Antagonism towards kava from the western world has been interpreted a number of ways including everything from a simple misunderstanding to corporate agendas from Big Pharma. One prominent interpretation of the resistance to kava is that the resistance equates a contemporary form of racism.
Australian Attitudes towards Kava
This kind of rhetoric has especially been used in relation to Australia’s moves to ban kava. Green Left Weekly references Australia’s rule in Papa New Guinea and that Papuans were “subjected to a battery of racist laws and ordinances, including a strict curfew; a prohibition on singing, dancing, playing cards, and gambling; a ban on the consumption of alcohol and kava and staying overnight in towns; and the institution of whites-only parks, beaches, swimming pools and cinemas.”
Currently, kava is a strictly controlled substance in Australia, commercial importations are no longer allowed (except for medical or scientific purposes), and adult passengers over the age of 18 coming into Australia area allowed to bring 2kg of kava without a license or permit provided it is in their baggage. Distributors of kava are even referred to as “kava dealers” in this part of the world, and kava is completely banned in the jurisdictions of Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
The official position of Australia’s Alcohol and Drug Foundation is that “there is no safe level of drug use” and categorizes it as a depressant lumping it together with alcohol, benzodiazepines, and GHB. Reportedly, the change was “in response to concerns that the abuse of kava was contributing to negative health and social outcomes in some indigenous communities.”
Pacific Islander Resistance to Australia’s Kava Restrictions
In 2015, Australian authorities proposed a total ban of kava with Federal Indigenous Affairs minister and Northern Territory Senator Nigel Scullion saying, “We accept people practicing their culture in this country. Of course we do. But when it is perverted and redirected, and to harm our First Australians, it isn't a right, it's a privilege. But I'm an advocate unashamedly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. That's my job and I think it should be banned and I will continue pursuing it until it is banned.”
The kava restriction, partial ban, and proposed total ban have all been met with outrage and resistance from the Pacific Islander community in Australia. This sentiment was reflected by one Australian of Fijian descent who said, “We definitely deserve to have kava as part of our traditional cultural practices, even in Australia. If anything, it has been a positive influence on the Fijian community. Even the youth in Australia, as an alternative to alcohol.”
Are Australia’s Attitudes towards Kava Racist?
Kava’s long history of safe use in the Pacific Islands, the fact that it is not a narcotic, and the fact that it is a safer alternative to alcohol as well as harsher pharmaceuticals sharply contrast Australia’s harsh treatment of kava. This begs for a more in-depth conversation that will be continued in the next kava conversation!
End of Part 1/2