Origins of Kava Tonga
“The Origin of Kava” from Tongan Myths and Tales by Edward Winslow Gifford, 1924
Told by Malakai Lavulo, of Pangai, Lifuka island, Haapai.
This is the story of how kava grew.
It is said that there was once a chief called Loau, whose ancestors resided in Lifuka, and for whom the district of Haaloau in Lifuka is named. It is said that his dwelling had eight enclosures or fences and that a great number of people lived there.
Whilst Loau resided at Haamea, a man called Fevanga paid a visit to Loau. The name of Fevanga’s wife was Fefafa. After residing some time with Loau, Fevanga told him that he would like to go to Eueiki to see his relatives and that he would soon return again. To this the chief agreed.
Fevanga went to the island of Eueiki and stopped there with his wife. They had a daughter who was a leper. Time went on and still Fevanga tarried in Eueiki. Loau missed Fevanga and finally decided to go to Eueiki himself, so he had his dependants prepare for the voyage. A large rowing canoe (tafaanga) was launched and away they went to Eueiki. They arrived there at dusk. Loau ordered that the canoe be carried to Fevanga’s home and put close to a large kape plant (Arum costatnm), with the outrigger on top of the kape.
Fevanga came down to greet his visitors and they responded, saying: “Happy to see you in good health in this island.” Loau sat down with his back to the big kape, whilst Fevanga searched for food. Fevanga’s search was not fruitful, for Eueiki was suffering from famine at the time. Nevertheless, he fired his earth oven and at the same time suggested to Loau that, if he would not mind going down to the beach, he would find it cooler there. Fevanga was desirous that Loau should move in order that he might dig up the kape plant to roast.
After Loau had accommodatingly removed to the beach, Fevanga dug up the big kape plant and put it in the oven. He then killed his leperous daughter and roasted her together with the kape. Shortly after Loau and his men returned, the oven was opened, and the food set before Loau. Loau issued orders that the head of Fevanga’s unfortunate daughter be cut off and buried in one place, while the body was to be buried in another place. Loau told Fevanga to take notice that two plants would grow from the head and that he was to care for them. Farewells were said and Loau returned to Tongatabu.
Fevanga remained in Eueiki to care for the plants, as it was his duty to take them to Loau in Haamea when they had reached maturity. They proved to be kava and sugar cane. He watched them carefully and, one day when they were nearly full grown, he saw a rat gnawing the kava. After eating the kava, the rat chewed the sugar cane. All the Tongan people drink the kava and eat the sugar cane, because the rat ate the kava first and then the sugar cane. Then Fevanga knew that the time had arrived to pull up the two plants and take them to Tongatabu for a meeting of the chiefs.
When Loau saw Fevanga approaching with the plants he cried: “This is the kava of Fevanga and Fefafa from Faimata. A single chief for the olovaha (i.e., the plain under side of the kava bowl which is towards the presiding chief at a kava party), and many for the apaapa (the place occupied by other chiefs at a kava party). Husk of the coconut for cleaning the kava root.” A bowl was brought and a matapule directed a person from the toua (the place occupied in a kava party by the people as opposed to the aloft, the place of the chiefs) to make kava. Coconut husks were used to gather the pieces of kava in, as it was split. Then it was given to the people sitting in the toua to be chewed. After being chewed, it was placed in the bowl, mixed, and served. Directions were issued to chop the sugar cane, which was used as a relish (the yam, banana, or other food eaten at a kava drinking ceremony) with the kava.
The place where the kava grew is still to be seen in Eueiki even unto this day.
Gifford, Edward Winslow. Tongan Myths and Tales. The Museum, 1924.