Sunday, December 7, 2014

An insight into Yaqona drink of Fiji-Ceremonial or psychotropic?

Thanks to our Prime Minister the traditional Kava drink of Fiji became an international sensation. Though countries in the EU and some others have banned its entry into their countries because of safety issues, this was being consumed for centuries by polynesian people especially Fijians as a ceremonial drink for celebrations, relaxation and social bonding. It is true that the active ingredient in the roots of Yaqona or Kava plant, a cousin of black pepper, contains about 15% Kavalactone, effect of which has not been exhaustively studied but circumstantial evidence shows it has not caused any major health problem during centuries of its use by the local population. The drink is prepared by grinding the root of mature plant of 4-5 years old and the resultant slurry is consumed straight which gives a unique taste requiring much acclimatization to be accepted easily. The reported consumption of this drink by Indian PM was widely reported and here are excerpts.     

"When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was presented a coconut shell cup with an "intoxicating" Fijian drink after an elaborate traditional welcome ritual performed by men wearing grass skirts in Suva last month, he did not hesitate but quaffed the contents in one straight gulp - as per local tradition. Mr Modi was presented the yaqona or kava, a traditional non-alcoholic drink prepared from the pulverised root of a plant from the pepper family (Piper methysticum, Piper: Latin for "pepper", methysticum: Latinised Greek for "intoxicating"). The muddy-coloured liquid is said to have a tingly numbing effect on the tongue.  (Piper methysticum, Piper: Latin for "pepper", methysticum: Latinised Greek for "intoxicating"). The muddy-coloured liquid is said to have a tingly numbing effect on the tongue. The yaqona ceremony has great significance in Fiji where old customs still prevail. Turning down an offer to drink a bowl of yaqona - that is said to have "narcotic effect" - is considered insulting in Fijian society."

Though it numbs the tongue when consumed, its effect on brain is not considered significant. It is said the preparation can be considered a narcotic but the common perception is that it is not. Some reports indicate that higher levels of consumption can make one immobilized with the muscles affected temporarily though the person who drank will be perfectly conscious of his surroundings. As Yaqona is a cocktail of many organic chemicals with potential biochemical value, considerable effort is needed to unravel its mysteries through scientific research. Since India has a very cordial and close relationship with Fiji, there can be collaborative studies between the scientific institutions of the two countries.


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