By: Matthew Masifilo
My father, Etika Masifilo, was born and raised in the village of Ha'atu'a (Kolo Maile) on the island of 'Eua, Tonga. The Kava grown on 'Eua are some of the most sought after Kava in the Polynesian community. The geography of 'Eua is what makes the island and it's Kava different from any other. 'Eua is the tallest island in the Kingdom (over 300m) and one of the oldest in the South Pacific (some estimate over 40 million years old). As the island itself is not volcanic but the result of tectonic plates rubbing together, 'Eua has had millions of years to develop its rainforest and fertilize its soil with ash from nearby volcanic eruptions. This makes 'Eua one of the most ideal locations on earth for growing Kava. With such limited space on the island (only 11 miles long and 4 miles wide), the Kava of 'Eua brings value to some that money can't buy.
(Above) Overlooking a Kava farm on the southern slope of 'Eua, Tonga
It was here that my father grew up and like many, dreamed of a greater education and a life in the United States. With hard work and the support of the 'Eua community, he made his dream come true and moved to the United States to attend college in the early 1980's. Since then he has been a part of an ever growing community of Tongan immigrants that have added to the melting pot of American culture.
A big part of the Tongan culture that carried over is the ritual of drinking Kava. In the village of Ha'atu'a (Kolo Maile) you'll find an appreciation for the very simple things in life. Materialistic things are not of much use in this self sustaining village. Water is collected from tin roofs for drinking and food is farmed on the land. The one prized possession though is Kava. Every night after a long days work, most men gather in the town hall to drink Kava, sing church music, discuss village politics and relax. If Kava is not in demand to be consumed by the village, it is sold to fund school for the children, weddings and funerals.
While much has not changed on the island of 'Eua, the Tongan culture in America changes with every generation. In our case, how Kava is consumed. Growing up in Hawaii, I remember watching my father sit in a circle and drink Kava with his friends on many occasions. When I started to drink Kava in my early teens, I started off mimicking the ways of him but soon tailored it to my American born interests. This included listening to music, watching TV, or playing video games. Since then, my use of Kava continues to evolve. As a professional athlete, most of my Kava consumption these days take place in the locker room with teammates after a long week of practice.
Stories of my father's past and the evolving Tongan culture in America are big reasons for starting this company. Generations will pass by and cultures will get intertwined, but Kava will always be there linking a rich cultural past to an unforeseen future.