Drinking Kava or "Sakau" as the locals call it, is a fundamental part of daily life in Pohnpei, Micronesia. In Vanuatu, Kava is simply called kava or malogo, in Fiji, its Yangona or Grog, in Samoa and Tahiti, its "Ava" and in Hawaii its "Awa". In Micronesia, kava is called "Sakau". But there are more differences between the kava drunk here than just the name. Read more below.
What is Sakau?
Sakau refers to both the plant as well as the herbal brew made from the roots of the kava kava plant that is strained through the bark of the sea hibiscus tree (hibiscus tiliaceus). In most other kava drinking cultures kava simply refers to kava roots and water. In Micronesia, however, it is difficult to imagine Sakau without the hibiscus component. "It's what makes our Sakau, Sakau," explains. Salpasr Ayuyu, a local kava drinker in Kolonia Pohnpei. "It adds its own body effect(s). to make (a) stronger drink with buzzing body."
What makes Sakau so strong?
Strong indeed. The Pohnpeans make notoriously strong kava beverages by adding very little water to freshly harvested kava roots to make the beverage. Pohnpeans very rarely consume powdered kava as fresh plants are always in supply. The freshly harvested roots are mashed into a pulp on a piece of flat basalt in a rhythmic fashion by a circle of eager Sakau drinkers. These stones are called lithophones and produce a bell like sound when struck. Kava pounders synchronize their rhythm and sometimes chant traditional Sakau songs throughout the process.
The pulp is then strained through freshly harvested Hibiscus bark which imparts its own unique effects to the Sakau. The bark of the hibiscus tree contains chemical constituents that have been found to be anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain killing), anti-microbial, and has been utilized by many cultures to assist with fevers, pains, coughs, and for use during labor. Additionally, the mucilage has been shown to act as an emulsifier which both extracts the Kavalactones at a greater efficacy and increase the bioavailability once the beverage is consumed.
The resulting beverage is a very thick and strong kava beverage which is estimated to contain approximately 500mg of Kavalactones per serving. It was observed by Blallick et al., that the average male Sakau drinker would spend nearly 5 1/2 hours drinking over 8 servings of Sakau totally over 4,000mg of Kavalactones in a single sitting, making Pohnpeans are the heavy weight champions of the kava drinking world.
Varieties of Sakau
Micronesia has only two varieties of Kava, Rahmwanger and Rhamadel. Rahmwanger is a robust green seemed variety with spots while Rhamadel is smoother and a paler green with a fleshy softer stem. Rahmwanger accounts for 90% of the kava grown and drank in Micronesia while Rhamadel is reserved for special occasions or for drinking by chiefs. Micronesian Kava offers smooth flavors and a very heady buzz that is tough to beat.
Origins of Sakau
The paucity of varieties in Micronesia indicates that kava may be a more recent introduction than other kava drinking regions. Through genetic and morphological studies it has been determined that the Micronesian varieties were likely late introduction from the Admiralty Islands in Papua New Guinea, specifically Manus. It has been suggested that the Pohnpean term "Sakau" was derived from the Manus word "Kau" which is what they still call Kava today. Furthermore, aside from Micronesia, Manus is one of the only other kava drinking regions that pound fresh kava on basalt slabs. Taken together there is strong evidence to link Micronesian Kava culture to the Admiralty Islands and specifically to Manus.
We've worked very hard to contract Sakau farmers to grow the best Sakau that Micronesia can grow. Root of Happiness' commitment to quality included consulting with our partners to set up one of the only FDA registered food facilities in Pohnpei to process high quality kava in! We're also the only company in history to go through the rigorous process of obtaining a USDA import permit for Micronesian Kava exports. We're committed to bringing you the best Kava that Micronesia has to offer!
Our powdered Premium Micronesian Kava is produced from 4 year old premium Rahmwanger plants.
Our Fresh Frozen Rahmadel Kava is the extremely rare-to-find Rhameadel variety grown in Hawaii. This is truly the most exotic Kava variety to be offered anywhere.