In Polynesia, kava (Piper methysticum) has been intensively cultivated for more than 3000 years. The plant is widely consumed as a sacred drink – used communally on religious, political or social occasions. It is also a constitutive element of Polynesian identity and local traditions. Both a drug and medicine, kava is a powerful sedative used in particular by priests to achieve a state of trance.
Traditionally kava roots were chewed by young virgins and then brewed in water. Today the use of powdered kava speeds up its preparation. With a modern set, such as this one from Tonga, the infusion is prepared in the large three-legged wooden bowl, called a tano’a. The beverage is then served in individual bowls, such as the coconut half-shells shown here.