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Kava as a Social Event: Kava Bars

Kava (Piper methysticum; Piperaceae) is considered sacred to some Pacific Islanders and has a long tradition as a communal drink. Because it was thought to lessen social anxiety and stress (See HC 051261-450), kava bars have become part of kava culture. Kava bars are thought to have originated in Vanuatu, and they are also found in New Caledonia. They are increasingly becoming more popular in the US. While Hawaii was the first state where kava bars could be found, Florida has surpassed them in number with the first one opening in 2002 in Boca Raton, Florida. The kava bar was originally referred to as a nakamal. They could be as rustic as a gathering under a particularly large tree or a tin-roofed shed. The nakamal is a place in a tribal village that serves as a central meeting place for men after a day's work, where they can converse and relax. Other people passing through from a neighboring village could seek refuge there overnight. In a traditional nakamal, no money is exchanged for kava. The local village people would simply dig up some of their kava and bring it to the nakamal and share it with whoever was present. In present day, kava bars are found in many of these remote villages, where they sell kava by the coconut shell. A number of more "upscale" kava bars can now be found in Vanuatu and Hawaii. Kava bars usually only serve kava drinks. However, some of the kava bars geared toward tourists and those in the US will serve variations on kava such as chocolate kava, kava chai, or kava and juice drinks. The primary purpose of kava bars has always been to provide social gathering places. Traditionally, the consumption of a kava drink is a form of welcome and is consumed in socio-political events. The importance of kava may not be so much the physical consumption of the drink as it is the psychological aspects, serving as a forum where stories can be told and jokes bantered. Part of this communal aspect has been its role in conflict resolution. Kava's reported relaxing effects and community-creating abilities have led some to say, "There are no strangers in a kava bar."

Lori Glenn,  Managing Editor