Apia, Independent Samoa - (map)
We walked around the vegetable market on our last full day in Samoa. On a whim, I purchased a carved multi-legged wooden kava bowl. Once I bought that, I decided to buy some kava to match. I picked up something that I found out later was definitely NOT kava and asked the quiet man behind the counter, "Is this kava?" In the true Samoan way of pleasing he simply answered, "Yes."
I brought it back to the hotel, held it in the air, and asked the Samoan woman that worked there how to make it. She choked and almost laughed herself to death at what I thought was kava - apparently the straw-like substance is used to make coconut cream and is used as a loofa. I'm quite sure her whole village knew the story about the stupid American by nightfall.
The drink made from ground kava root, or 'ava as they say here, is used in Samoan kava ceremonies. In a traditional ceremony, men seat themselves in an oval and place the specially made bowl at one end. A ceremonial virgin then filters the ground cumin-looking powder with water until the chief signals that the brew has reached its proper strength. At that time, the chief dips half a coconut shell into the muddy looking water and passes it to each participant. The ceremony can be a brief ritual before a government meeting or an hours-long ritual of a boy meeting his future father-in-law.
Kava has several active ingredients and according to the Lonely Planet guide, "...is both an anaesthetic and analgesic, high in fibre, low in calories, and serves as a mild tranquilizer, an antobacterial and antifungal agent, a painkiller, a diuretic, and appetite suppressant." In case you are wondering, it is legal to use in both North America and Europe.
I eventually bought the "right" kava in the market and hosted a makeshift kava ceremony at the Outrigger. Unfortunately, the wood stain on my kava bowl ran down the sink when I washed it. The bowl still looked fine, but we decided the neon yellow plastic salad bowl might make a safer alternative. Of course, we filled it with bottled water! After our Samoan friend at the hotel stopped laughing, she helped us prepare the rest.
We poured the kava powder into a cloth and wrapped it into a golf ball sized tea bag. After repeatedly dunking and wringing the kava by hand, the clear water became muddy enough to drink.
We gathered around the white picnic table in the kitchen and placed the yellow bowl in the center. Using a coffee cup I found in the sink, I solemnly filled five wine glasses full of the brackish brew. We all yelled cheers and drank the bitter root down.
In a good faith effort to explore and describe the effects of kava, we had a few more glasses. Well, many more. And how did I feel? I had a slightly numb mouth and I felt a little spacey, but the effect was short lived and was no stronger than the effect of drinking a beer.
The things I do for TheTravelYear!