Kava is “pure” and without it Tongan values are worthless, Health Minister tells conference

    Without kava, Tongan cultural and social values were worthless, the kingdom’s Health Minister said.

    Dr Saia Piukala told Kaniva News last weekend that in Tonga kava made a difference in people’s lives, regardless of whether they were the king or a commoner.

    He said that within the Tongan context, kava was something pure because of its role in culture and society.

    Dr Piukala was talking to Kaniva News about a paper he read at the Pasifika Medical Health 20th Anniversary in Auckland last week in which the question was raised about whether kava was “cure or killer.”

    The theme of the conference was “Pathway to leadership is Service”.

    He said cultural values had to be part of a nation’s leadership.

    His paper stressed the importance of kava on “cultural values”, “social values” and “no values.”

    He said without kava the Tongan cultural and social values were worth nothing.

    King Tupou VI could not have become king if he had not accepted and drunk the first kava cup served to him on his appointment day.

    In Tongan this is known as “fua-kava” (first kava) which also means a covenant showing the king culturally accepted his role for the nation.

    The matāpule told the king before he drank the first kava that it represented the fonua (nation) and the people for him to look after.

    “If the king did not accept and drink his first kava he would not become the king,” Dr Piukala said.

    “It is the same thing when we come to a wedding when the bride has to drink her first kava to show her acceptance of her husband.”

    “The same thing goes to the nobility and most of the religious positions. It would not officially be announced that people hold the posts until they have drunk their first kava.”

    Dr Piukala said kava in the Tongan context was “pure.”

    “Kava brings the community together,” the Minister said.

    At a social level in the villages everyone knew where to sit in the kava circle.

    “So it helps tell the identity of everyone in the villages and we have seen how this has worked well in formulating a good society for a long, long times,” he said.

    If there was any dispute among young people or families that was hard to solve, the elderly turned to kava and brought all the parties for a fakalelei (reconciliation).

    Dr Piukala said he raised the cultural context in Tonga because he believed kava has done far more advantage than disadvantage.

    He said most of the fundraising in  which millions of dollars was sent to Tonga from overseas for churches, scholarships and community buses, came through kava fundraising.

    “Without those kava clubs raising these funds we would not know how all these millions of money could be donated,” Dr Piukala said.

    Dr Piukala said he believed there was a bad side of the kava, but that only came when it was abused.

    Some kava drinkers drank too much and could not wake up in the morning to go to work. People like this slept all day and drank kava at night.

    He rejected one of the papers read to the conference that claimed kava caused liver problems to Fijian kava drinkers.

    He said the claim lacked scientific proof and did not reflect the situation among Tonga’s kava drinkers.

    The main points

    • Without kava, Tongan cultural and social values were worthless, the kingdom’s Health Minister said.
    • Dr Saia Piukala told Kaniva News last weekend that in Tonga kava made a difference in people’s lives, regardless of whether they were the king or a commoner.
    • He said that within the Tongan context, kava was something pure because of its role in culture and society.
    • “Kava brings the community together,” the Minister said.

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