Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nick and the Kava Stick

August 30, 2011
To most people it looks like a stick of wood.

To Departments of Agriculture it may contain destructive insects in its which must be properly wrapped and certified pest-free before leaving Samoa.

To Customs Officials it is a drug (Piper methysicum, intoxicating pepper).

To missionaries it leads to sin and degradation.

To airline baggage handlers it is a pain in the butt.

To Samoans it is an important symbol of the Ava God, as the Peace Pipe is to American Indians.

To me it is one of the most important gifts I received in Samoa.

To the Chinese it is money worth trying to steal.

I really don't know the history behind this kava stick I was given by the village high chief during a Ava ceremony welcoming me to the Village of Tufulele before a health training session I was part of with the Ministry of Education, Sports, and Culture. I do know being offered the first cup of ava at the Ava ceremony means you are the honored person, or I have never seen one of the three sticks ever given to anyone else, or the fact that some of the ceremony was done in English for my benefit rather than in the highly formal spoken at village councils that even most Samoans do not understand. This is a very important piece of cellulose containing some great alkaloids.

So at the Honolulu airport baggage claim after customs, I set the kava stick against the wall along side of my luggage. A few moments later I see my stick moving off into the distance being carried by a well-dressed middle-aged Chinese woman. I run after the thief as she hurries away, grabbing the stick out of her hand. "What the hell?", I say to her. Since she probably does not speak English and I am too dumbfounded to say more, I just stand there in a dazed state as she disappears into the crowd.

Only a few billion people in the world understand the importance and significance of kava/ava, South Pacific islanders, China, and some Peace Corps. As for my kava stick, it needs to find a prominent spot in my Minneapolis house where it may hang until someone throws it into the fireplace on a cold winter's night and unexpectedly feels a sense of euphoria known to others for centuries.

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