Kava is grown primarily for money. It is our so-called ‘green gold’. Besides, it is consumed today predominantly not for its traditional customary value, but for the sake of ‘peace’ – a false sense of peace that is packaged together with whispers of ‘wise talk’ which promises great things tomorrow, but which quickly fades away and evaporates into nothingness like thin air as the sun ushers in the dawn of a brand new day.
The lifting of the decade long German ban on kava by the German courts sometime in 2015 reached the ears of Governments and citizens across a number of kava growing countries in the Pacific like sweet, melodious music. Yes to resumed exports, and money. But the lifting of the German ban has not lifted the adverse effects of kava consumption on three critical sectors of our society – family finances, social issues and general health with observable linkages to NCDs.
The other evening a neighbouring young couple argured intensely over a 50Vt coin. The young pregnant and unwedded mother shouted out to the de factor husband, ‘where’s the 50vt coin I left here on the table this afternoon’?
The guy responded with an excuse. Eventually it became clear he had spent the 50Vt on a bowl of the green gold at a nearby dimly lit bar. A volley of swears flew across the yard like laser guided missiles from outer space. That’s just one out of thousands of chaotic homes that have suffered the brunt ofthe ‘peaceful drink’ called kava.
But nothing changes. ‘My Time’ rules. Say a consumer spends a baseline amount of 1,000vt on himself and his friends together with ‘mouth wash’ each evening, and drinks 5 days a week, that’s 5,000vt per week, which equates to at least 20,000vt per month.
He has to also take a couple of bottles of tusker as ‘kale’, and a few cigarettes to warm the helpless lungs. On average he would eventually spend around 25,000vt per month.
This is a lot of money. That’s the equivalent of a guy’s minimum wage gone down the drain without much notice as he spends to uphold the ‘My Time’ rule. The children therefore can’t go to school because there is no school fee, while dad and now mum (as the trend has been in recent years) continue the merry ride each evening into the dark shadows of the ‘nakamal’ to renew their marital commitments to ‘My Time’.
Dr Rennie Ngwele now a student specialised in Biomedial sciences and Biotechnology (leading to drug design and drug discovery) at the Melbourne Royal Institute of Technology (RMIT) confirms the fact that ‘in small quantities it produces a state of happiness and wellbeing. The drinker is never unpleasant or even quarrelsome’, but that this is all ‘euphoric’ – it creates a feeling of intense happiness for a moment but is unreal.
He continues to add that ‘kava may cause dependency.’ It is addictive. Scientific research has disproven any relationship between kava and liver toxicity.
But the social and indirect effects on people’s health still stand. Dr Griffith of the Medical Options private facility in Port Vila confirms that ‘NCDs have rapidly become our number one cause of premature deaths, let alone the number of years people and families live with a disability prior death.’ He continues, ‘the biggest risks in Vanuatu for NCDs have been, drug use (smoking and alcohol mostly), lack of physical activity and unhealthy diet. From what we know, most people smoke when they take kava. A lot go on to ‘kale’ after their kava, they fail to find time to exercise in the afternoon because they go with friends for ‘my time’ and are too hungover for the morning walk/run. Taking kava on an empty stomach and ‘washem mouth’ after kava gives low priority to preparation and consumption of 3 healthy/balanced meals daily.’
Dr Griffith warns, ‘once people are addicted to the kava habit, it’s easy to head down the NCD path given the risks associated with that lifestyle. Once they present with high blood pressure or high sugar levels the healthy lifestyle changes can be a tough challenge when kava is a personal habit. Lack of adherence to healthy diet, regular exercise, daily medications, and regular checkups has been our struggle and contribute to a lot of the early disabilities and deaths we see in our communities. He concludes, ‘health workers’ efforts fail because the lure to the ‘green gold’ can be overwhelming.’ Spare lives, hands, feet and bodies cannot be purchased off the shelf from retail shops, drug stores, supermarkets, at warehouses or even online.
Not even the best and most experienced scientists in the world can create or recreate life. Life is a Gift from God, and science knows that well.
The best science could do about life was create a robot called ‘Opportunity’ which it stationed on planet Mars in 2004 and which was declared ‘dead’ by NASA’s associate administrator for science, Mr Thomas Zurbuchen in early Feb 2019. Fifteen years of ‘life’.
That’s the best science can offer. Not good enough. In conclusion, kavaholics claim that kava helps them to be sober and puts them off to sound sleep ready for a productive new day. But nonkava drinkers (who tend to be more productive at work) find this argument utterly baseless and completely flawed as the unproductivity of quite a lot of kava drinkers is all too obvious and telling.