But how do you commercialize something sacred? The answer is, you maintain the sacred. You drink ‘awa in order to get in touch with yourself and to get on the same page with your brethren. Where kava is consumed on a daily basis in Pacific Island living, it’s normally consumed at the same time of day - twilight. It’s thought that when the sun goes down, that’s actually the start of your day.

“You discuss matters of import with the people you depend on in life. Then you go off to sleep and you are to dream about all this stuff that’s heavy on your heart. It’s to guide you to live a life that’s proper, pono, righteous, balanced ... so you can live in harmony with your environment.”

Check out the ‘Awa Festival website at www.awadevelopment.org

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