Edmond Fehoko featured his research on kava and the faikava experience, which he completed in 2014, in a new report on the world drug perception problem by The Global Commission on Drug Policy.
The report looks at how perceptions of drugs and people who use them have led to stigmatising, rather than a realistic approach to drug policy, Stuff NZ reports. The Commission comprises 25 members, including former Prime Minister Helen Clark.
There is a lot of research on kava from health, agricultural and medicinal perspectives, but “no one has explored the social, cultural importance of it”, Fehoko says.
Born in New Zealand, of Tongan heritage, Fehoko went to his first kava circle at 14. Now he’s trying to change the view that kava circles aren’t a “waste of time,” but a space for cultural affirmation.
Kava circles spaces ‘reduced the amount of alcohol consumption and youth gang affiliation’ among young boys.
“The kava space became a hub where I was able to revitalise and maintain a sense of cultural identity in New Zealand,” he says.
“There about 50 to 100 kava clubs in South Auckland alone. In Auckland, you’re looking at almost 20,000 kava drinkers a weekend.”
From his study, he found that the “kava space became an epistemological site”.
“What I found was Tongan knowledge was created from these circles. They are supplementary to homes and churches.”
Drawing parallels between tea parties and coffee breaks, he says it’s the socialisation that people go for.
“It’s not the beverage that we go for, it’s the socialisation, and having the space to wind down and talk about things that you wouldn’t usually share anywhere else. It’s very therapeutic.”
These spaces had “reduced the amount of alcohol consumption amongst young boys and also reduced youth gang affiliation. These boys attended this kava space as a means to get away from social issues like alcohol, gangs, and drugs”.
Kava circles also help bridge the communication gap between generations.
“You’ll never see violence, anger or frustration … the kava circle creates harmony between the younger generation and the elders,” he says.
Fehoko encourages teenage Pasifika males to socialise in kava circles and also encourages parents to take their children along.
Fehoko is a former student of Kelston Boys’ High School and is currently doing his PhD in Public Health at Auckland University of Technology with research in gambling among Pacific people.