‘Awa (Kava): A Polynesian Drink

Kuhao, a “professional awa-chewer,” chewed so much awa that he didn’t feel somebody bite his nose off at a hula show.

Traditional Pacific Islanders drink kava, or ‘awa in Hawaiian, as a relaxant and sedative. ‘Awa is made out of the kava shrub’s roots. Kuhao, a “professional awa-chewer,” chewed so much awa that he didn’t feel hurt when Kaapana bit his nose off at a hula show.

Traditional Pacific Islanders drink kava, or ‘awa in Hawaiian, as a relaxant and sedative. ‘Awa is made out of the kava shrub’s roots. The early settlers of Hawaii brought it over more than a thousand years ago. The ancient Hawaiians used ‘awa as a religious offering and for medical, social, and recreational purposes.

However, missionaries discouraged ancient Hawaiian practices, which included drinking ‘awa due to its connection with the ancient Hawaiian religion. In 1846, laws restricted the sale and prescription of ‘awa, which greatly decreased the consumption of ‘awa.

However, some people still cultivated and used ‘awa. For example, a stall keeper without a license gave the ‘awa as a “present” for every ten-cent purchase of apples and/or vegetables. But a judge ruled he still sold the ‘awa illegally.

Percy Waxman’s Foodie Adventures

Percy Waxman came from a family of collectors: his father–pewters, aunt–china plates, uncle–stamps, and Waxman collected “tastes.” The adventurous foodie tried exotic food and drinks still unknown to most Americans such as diamond snakes, fried octopus, and Arabian coffee. He said, “… this rather unusual form of the collecting mania from which I suffer has led me into many queer gastronomic adventures…” He drank kava (‘awa), a polynesian sedating drink, and said, “… five minutes after my first sip I was whirling through Elysian fields at one thousand miles an hour, seating in a ruby-studded monoplane made of gold and mother-of-pearl.”

Western Medicine

The 1910s saw the demand for ‘awa increase. On the mainland United States, ‘awa served as an ingredient in patent medicines. Frank Daas offered seven cents per pound of ‘awa or $140 per ton and received tons of shipments from all over Hawaii.Suddenly, people raided previously ignored ‘awa patches up on the mountains on government land. Eventually Forester Hosmer prohibited harvesting ‘awa on government land, but after a few weeks ‘awa became rare there.

– Alice Kim


Search Strategy

Keywords: kava, awa

Images on Flickr

Articles on Chronicling America

“A New Botanical Discovery: Which Will Prove a Blessing to Humanity”
The National tribune, June 11, 1896, Page 6
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82016187/1896-06-11/ed-1/seq-6/

“Nature’s Cure for the Kidneys and Bladder: and Uric Acid or Rheumatic Conditions”
The National tribune, April 5, 1900, Page 5
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82016187/1900-04-05/ed-1/seq-5/

“How Kuhao Lost His Nose: Doctors Grow a New One at the Hospital”
The Hawaiian star., July 27, 1900, Image 1
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82015415/1900-07-27/ed-1/seq-1/

“Awa Was a Present: Chinese Tried to Evade Law But Was Caught”
The Hawaiian gazette, December 23, 1904, Page 6
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025121/1904-12-23/ed-1/seq-6/

“Maui Natives Grow Opulent”
Hawaiian gazette, October 17, 1911, Page 3
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025121/1911-10-17/ed-1/seq-3/

“No Fortunes in Awa Gathering: Joy Root Neither Plentiful Nor Easy to Get from Lands of the Public”
Hawaiian gazette, November 17, 1911, Page 7
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025121/1911-11-17/ed-1/seq-7/

“Samoan Ceremonials”
Charlevoix county herald., January 25, 1913, Image 6
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn96076839/1913-01-25/ed-1/seq-6/

“Dishes I Have Tasted Once”
New-York tribune, July 30, 1916, Page 4, Image 36
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030214/1916-07-30/ed-1/seq-36/

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