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Māori and kava: New drug fashion or re-engagement with 'kawa'?

The Pacific “cultural keystone species” (Garibaldi & Turner, 2004, pp.1,5) kava is uniquely linked with notions of mana (spiritual power) and used to infuse efficacy into celebrations and life events. The drink, made from this potent icon of identity, brings on feelings of relaxation without marked euphoria, aiding clear-minded talanoa (discussion) to facilitate important and/or contentious dialogue. The sharing and drinking of kava as part of host/guest formalities is used in bringing about mutuality and unity (Aporosa, 2019). It is estimated there are more than 20,000 kava users in Aotearoa/New Zealand on an average Friday or Saturday night, with increasing interest and uptake of this indigenous drink by Māori. Crowley (1994) reports that the Māori word ‘kawa’, literally meaning ‘marae protocol’, has its linguistic foundations in ‘kava’ and the practices associated with this cultural keystone species. This paper explores that linguistic union to ask whether increased kava use by Māori has greater significance than simply a new interaction with a foreign drug substance. Further, due to the use of kava in facilitating talanoa (discussion), the possibility of kava playing a similar role for Māori is considered, one linked to ancestral Pacific connections aimed at assisting kōrero (talanoa), cultural connectedness and practice.
Journal Article
Type of thesis
Aporosa, S. ‘Apo’, & Forde, J. (2019). Māori and kava: New drug fashion or re-engagement with ‘kawa’? Pacific Dynamics, 3(1), 72–85.
University of Canterbury
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