The Legend of Kava

Pacific folklore has long associated the discovery of kava with sexual scenes. The most famous folktale concerning the origin of cultivated kava is the one that I'll now recount.

Long, long ago, on one of the islands in what is now Vanuatu, in the early days of the first ancestors, two sisters went out into the forest to gather wild yams for food. After collecting a large basketful, the women walked to the shore where they could wash the dirt off the yams and scrape off their peels. The sisters squatted by a tide pool at the water edge and began to clean the yams.

Totally unknown to them, a voyager from a nearby island had only days before secreted a special kava plant among the rocks at the water's edge, at the very spot where they were now working. While the two sisters cleaned their yams, the hidden kava plant sprouted a fresh green stalk that reached up and into the vagina of one of the women. Naturally, she was greatly surprised. She felt the tickling of the plant within her, which caused pleasurable sensations throughout her body.

"Oh, my sister," she called out. "What is the agent of my excitement?" Her sister saw with surprise that a fresh shoot of kava was the stealthy agent of the other's sudden happiness. Clearly, this was no ordinary kava plant. They carefully removed the kava from where it had been hidden, wrapping it in a length of wet coconut fiber. The sisters brought the kava plant back home, where they planted it in their garden and tended it secretly for several years.

At that time, men drank kava made only from the roots of wild plants found in the forest and mountains. Sometimes the kava was pleasing, and it made the men feel relaxed and happy. But at other times the wild kava made them dull and caused their heads to ache. One day, when the special kava plant tended by the sisters was mature, the women dug up some of the root and presented it to the men at the kava drinking ground. "Try this," advised one of the sisters. "This is the true kava. If you drink from this kava, you will never drink wild kava again. This kava will give you the greatest pleasure."

The men were pleased at this idea and commenced to prepare the kava. For this task, they summoned a female virgin from the village. She was young and had dark eyes that would make a man feel carried away as if in a dream. She sat upon broad banana leaves and chewed the kava root very carefully, until the root in her mouth was mashed into a soft, moist pulp. She then spat the pulp gently onto palm fronds.

After she made several piles of mashed kava in this manner, the girl placed the kava into a wide wooden bowl and added water. She worked the mashed kava in the water thoroughly with her hands until the liquid became the color of muddy water. Then she strained the kava twice through coconut fiber, poured the drink into coconut shells, and offered it to the men for their pleasure.

The men lifted their coconut shells and drank, one after another, until all had partaken of the kava. Soon they were smiling broadly with great happiness. They laughed and conversed with one another for a long time, forgetting all their cares. The men agreed that the kava cultivated by the sisters was indeed the true kava. And so it came to pass that since that time, kava has been prepared from plants grown in gardens and plots, and the men always chose it over wild kava.

Excerpted from "Psyche Delicacies" by Chris Kilham.