04 October 2012 | Niuatoputapu, Tonga 15 56.532'S 173 46.103'W
Made from the root of the plant Piper methysticum, kava is a member of the pepper family and is native to the islands of Melanesia. It thrives in wet, shady places and was brought to the Polynesian islands by ancient voyagers. They say that the best Kava in Tonga comes from Tafahi where we just visited.
The root is grated, crushed or chewed, then water is added to make a drink which looks like coffee and has a peppery taste. It is numbing to the mouth and tongue and in sufficient quantities, it is mildly paralyzing and creates a euphoric but 'clear-minded state'. This is the description in the Tongan Herbal Medicine book. Other descriptive terms include muddy, pungent and dirty water.
Drinking kava is typically a male activity but we have seen palangi women partake on several occasions. It is served from a traditional wooden bowl into coconut shell cups. In Neiafu back in Vava'u they say that the biggest kava club is at the police and fire department. Just hope your house doesn't catch on fire!
PS Neither of us has been inclined to try it yet.