Meanings of Piper methysticum: Myths of origin

Two types: internal and external origin stories. Internal stories usually have the plant growing out of a human corpse, often a female, often from reproductive areas. Kava as a symbol of rebirth, regeneration, fertility.


Pentecost, VanuatuTonga
  • Orphan twin brother and sister on Maewo
  • Brother loved sister
  • Stranger came and asked to marry her, she refused.
  • Stranger shot her with arrow, she died.
  • Brother buried her in despair.
  • One week later, before weeds could appear, a plant appeared.
  • A year later the brother still mourned at her grave.
  • Saw rat eat at plant's roots and die. Brother though he too might eat the plant and die.
  • He ate large amounts of the roots, but instead of dying he forgot all of his unhappiness.
  • King went fishing with friend
  • No fish were caught
  • Tired and hungry, called on Eueiki to get food
  • One couple plus daughter lived there. Daughter, Kava'onau had leprosy.
  • Time of famine. No food. One large kape (taro) plant, but King was resting on it.
  • Friend saw couple hit something in house and bring it out to the uhm.
  • Told King couple had killed daughter to feed King.
  • King was deeply moved by sacrifice, ordered proper burial
  • Two plants grew, one from the head and the other from the foot
  • Rat bit first plant, staggered to second, bit it and recovered
  • Lo'au came and saw the plants, heard story, told them to take plants to King and serve him
  • The first plant (sakau) would be used to make a drink, the second would be eaten with the drink (sugar cane)

External: Tanna, Vanuatu

Sakau and death

The germinant corpse - from the dead body grows a new form of life. The unconciousness of sakau, a small death. Connected to death through funeral tributes. Sakau as a way to forget the pain and loss associated with losing loved ones.

Kava and Reproduction

Kava is often interconnected with sexual references, often to women but usually consumed by men. Origin legends often infer a connection to sensuality. The plant is mythically feminine in many cultures. Also symbolic of fertile fluids. Used as a medicine to stimulate the production of breast milk, a nurturing fluid that brings life to babies.

Kava, social uses, and sociability

Around which to talk, to discuss. On Pohnpei, a leveler and equalizer. All can listen around the stone. Often used to make peace, hold negotiations, dull the thirst for war. Socially beneficial when used in these traditional ways. Marriages asked for, etc. Tribute thanks for titles. Solution to alcohol abuse in modern times.