Kava’s Rich tradition and cultural uses

Picture of Kavahana

And the centuries old ceremonies and medical practices that accompany it.

Kava has a long history that goes back more than 3000 yrs. Known to have been discovered on the island of Vanuatu in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, kava is one of the most coveted and rich tradition in pacific islander culture. In ancient times, kava was used for medical treatments for pain, relaxing muscles, and to calm nerves, reduce anxiety and help with sleep disorders. More importantly to island cultures, kava is a critical aspect in a variety of ceremonies and rituals to honor chiefs, guests and other community members.

Ceremonial uses

There are three ceremonies where kava was used most.

  1. Welcoming ceremonies: These ceremonies welcome highly honored guests coming to visit the community. This could include visiting heads of state, presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and visiting chiefs from neighboring countries and communities. It involves a long, rich tradition of ceremonial attire, presenting the kava root, preparing the kava drink and straining it ceremoniously into a cup for the visitor to drink. 
  2. Village ceremonies: This is arguably the most important activity in all pacific islander community events such as council meetings, agreements between communities, weddings, new births and welcoming a new chief.  It is less formal than the welcoming ceremony, it still involves a strict protocol and rich tradition that involves the kava being presented by the host of the event and then once prepared, served in order starting with the chief of the highest traditional standing.
  3. Informal ceremonies: These ceremonies follow no strict tradition or procedures but depend on the occasion and wishes of the group involved. However, the sacred nature of the beverage requires some aspects to remain important. For instance, preparing and pouring kava should always be done with respect and mindfulness to honor its cultural roots.  

The ceremonies involve the process of preparing the kava root, presenting the finished brew, the. Drinking it together. Even the cup it’s drunk out of has special significance. It was a very important part of pacific island culture and still is to this day.

Medicinal uses

Throughout many island cultures, kava has been revered for its medicinal benefits. In traditional island medicine it’s been used for a wide range of health conditions including:

  • Soothing nerves and promoting relaxation 
  • Help with falling asleep
  • Supporting asthma 
  • Lowering inflammation and pain in the joints, muscles and connective tissue
  • Blockages in urinary tract like kidney stones
  • Despite the root being the main use of the plant, Hawaiians used the leaf crushed into a poultice for headaches and to break a fever
  • Reducing weight by acting as a stomach tonic and diuretic 

While none of these claims have been researched in depth there is a long anecdotal history of these medicinal benefits that should be noted and hopefully studied in the future.

The rich tradition of kava has remained strong in the region and he even started to spread to other countries around the world. Today kava is emerging as an alternative to drinking alcohol and coffee due to its relaxing and mood boosting effects. While it may be consumed slightly differently, the tradition and culture behind this powerful plant remains the same. You just need to take a sip to feel it. 


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7600512/
  2. https://www.herbalgram.org/resources/herbalgram/issues/39/table-of-contents/article493/.
  3. https://www.herbalgram.org/resources/herbalgram/issues/39/table-of-contents/article126/.

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