Understanding Micronesia Culture and Sakau

Sitting between Indonesia and Hawaii, in the Pacific Islands, there are hundreds of small islands that make up Micronesia. There are four specific States of Micronesia: Kosrae, Yap, Pohnpei, and Chuuk. Sakau is an important aspect of Micronesia culture, yet the culture has evolved and modernized in recent times.

Micronesia Culture In Each Federated State

The residents in majority are the Chuukese and the Pohnpeian. Most residents speak many languages, one being English. Christianity is the most popular religion on the islands and the U.S. Dollar is the main currency.

Yap is one State of Micronesia where traditions run deep. Many characteristics that were popular thousands of years ago are still in play today. Some Yap islanders still wear grass skirts and loin cloths.

Men of Yap meet in clubs that are built just for the men in the village to communicate about important island and familial topics. This is likely where kava is served and consumed. Kava is not as popular on Yap as it is in the other States, like Pohnpei.

Pohnpei is quite modernized and kava is consumed by many daily. Kava is called sakau here, and along with yams, it is offered at important ceremonial and religious events.

Kosrae and Chuuk cultures are similar in that the church plays an influential role in their community and leaders are established based on their rank in the church or in the government. Subsistence lifestyles are how they survive; selling fish, plants and other island goods.

Many claim Kosrae is where kava originated in Micronesia. They say it was brought to the island by a Kosrean woman who supposedly hid the seeds of the kava plant inside her body when passing through inspection points during her travels.

In all the States, family and lineage is very important. Most residents’ ancestry dates to the settlers of the islands. This may be why traditions are valued so intensely.

Kava is a key staple of each State, but it is used mostly by the people of Pohnpei. In fact, kava has become famous for its use of sakau, or kava.

Micronesia Culture: Sakau Root | Root of Happiness

Harvesting Micronesian Sakau

Kava, or sakau, comes from the root of the piper methysticum plant that is grown in the Micronesian Islands. This plant is a distant relative of the pepper plant and is referred to as an intoxicating pepper on occasion.

The older the kava plant, the better affects you will experience. Mature kava plants are between five and ten years old.

When seeking the best quality kava, you will find it has been harvested from only the root of the plant. The stems, shoots and leaves are typically not used in making kava.

Because kava root does not last long once harvested, it is typically pressed into a powder form that can be dried and transported over great distances. This makes it accessible to people around the world.

How Sakau Is Used

Kava in the Micronesia culture and history has been used to seal agreements such as marriage or business. Kava, due to its calming effects and tendency to make you feel happy, was used to start rituals involving business deals or to send workers off to complete projects. For example, kava was often used to wish blessings on fisherman as they went to hunt and gather.

Ceremonies such as the birth of a child and mending friendships also involved drinking kava. It was a very political drink, offering conclusions to many situations, both positive and negative.

Micronesia culture uses this drink to celebrate funerals, to bless visitors, and to ask for forgiveness. It was originally used only by leaders within the community. Now, every member of the community can partake.

In Pohnpei, this kava is used to resolve disagreements and bring about forgiveness between the two groups who are quarreling. Village leaders offer sakau to both parties, discussions are had, and a peaceful ending is created.

Sakau Preparation

There are basically two ingredients involved in the original process of making such kava. These two ingredients are sakau and water. Today, however, kava can be mixed with other ingredients to produce a more flavorful variety.

The root is pounded or grinded into a pulp. Grinding is typically chosen as the method for preparing sakau. It is done by hand and pressed against a hard substance. For some, a block of coral or stone may be used.

The ground powder is then mixed with water. The wet mixture was then strained. The liquid that was strained is then consumed. Chewing sakau produces the strongest effect due to the release of kavalactones.

Kavalactones are the chemical compounds that determine strength.

Preparation of Kava | Root of Happiness

Kavalactones in Sakau

There are about eighteen kavalactones found in kava. Of these, only about six are found in Micronesian sakau. These are the best six strands you can extract from the kava plant. Kavalactones determine the effect you will receive from the mixture.

The six common kavalactones associated with giving you the euphoric and calming affects you desire are: desmethoxyyangonin, dihydrokavain, yangonin, kavain, dihydromethysticin, and methysticin.

How to Drink Sakau

There are a few recommendations for drinking sakau that are important to the culture of the island and the tradition of this kava drink.

One example of a recommendation is that you must keep your eyes closed from the time your lips touch the sakau bowl to the time you are finished drinking. According to lore, opening your eyes invites evil in. Others claim you may want to close your eyes due to the mere fact it has a strong odor and by closing your eyes, the smell cannot burn your eyes.

No matter which is true, if you are ever in Micronesia, you will likely try sakau. And if you cannot go to Micronesia, there are many kava suppliers who can sell you Micronesian kava varieties right here in the United States.

Even better, they have done all the arduous work, providing you with a Micronesian mixture that is easy to prepare and consume. All you must do is enjoy its effects.

The Importance of Kava in Tongan Culture

Kava has significance in each region of the Pacific Islands. What it means in Hawaii may be different than what it means in Fiji. Tongan culture is rich in history and kava has a deep-rooted importance to the people living on these islands.

Tongan Culture and Traditions

Tonga is composed of 150 islands. Most of the islands are not inhabited and remain wild with coral beaches, volcanoes and palm trees.

Farming and fishing are how Tongans make money. Fruits and vegetables and roots of plants are harvested for export. Many of the women also create products from natural items found in Tonga including woven baskets and mats.

Men build canoes and create art from wood to supplement incomes. They also make jewelry from shells, and textile arts using natural materials.

It is believed people arrived there from Fiji. The Tongan islands have been inhabited for over three thousand years. And for just as long, there has been Tongan culture and customs established that still exist today.

Food and Drink Customs in Tonga

People eat, and drink freely but also use them for special gatherings with family and friends. Ceremonies on the island are special occasions where the traditional drink of kava is offered to men. Women typically only serve kava.

While many drink kava daily throughout the Tongan villages, it is served for many reasons. Reasons include marriages, coronations of leaders, and funerals. Kava holds a special place in Tongan culture.

Drinking kava in Tonga is compared to men in the United States drinking beer at a bar. It is true that many Western habits and traditions have filtrated the Tongan Islands, including the drinking of alcohol. However, kava still holds higher importance within the Tongan culture, especially in the way it is prepared.

Tongan Kava Preparation | Root of Happiness

Kava Preparation in Tonga

Kava is harvested from the root of the Tongan plant called piper methysticum, which is a relative of the pepper plant. In ancient times, the kava root was cut into small pieces and chewed. The juice the chewing of the root created was spit into a bowl. The spit was consumed by Tongans to receive its calming effects.

Fortunately, today, kava is prepared in a healthier manner.

The root is pounded into powder form. The powder is then mixed with water. A female member of the village called a tou’a, is usually the one who will mix kava and serve it.

The water mixed with kava is strained through a porous cloth. The strained mixture is what is served to the males in the village in a specific order, starting with the leaders first.

On the main island of Tonga, kava is usually saved for drinking on Wednesday and Saturday nights. But on the outer islands, kava is prepared and consumed every night of the week.

Effects of Tongan Kava

Kava has an intoxicating effect without interrupting mental clarity. It is used in Tonga to relax the body and give people a feeling of good will towards others.

Kava strength is chosen by its color during the mixing process. After many years of drinking, the tou’a know the right color of kava for the right effects. A numbing of the tongue is reported to happen soon after drinking kava.

Other effects of kava can include helping a person get a good night’s sleep. Some drink it to be sociable, while others drink it to de-stress after a hard day’s work. Furthermore, Tongans have used kava as a sedative, muscle relaxants, diuretics and for nervousness.

Kava is consumed from the traditional Tongan kava bowl.

Tongan Kava Bowl

You would think a bowl that is used to hold a drink of great cultural importance would be ornate and fragile. Not the kava bowl. Although it is of great cultural significance, it is quite humble in appearance. Often, kava is consumed in coconut shells or cups.

Traditional kava bowls are made of wood and have four legs. It is placed on the ground for stability when the tou’a is mixing kava for drinking.

These methods of mixing and drinking kava continue today in both ceremonies and in the clubs established all over the islands.

Tongan Ceremony | Root of Happiness

Tongan Kava Clubs

Bonding among men is important to the Tongan culture. The use of kava helps people bond due to its relaxing and mind opening effects.

In some villages, kava is consumed every night by local men. In Tongan kava clubs, or kalapus, or faikava, men gather to enjoy kava at the end of the day. The tou’a cannot be related to anyone in the clubs today. However, in traditional Tonga, the tou’a was a female who was engaged to one of the villagers in the kava ceremony.

Kava drinkers sit in a circle and pass the kava by hand from the inner circle to the farthest out. Men discuss everything from sports to politics between rounds of kava drinking. Kava allows the men to be open and honest and accepting of other’s opinions, even if they do not agree with their own.

Tongan Kava Legend

Legend has it parents of a leprous daughter whose name was “kava”, sacrificed her to the ancient sacred king. After she was buried, two plants began to grow on her grave, piper methysticum and sugar cane. Since this time, both plants are used in important ceremonies and rituals.

This act corresponds with the four virtues of the Tongan culture. The four virtues include respect, humility, commitment and keeping good relations.

These four virtues still exist today. They are expressed as mutual respect; sharing, cooperating and fulfillment of mutual obligations; humility and generosity; and loyalty and commitment.

Tonga’s use of kava enhances these virtues. When you drink kava, you are expected to share with each other. Kava opens the mind to good will towards others, enabling the virtue of mutual respect. Kava also makes you feel generous. It also helps you feel humble and gracious for fellow men.

Kava, because of its great benefits, should be important in all cultures, not just Tongan. We could learn a lot from the Tongan culture.

Kava Strains Based on Where It Was Cultivated

Kava varies from region to region within the Pacific Islands. All regions treasure the piper methysticum plant, in which its roots are used to create kava. However, these kava strains differ based on where the kava is cultivated.

Kava’s name also varies among regions and different kava strains. Awa is the name for kava in Hawaii. Yaqona is its name in Fiji, while Malok is how some in Vanuatu refer to kava.

Just like the name can vary, so can cultivation methods. Therefore, some kava drinks offer different effects than others. In addition, the chemotypes and kavalactone numbers can help us identify where the kava was likely cultivated.

Chemotypes and Kavalactones

In kava plants, chemotypes are differentiated by kavalactones. These are the chemical compounds that make up the chemotypes in the kava plants.

When kavalactones are soaked in water, their psychoactive elements are released. When consumed, a person can experience relaxation while maintaining mental clarity.

To date, there have been eighteen kavalactones identified. However, only six of them are associated with giving the beneficial effects to those who consume it. The order in which they are combined determines the effect they will give the user.

The six common kavalactones associated with giving you the euphoric and calming affects you desire are: desmethoxyyangonin, dihydrokavain, yangonin, kavain, dihydromethysticin, and methysticin.

When choosing which kava strains you prefer, it's important to understand how each strain will affect you. Stick with those that have the numbers “2”, “4” or “6” in the beginning of the chemotype variety.

Fijian Kava | Root of Happiness

Fiji Kava

Yaqona in Fiji is pronounced Yan-go-na and is considered by natives to be a plant given to them by the Gods. Only the best strands of kavalactones are extracted from yaqona and they are only taken from the root of the plant.

Lateral roots are used in producing Fiji kava, making it one of the most concentrated kava strains.

Benefits of yaqona are that it contains a large amount of fiber, making it a healthy drink for digestion. It also gives you the positive effects that alcohol may give you, but without the negative effects of alcohol. For instance, you will feel relaxed, but will not have a hangover.

Kava in Fiji develops a tan color, have a hint of pepper taste and is said to have a creamy texture. It is known for is stress-relieving effects that take the edge off but not so much that you feel sedated and unable to function.

Vanuatu Kava

Harvesters cloned parts of the piper plant families to form what is known today as the piper methysticum plant. Travelers took strands of the plant to other islands in the South Pacific, each creating their own version of kava.

Vanuatu remains the leader in having the most varieties of kava strains. They have more varieties of kava than anywhere else in the world.

Kava grows best in loose soil so that air can reach the roots. The plants themselves prefer good rainfalls and a lot of humidity. Kava is propagated by stem cuttings since it cannot reproduce on its own. At least four years goes by before it is ready for cultivation.

Even though it is grown on sunny islands in the Pacific, the piper methysticum plant prefers shady areas. A popular version of Vanuatu kava is called melo melo and often people drink this variety before parties. Melo melo is known to ease nerves while also giving you energy.

In Vanuatu, the chemotype sequence mostly likely begins with a “2” and a “6” or “5”.

Vanuatu Kava Ceremony | Root of Happiness

Hawaiian Kava

Kava is called awa in Hawaii. Most tea is made using the fresh root of the plant. Sometimes the root is sundried and used later. It is chopped into small pieces and pounded into a powder like form. Awa is then mixed with water and strained. In the beginning, awa was chewed to mix with saliva, then spit into a bowl.

The strained liquid is what Islanders consume. Sometimes the awa is put in a kalabash and warmed over hot stones, then cooled again before drinking.

Harvesting the awa root after a rain makes it easier to remove from the ground.

Kava likes to grow on the side of a hill but not on the top. The stalk can be cut into sections and planted right side up, with most of the cane being beneath the moist earth, in a shady place. Kava cuttings are planted for a few months until the cuttings have roots showing. They are then transplanted into pots as it grows to a large enough size to be transplanted directly into the ground.

Chemotypes that begin with a “4” and “6” are usually kava strains cultivated in Hawaii. This means that Hawaiian kava has kavain and methysticin. From there you can determine that this strand will help you feel relaxed but also make you interested in socializing due to feelings of being happy.

Tongan Kava

Tonga, just like the other regions, have multiple varieties of kava. One of the most popular kava strains from this area is said to have a nutty flavor. It’s called Fu’u and offers a creative and social effects. The kavalactone lineup of this variety begins with 4,6 and 5.

Other versions of kava in Tonga are labeled due to their color, like Tongan White.  It is considered creamy with a smooth taste.

Many people drink this type of kava to relax at the end of the work day while remaining alert and functioning.

By understanding the different chemotypes of kava, you can determine which kava strains are best for you. BULA!

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Piper Methysticum

Piper methysticum is better known as the kava plant. This plant is popular due to its kava root, which is used to create kava tea, a drink known around the world for its relaxing effects.

Piper methysticum is found in the South Pacific Islands. Many people know its benefits: sedation, calming, euphoria, happy mood, socialization, better sleep and much more.

Although many are familiar with the benefits of kava, here are ten things you may not know about piper methysticum.

1. It Belongs to the Pepper Family

Some people call piper methysticum the narcotic pepper. Others call it the intoxicating pepper. This happens because the name “piper” is the Latin word for pepper. And methysticum is the Greek work meaning intoxicating.

Although it is in the pepper family, it does not look like a typical jalapeno or bell pepper plant. It has large heart shaped leaves and only the roots are used in making the best kava.

2. The Captain Cook Connection

Upon his travels in Oceana, Captain Cook was the first European to discover the piper methysticum plant. He gave it the name “intoxicating pepper”.

The legends and myths surround the kava plant are just as storied when it comes to the influence Captain Cook had over the introduction of kava to the rest of the world. Claims that Cook and his missionaries loathed the preparation process but loved the socialization kava brings among users.

Other claims indicate Cook and his missionaries appreciated the entire kava culture and immersed themselves in it. Either way, it is evident Captain Cook had a direct connection with piper methysticum.

10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Piper Methysticum | Root of Happiness

3. It’s Used in Cosmetics

Kava not only has benefits that are mental and physical. In fact, the piper methysticum plant also has benefits for use in cosmetics. Companies recognize kava has antiseptic properties and is popular for treating stress. They have found ways to mix kava into their products, so consumers can enjoy it in other ways than drinking the tea.

Kava is said to have anti-aging benefits. Because it reduces stress, gives you an euphoric and happy feeling, kava is being added to many different beauty products. Stress, digestion problems, depression and anxiety can all lead to aging.

4. It Can Be Smoked

Yep, the root can be smoked, just like many other plant based products. Even though it is not the most recommended way to consume kava, it can be done. Some people mix kava with other herbal products and smoke them together.

And for those who aren’t interested in smoking piper methysticum, you can still mix it with other great herbs to create a tea with super powers.

5. Doesn’t Need to Be Mixed with Other Herbs

Kava is effective on its own and doesn’t really need to be mixed with anything. It is a great herb all by itself, offering many positive effects.

However, if you want to mix kava with other herbs, you must first determine what desire you hope to achieve.

You must be sure you are mixing synergistic herbs and not herbs that will cause a negative reaction. It would be best to work with an herbalist or buy products that have already been prepared together and then packaged for distribution.

6. It’s a Phytomedicine

Phytomedicine is another way to describe alternative, therapeutic herbal treatments, and the use of herbal treatments over traditional medicines to improve symptoms of physical and mental problems.

When you get ill, you have options for treatment. One is the most widely used, seeking help from a physician who typically prescribes synthetic medicine. Most of which have their own side effects.

Phytomedicine is a second option. The treatment prescription involves the use of botanical herbs. Herbalists can help you find a solution to your illness. They believe the body can heal itself and with natural herbs, you can both heal and enhance your body’s healing abilities.

Phytomedicine | Root of Happiness

7. Six Major Ingredients

You would think kava would be the only natural ingredient in kava, right? Well, to everyone’s surprise, there are six major ingredients in all-natural kava.

The main ingredients in kava are called kavalactones. There are several strands of kavalactones involved in creating kava. Because of this, the order in which the kavalactones are extracted will determine the affects you receive.

Kava is also made of water, starch, dietary fiber, sugars, proteins and minerals.

8. Smells Good, Tastes Bad

Many reports discuss the taste of kava, and it is not favorable. Many try to chase it a flavored drink, or mix it in candy or food. Basically, people say it takes just like what it is, a root from below the dirt.

Its smell, on the other hand, has been compared to that of lilacs.

9. Has Been Controversial

There has been a bogus controversy surrounding kava for years, leading to it being banned for export for a long time. Finally, governments have realized the truth and have since removed the ban.

A handful of people claimed drinking kava resulted in them having liver problems such as toxicity. However, these few claims were later found to be untrue and were related to people drinking ignoble or bad kava, not noble kava.

Even if the reports had been true, that would give kava an extraordinary track record. Over 3,000 years, only around twenty people had a negative reaction.

This would be the complete opposite of prescription medications that are prescribed daily to patients around the world, and that are killing millions of people every year. Yet those medicines are never banned.

10. Heady vs. Heavy

People who drink kava explain they often feel heady or heavy effects. These will be different for each individual drinking kava.

Heady effects relate to the euphoric and cheerful affects you feel in the first hour of drinking kava. The effects are in your head, hence the term “heady”. They are mental effects, usually including alertness and clarity.

Heavy effects relate to every other feeling you get outside of the head. It’s how your body feels after drinking kava, mainly relaxed and calm.

The best kava will have a balance of both heavy and heady.

Now that you know more about piper methysticum and kava tea, you know just how beneficial it can be.

Vanuatu Kava Tradition: Nakamals

Vanuatu is in the South Pacific Islands and has been inhabited since 500 B.C. It is comprised of islands and islets with volcanic and mountainous regions.

Vanuatu relies on many forms of agricultural subsistence living including fishing and hunting. They make money through exporting certain agricultural products. One that is very popular is kava, taken from the root of the piper methysticum plant that is found throughout Vanuatu. Vanuatu kava tradition expands throughout centuries, and has greatly influenced the culture of today. We have adopted many of these traditions, including nakamals -- also known as kava bars. 

Vanuatu Kava Tradition & History

Kava is said to have originated in Vanuatu over three thousand years ago. Many believe that kava was initially popular because of its medicinal uses.

Harvesters clone parts of the piper plant families to form the piper methysticum plant. Travelers took strands of the plant to other islands in the South Pacific, each creating their own version of kava.

Vanuatu remains the leader in having the most varieties of kava. They have more varieties of kava than anywhere else in the world.

The use of kava can vary from islanders. Some think it's best to consume daily while other islanders, such as Malekula, associate kava with a cult of death.

There are also many legends surrounding kava.

Kava Legends

Varying legends exist and some are quite mythical. Some believe good kava was found by two sisters who were washing themselves by the ocean after gathering yams for food. The story states a sister touches the kava plant. Noting its pleasurable sensations, the sisters took the root and began to cultivate this new kava plant.

Other legends state kava was given by the Gods. They also include spiritual qualities or the mixture of spirit Gods and humans. The Vanuatu kava tradition and legends have been a part of Vanuatu culture for years. 

Southern vs. Northern Vanuatu

Historians claim the origin of kava began in Northern Vanuatu, specifically on the island of Maewo. This is spectacular, that all kava that exists today can be traced back to a single plant in Northern Vanuatu.

From this location, kava was then shipped to Fiji, where it was named Yaqona, and from there, to other islands. Some chose to keep the name kava, others chose to create their own name.

Most reports state kava did not originate in Southern Vanuatu. The residents of the southern part of the islands had to import the kava plant and learn its uses just like every other user in the Pacific.

In ancient times, both southern and northern Vanuatu kava tradition is similar. They prepare and drink kava in the most traditional ways, which includes chewing and spitting practices. The location where locals drink and celebrate with kava are also the same. These structures are nakamals.


In Vanuatu kava tradition, special huts were built in ancient times just for drinking kava. These are nakamals. You know them today as a kava bar

Traditionally, nakamals were built for chiefs and village leaders to meet and make important decisions. Every community in Vanuatu contains nakamals. While the shape and construction of the nakamal can vary, many have a similar A-frame style.

Some communities decorate nakamals to represent the community. Other nakamals remain simple with nothing drawing attention to its existence.

With a resurgence in the popularity of kava, nakamals are popping up all over the world.

Vanuatu Kava Tradition | Nakamals | Root of Happiness

Kava Today

Kava is extremely popular today, and not just in the Pacific Islands. Nakamals, or kava bars, are accessible in most major cities including New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and many more.

Kava has so many benefits and people consume it for many different reasons. Some use it to achieve relaxation after a long day at work. Others use it to alleviate aches and pains.

Kava’s benefits also include mental alertness while feeling completely at ease. Muscles relax and an overall feeling of good will or happiness encompasses the person consuming kava.

Many people today are choosing to replace alcohol with kava. They do so because kava is a terrific way to relax and calm down after a long day at work, but without the hangover the next day. In addition, their mind stays clear.

While nakamals may look quite different in cities versus rural areas, they are consistent in in the fact that you will reach your desired effect easily.

If you wish to experience Vanuatu kava, you are in luck. You can purchase it from kava suppliers who work directly with Vanuatu harvesters. Or, you can visit your local kava bar for a low key, yet social experience.

Understanding the Differences Between Kava and Damiana

Many herbs have similarities, including how they are consumed and the benefits they offer. While some, like kava and damiana are similar, they are not the same.

Every herb comes from a different part of the country and from various parts of the plant. Some are extracted from a root, like kava kava, while others are made from leaves, stems or flowers.

With such an easy access to herbs and alternative therapies, at-home users are becoming more like scientists. They mix and match herbs in hopes to produce a certain effect. This can be dangerous is the wrong herbs are mixed.

Some people are mixing kava and damiana. If you only use kava, then you know you do not need to mix anything with it for it to benefit you. Damiana users are claiming to need a little extra, so they mix it with kava.

These two herbs are quite different, from their origins to effects.


Kava is taken from the root of the piper methysticum plant found in the South Pacific Islands such as Hawaii and Fiji. It has been a well-respected plant in Oceana for thousands of years. It was first used before important ceremonies and rituals.

Kava is now enjoyed around the world. It can only be harvested in the South Pacific, making it more special than other plants.

Damiana grows sub-tropically in areas of the southeastern United States, specifically Texas. It can also be found in Africa and Mexico.

Damiana comes from the turneraceae plant family and is often called turnera diffusa. It is derived from the dried leaves of the plant.  It was also used before ceremonies and events. Damiana was traded among the Aztecs and Mayans and is still used today.

Damiana can be grown in your back yard if you are living in the right growing zones.


Kava contains kavalactones which determine the potency of the effects. Kavalactones have chemotypes that determine what types of effects it will deliver.

All damiana’s chemical components have yet to be identified. However, researchers do report it contains flavonoids, volatile oil, essential oils, and cyanogenic glycosides. It also contains tannin, arbutin, thymol and a little bit of phosphorous. These are not nearly all the components.


Kava is well known for its ability to relax the mind and body, while still allowing you to stay mental alert. Kava eases muscle tension and gives you an overall feeling of goodwill. Many report feeling sociable and in a great mood.

Kava is replacing alcohol around the world due to its ability to calm you down after a stressful day at work, without leaving you with a hangover.

Damiana is mostly known for its aphrodisiac effects. There is very little research on damiana so most of the claims of effects are from personal accounts. There are a few studies claiming damiana reduces tension and has a calming effect.

Other damiana users claim it is good for use as a laxative and digestive issues, as well as for cleansing the liver and bladder.


Both plants are known for their relaxing and calming abilities. If you are feeling nervous, kava can ease this symptom. There are many benefits of kava, as it is also used to lift your mood when you are feeling sad, as well as help you get a good night’s sleep.

Both kava and damiana are associated with losing weight, according to some reports.

It seems odd that an herb can act as both a laxative and a sexual stimulant, but that is exactly what damiana claims it does. Its relaxant qualities are associated with easing menstrual cramps and asthma. It also has antiseptic qualities that help eliminate some infections.

How it is Prepared and Consumed

Kava tea is the most common way kava is consumed. If you are in the South Pacific, kava is prepared by pounding the root into a powder form. You then mix the powder with water and strain through a cloth. The liquid that is strained is what you consume.

Kava can be purchased in powder, liquid, capsules and even edible forms. It can be bought in ready mix packages that make it simple to use on a regular basis.

Damiana can be smoked as well as consumed. You can purchase the dried leaves and either smoke them or drink them in tea form. Or, you can buy infusions, tinctures or capsules.

Following the instructions offered on the packaging is the best way to take both kava and damiana.

Mixing Kava and Damiana

There are people who claim when they take damiana they don’t feel as strong effects as they would like. Instead of taking more damiana, they are choosing to mix it with kava.

People who use kava will likely tell you they do not need anything else mixed with their kava drink. Kava offers just the right potency for users to experience all the beneficial effects.

While it is unlikely to harm you, mixing damiana and kava can be done, but is not necessary if you are drinking kava only.

Fiji Kava Traditions: Yaqona

Fiji Kava, also known as Yaqona is traditionally pronounced Yan-go-na and is considered by natives to be a plant given to them by the Gods. It is also commonly called kava in the United States, or grog, throughout the Pacific Islands. Each region of the Islands has their own special traditions and cultural rites.

There are many legends surrounding the origins and importance of Fiji kava. From preparation to consumption, there are specific meanings and rituals for Yaqona.

Legends of Yaqona

Some legends in Fiji claim the God Degei created the plant to offer wisdom to the people. Other legends claim the plant sprouted from the grave of a Tongan princess who died of a broken heart.

This may be why for thousands of years, local villagers drink Fiji kava before important ceremonies and rituals. They also drink it to connect with spiritual guides.

Another fable associated with Yaqona is that when a Tongan King visited the island, one of the women villagers did not have anything to offer the king. She sacrificed her baby, serving it to the king after killing it and wrapping it.

The king did not like this and ordered for the baby to have a ceremonial burial. The story ends with the sprouts of the kava plant emerging from the grave of the sacrificed baby.

Whether any of these legends are true, they are embedded in the rich culture of Fiji.

Fiji Kava Ceremony - Bula | Root of Happiness

Culture of Fiji Kava

In Fiji, Yaqona is considered an important staple of the culture. It is what brings people together and gives everyone living there a sense of closeness and feeling of being connected to one another.

Kava ceremonies are held often, even in today’s Fiji. If you plan on attending a ceremony in Fiji, it is customary to take kava with you as a gift.

When welcoming someone to the village of Fiji, kava ceremonies are traditional. Some ceremonies can start early in the morning and extend well into the following morning. No one is required to stay that long. Many people come and go to the celebration.

Fijia kava gives everyone a feeling of goodwill and happiness towards each other. It is not considered rude to come and go as you please from the ceremony. This feeling of goodwill can last six hours or more. This is because of its chemotype properties.


Yaqona has distinct properties that allow a person to relax but maintain an open, clear mind. Yaqona is made from the root of the piper methysticum pepper plant. The plant contains kavalactones that contain ingredients that, when combined, offer relaxing effects.

There are thirteen kavalactone strands. Different strands produce various levels of potency. Yaqona is prepared so that it offers the best experience. It gives you a relaxing, sedating effect. Basically, you feel calm and your muscles become relaxed.

Your mind, however, remains clear. It is almost like you have an increased awareness. You are very mentally alert but at the same time you have a relaxed, happy feeling of goodwill towards others.

Yaqona is not made from the stems or leaves of the piper methysticum plant. In fact, anything made from the stems and leaves is ignoble or bad kava.

Ignoble kava can give negative effects to the user. These negative effects can include getting sick on your stomach. This feeling can last for several days.

Proper preparation of Yaqona is an important part of Fiji traditions.

Yaqona Preparation | Root of Happiness


One person oversees mixing of Fiji kava, along with two others who are charged with serving and getting water as needed. They sit behind the tanoa, or better known as a wooden kava mixing bowl.

Before the mixer begins preparation, they will make a statement that tells everyone they are beginning the process. Most say they will respectfully make Yaqona for the chief.

The mixer then pounds the Yaqona root into a powder, mixes it with water, and extracts liquid from that mixture. It is then ready for inspection by the Chief’s herald.

If the herald feels the texture is not ready for consumption, he will instruct the mixer to make more Fiji kava. They continue to improve the drink until it is considered the right consistency and texture for the Chief.

Clapping and singing and dancing may take place during the preparation period, blessing and giving thanks to the Gods.


On a rectangular mat, the tanoa is at one end and at the other is the village chief and his leaders. There is an etiquette to consuming kava.

When the Chief’s Yaqona is ready to be served, the herald will clap three times and announce the drink is ready. He then serves Yaqona to the Chief.

Coconut shells are used for drinking kava. They are filled and served according to importance within the community. Once the chief is finished drinking, others begin drinking the Chief’s Yaqona. However, they take drinks in order of importance to the village.

The most important leaders in the village drink first.

Clapping before during and after the Chief and everyone else drink Yaqona is an important process of consuming it. In between claps some may call out, “Bula”, which means “cheers”.

Fiji’s culture and traditions are still alive today. Yaqona is a very important part. Fortunately, today, everyone can enjoy the benefits of Yaqona. Fijian kava powder is widely available through reputable kava suppliers. And they can enjoy them daily, not just at ceremonies.

Fiji Kava Consumption Today

Benefits of Yaqona are that it contains a large amount of fiber, making it a healthy drink for digestion. It also gives you the positive effects that alcohol may give you, but without the negative effects of alcohol. For instance, you will feel relaxed, but will not have a hangover.

Also, you can feel happy and in a good mood, without losing mental clarity like you do when drinking alcohol. Long term use of good kava does not lead to damage to the body. Like alcohol on the other hand, that causes damage to several parts of the body.

You don’t have to travel to Fiji to try Yaqona. In modern times, Fiji harvesters have perfected the extraction process. They know how to package the root and ship it around the world. This allows suppliers in the United States to sell good kava to you.

You can enjoy Yaqona in the privacy of your own home or at a local kava bar, which are popping up around the States. With so much access to this amazing product, you can reap the benefits as soon as today. So, here’s to you!  BULA!

Common Misconceptions: Kava Liver Damage

There are several misconceptions about kava, a drink originating from the South Pacific Islands. Individuals and communities have been consuming kava tea for thousands of years without any known negative incidents. This alone should tell be enough to sustain kava’s positive reputation.

However, there are a handful of reports claiming kava is not as great as reported. Some even claim there is such a thing as kava liver damage.

But before explaining why kava liver damage is a big misconception, it is important to know exactly what the liver does, what damages the liver, and the real reason behind the controversy.

The Liver’s Job

The liver has many jobs. One of the most important is it cleans your blood. When you consume food and drinks, the liver processes these items and takes out the good stuff like nutrients, and sends it to the rest of your body.

Your liver also produces bile. This is important because it can help you store sugar, vitamins and nutrients that are beneficial to the rest of your body.

The liver takes harmful stuff that you consume and processes it back through your bile or your blood so it can leave your body as waste.

When you ingest too much of a bad thing, your liver can show signs of damage. These symptoms can become severe if not treated.

Common Causes of Liver Damage

Alcohol is one of the most common things that damage the liver. Drinking too much of a toxin such as alcohol can lead to cirrhosis of the liver. This means your liver has scarring on it that cannot be undone. Cirrhosis can also from obesity and hepatitis.

Damage to the bile duct and if you have an autoimmune disease, you may be more susceptible to cirrhosis. There are even some medications that can damage the liver. For instance, taking too many over the counter acetaminophen and even some anti-depressants.

Up to 35 percent of heavy drinkers will develop alcoholic hepatitis. The abdomen can swell, skin can turn jaundice and you can experience fevers, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms can linger for years and will eventually do enough damage it will cause scarring of the liver.

Alcohol abuse can cause the body to replace living tissue with nonliving tissue on the liver. There are other statistics on liver damage is from ingesting toxins.

Liver Damage Statistics

According to the American Liver Foundation, one to three million people have liver damage due to some form of hepatitis. Of the thirty million total Americans with liver damage, twenty percent have it because of fatty liver disease and ten to twenty percent of heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis.

Liver cancer is the cause for over half a million deaths each year. Causes include the use of anabolic steroids, alcohol, obesity and even the over use of aspirin or ibuprofen type medicines.

These statistics, when compared to drinking kava tea, are overwhelming. However, they also help you realize how harmless kava really is.

Statistics on Kava Liver Damage

Many reports were published claiming there was a direct link to kava liver damage.  Even though for thousands of years not one Pacific Islander had any connection between the two and did not experience any liver damage when drinking kava.

The numbers vary, but there were a group of people who stated their liver damage was a direct result of taking kava. Some reports claim there were sixty reports and other research claims there were one hundred reports. However, it's not proven that the liver damage was due to drinking kava. The kava liver damage scare came after these reports.

There could have been many reasons for the damage, that do not relate to kava.

Many of these kava liver damage reports were put out by Swiss and German health officials who put a ban on kava. They have since reversed their decisions and released the ban on kava based on extensive follow-up research on the claims.

They found that the people claiming to be affected by kava were also taking other medications that may be the reason for the damage.

In the end, they found only one case worldwide in which kava may have affected a person’s liver.

The Truth Revealed

For thousands of years, kava has been offering relaxation to those who consume it. It also helps reduce tension throughout the body and gives you a calming feeling. It does all of this while maintaining, even enhancing, mental clarity.

You remain fully alert, yet experience a happy and relaxed mood.

The truth surrounding the complaints of kava liver damage were suspected to be caused by a batch of tudei kava being sold and distributed by suppliers who were simply interested in making money. Unlike noble kava, it is made from the stems and leaves of the piper methysticum plant.

To be considered "tudei", there are a couple of differences in the kava itself.

The first trait is that this variety of kava has a chemotype that starts with either a “25” or “52”. It also must have more flavokavains than kavalactones, a ratio greater than one.

Many have started using a simple color metric test to determine if kava is tudei or noble. If the color turns bright yellow, it is noble kava. If it turns any other color, it is tudei.

The misconceptions surrounding kava may not fade away anytime soon. But with certainty, it will remain a staple, used by those who seek calm and relaxation. Over time, after kava continues to help people, we should focus on its positive effects.

The Origin of Hawaiian Awa

Pronounced “ah-vah”, which means bitter, awa it is known as the Hawaiian kava drink. Hawaiian awa has many different names, depending on the region in the Pacific Islands and the cultural background. Many know it as kava around the world.

It is called yaqona in Tonga, ‘ava in Samoa, sakau in Pohnpei, and malok in Vanuatu.

Hawaiians have called it awa since it first came to Hawaii thousands of years ago. Awa, in the beginning, was mostly used for religious ceremonies. Certain Gods are associated with the use of Hawaiian awa, offering blessings to crops, hunting, fishing and even unions between families.

Today awa is used for medicinal reasons as well as a social and ceremonial drink. It is used to ease tension and alleviate pain.

The meaning of awa in Hawaii is just as storied as its journey.

How Awa Came to Hawaii

As Pacific Islanders traveled and settled in various parts of the South Pacific, they would take their most important plants with them. This type of plant was originally known as canoe plants.

Awa is extracted from the root of the piper methysticum plant, or pepper plant.

During all the traveling and the years of moving through the Islands, the Hawaiian awa plant lost its ability to reproduce through seed. The Hawaiian natives found other ways to grow it. They used the stems and leaves to propagate the plant.

They would mix and match different strands of awa to create different chemotypes. If they liked the effects, they kept it. If they did not like the effects, they quit growing that version. They spent much time mutating the plant until they found the most noble versions.

Eventually, thirteen noble strands of Hawaiian awa were created that are of the best quality and still available today.

Thirteen Strands

There are distinct differences between the thirteen noble strands of awa. The hardest strand to find of Hawaiian awa is called hanakapi’ai. It has purple nodules and spots all along the tall plant. Another strand is called hiwa and it is a smooth stalk with black color.

Honokane iki is a tall green plant with few spots, while kumakua has internodes. Other strands include mahakea, mapulehu, mo’I, nene, opihikao, pana’ewa, papa ele ele, pap ele ele pup u, and papa kea.

Each of these strands has special characteristics that local farmers know well. Depending on the effect they wish to have, they know exactly which plants to harvest.

It has been noted that only the most common strands can be used by most people. The rarer strands of Hawaiian awa are reserved for chiefs and village leaders.

Traditional Hawaiian Awa | Root of Happiness Kava

Preparing Awa Root

There are specific ways to prepare awa to drink. Harvesting the root after a rain makes it easier to remove from the ground. There is a specific traditional preparation of kava.

Most tea is made using the fresh root of the plant. Sometimes the root is sundried and used later. It is chopped into small pieces and pounded into a powder like form. Awa is then mixed with water and strained. In the beginning, awa was chewed to mix with saliva, then spit into a bowl.

The strained liquid is what Islanders consume. Sometimes the awa is put in a kalabash and warmed over hot stones, then cooled again before drinking.

Mixing the awa with water is what makes the kavalactones potent.

If drinking kava is not for you, try the supplement or capsule forms of kava. Or, you can visit a kava bar and have the drink prepared by the experts.

Hawaiian Awa Effects

Awa has kavalactones that start with the number four, letting you know it will give you the euphoric and pleasing effects. Other Pacific Island cultures prefer the effects of sedation and relaxation. Hawaiian awa makes you feel relaxed, but at the same time gives you energy and mental alertness.

It is refreshing and can stimulate the body. In addition to having a spiritual element, awa is used for to relieve tensions and everyday pain.

Awa is often used daily by many Hawaiians to wind down from the day’s stressors. It is the perfect replacement for alcohol because it offers you relaxation but without the mind-altering effects alcohol causes.

Awa also makes you feel sociable and in a positive mood when hanging out with your peers. Yet it does not make you act silly or aggressive like alcohol tends to do on occasion.

With awa, you know when to stop drinking it. When you begin feeling calm and happy, you do not have a desire to continue drinking awa. This too is unlike alcohol, with which many people do not know when to stop drink it.

There are specific ways to consume awa to give you the most benefits.

How to Drink Awa

Once the tea is prepared and ready to drink, it is customary to say a brief prayer of gratitude. Traditionally, the shells of coconuts are used as cups. Special awa bowls are designed and created for modern use.

When drinking awa, you do not want to just sip it. It has a bitter taste and most Islanders prefer to gulp it and then chase it with something more flavorful. Some people use bananas or sugar cane as chasers.

Some of the awa remains in the cup and can be poured on the ground, offering a thank you.

There are certain cultural protocols to follow when drinking Hawaiian awa.

Hawaiian Awa Council

The Hawaiian Awa Council was established to assist awa farmers in the growing process. They help farmers maintain the highest quality awa available. There are also awa task forces, awa development council and a protection committee.

The Hawaiian Awa Council makes sure that every cloned awa plant is done in the right condition with the right techniques. They do so by employing top researchers and top kava leaders from around the world. They spend a lot of time educating others on noble kava, its history and its future.

As you can see, Hawaiian awa is extremely important to Hawaiian history and culture. This can be carried over into modern times, even though the method of ingestion has changed.

Awa can now be bought around the world through vendors and online suppliers. It is offered in dried root form, powder form and in the popular instant mix. It is also offered in supplement, liquid and even candy forms.

However you choose to consume awa, you are sure to enjoy the relaxing effects that Hawaiians have enjoyed for thousands of years.

The Significance of the Kava Bowl

What may seem like a simple wooden bowl to some, the kava bowl has deep rooted meaning in traditional kava drinking.

Various cultures within the Pacific Islands have similar respect for the kava bowl. Small factors may change among cultures, like the name of it or how many legs it has. But overall, it adds significant value to the process of drinking and sharing kava.

Origin of the Name

For centuries, natives in the Pacific Islands have been drinking kava before ceremonies and rituals. Kava is prepared using the root of the piper methysticum plant, a member of the pepper family. The kava root is pounded into a powder and then mixed with water.

In ancient times, preparation was done by young women who would chew the root, mixing it with their saliva, and spitting it into the bowl.

The bowl, then being referred to as the kava bowl, is then passed around in a specific order and etiquette set forth by the villagers. For example, the bowl belonging to the chief of the village is usually the one passed around at the event.

Tanoa is the local name for kava bowl. It is the name used most often by Pacific Islanders. Others call it a laulau.

They are made from a single piece of wood, usually from the ifilele tree that has a reddish-brown color. Hardwood trees are the most commonly used among all the cultures. After the bowl is carved, it is soaked in water for a long while so that it doesn’t smell like wood. Tanoa are always similar in shape.

Significance of the Kava Bowl | Root of Happiness


Kava bowls are usually round or elliptical. The rims are shallow and it sits on several legs. The number of legs can range from four up to twenty or more. Some elliptical bowls do not have legs at all.

Elliptical bowls are usually used by families. The round and often larger bowls are used for groups at ceremonies or rituals. The round bowls were usually owned by chiefs and it was quite an honor to be drinking from them.

The bowl itself varies in size but is consistently shallow. It would be rare to find a kava bowl deeper than six inches.

A suspension lug is seen on all kava bowls. It rests between a pair of legs and usually forms a “v” shape or a “t” shape. Legs are short, measuring up to four inches. The legs are usually larger at the top and narrow at the bottom.

Holes are often drilled in the suspension lugs that allow a cord or some kind to be strung through two holes. This cord is used for hanging the bowl in between uses.

Carvings and Decorations

Kava bowls used by natives are simply made, without carvings and decorations. When the islanders realized tourists wanted the more ornate versions, the native islanders capitalized and began producing colorful, decorated bowls to sell to tourists.

Originally, tourists were charged by the number of legs on the kava bowl. In more modern times, kava is consumed using a variety of cups and bowls. However, wooden bowls are still used today when drinking kava before, during or after ceremonies and rituals.

Rituals and Ceremonies

Drinking kava involves a certain etiquette, complete with chants, prayers and body movements. A prayer blessing must occur over the kava bowl and drink before consuming it. The blessings are then followed by two or more claps, which are the villager’s way of showing respect.

Those who will be drinking kava will then receive a bilo, or a brown cup made from the shell of a coconut.

Often, the leaders of the village will drink first and then pass the kava to the next person. Each person will clap and say, “Bula” before they drink and clap several times after they take a drink.

Kava is consumed before important ceremonies and events. Most believe kava is a spiritual symbol, allowing those who drink kava to be able to communicate with the spirit gods. There are many who debate this theory, however, saying that it calls up demons instead.

During the preparation of the kava, dancing takes place. There may also be dance like movements performed by what some call the protectors of the Tongan royal family.

Kava traditionally has been known as a drink that brings people together socially and for good outcomes. It represents the resolutions of problems, seeking peace to restore goodwill among all.

Complimentary Tools

The kava bowl is often accompanied by a cup and a strainer. The strainer is used after mixing water and kava root powder to gather the liquid remains of the mixture. The cup is often made from the shell of a coconut and is used to scoop kava mixture into the bowl.

These can be substituted with more modern-day utensils, or you can purchase kava in ready to use mixes supplied by wholesalers.

Suppliers and wholesalers can also supply you with a modern bowl. If you are seeking a used, well-worn bowl, you may have to search online for antiques and collectibles. Traditional style strainer bags and coconut shell cups can also be found for sale online.

Kava making would not be as important without the kava bowl. It is this bowl that holds the liquid that represents the meaning behind each ceremony or ritual.

The kava bowl is just as necessary as the actual kava root used to form the liquid stored in the bowl. Of course, anyone can drink kava from any type of vessel. But the traditional methods of drinking kava clearly value the use of the bowl.

The bowl has changed over the last three thousand years. From a simple hand-carved wooden bowl to plastic or metal, they have adapted for the times. While you can still purchase traditional style bowls, most people today opt for modern drinking cups.

The key behind the kava bowl is the sharing that takes place among all men and women participating in the ritual. It is the camaraderie, the connection and the gathering of a group where everyone wants to feel happy and sociable.

The kava bowl, because it is passed around and shared, helps people make that connection and begin spreading cheerful good will for all.