I've posted on kava before, but somebody from Orato Media contacted me about doing a story for their website Orato.com, so here it is.
It's online here!
Headline: Small Hut, Big Issues
Byline: Much ado about roots.
By Derek Adams
Down in the sleepy little town of Adelaide, South Australia; there's a little inconspicuous shop that's been running for 6 years in between a laundromat and a nightclub, replete with a small sign out the front titled "The Hut".
It's a laid back bar in the central business district, with a few old sofas, guitars, bongos, board games and some sand on the floor out the back. The kind of place where 'everybody knows your name'.
There is however a key difference; they do not serve alcohol.
What they do serve is a ceremonial drink from the Pacific Ocean cultures called Kava.The way Kava is traditionally served is a brownish, watery liquid that's comprised of ground up roots of the Kava plant. It's an unusual tasting beverage; somewhat bitter by itself and it leaves an odd numbing effect on the tongue. It doesn't appear that appetizing to the casual observer or even first time drinker; the taste is an acquired one,however the effects are very relaxing. It's similar to a mild sedative after enough ingestion. It's mellowing enough that it's recommended for those with anxiety. It's a chill-out drink which traditionally is drank socially.
Before you can order any kava for the first time, you're presented with a very generic warning which the owner assures you they have to show. The warning says to use kava in moderation, kava may cause drowsiness and that the sale and distribution of kava in Australia is subject to the national code of kava management, and that you have to be over 18 to purchase it. There is also another warning saying not to drink kava if you're pregnant.
Pretty standard fare in this day and age, more warning than they have to
display for alcohol.
I can tell you that after some kava, I often sleep very well.
I, along with many locals have been frequenting this place for about 5 years happily drinking kava oblivious to any broader issues in regard to the drink.
Until in June this year I heard on the radio: "Due to the crackdown on child sexual abuse and substance abuse in remote Indigenous communities, All kava importation licences have been revoked". This came as a shock to the owner of the kava hut, whom had heard of the ban only 2 days after it had come into effect which she reported to me when I interviewed her.
Kava has a rocky history dating back some 20 years in Australia. In the early 1980's kava was introduced to Indigenous communities in the hope that it would challenge alcohol consumption. Unfortunately it appears this failed and it became another abused substance. In the mid 1990's Kava became a "prohibited botannical" and a black market emerged worth an estimated 8 million in 1997, to combat this, in 1998 the kava management code was created which allowed government monitoring of kava and licences to be applied for.
In 2002 there was a fatality following a kava-containing medicine, this resulted in a voluntary removal of all kava containing medicine from the marketplace.
According to the Theraputic Goods Administration They had been closely following international concerns over deaths associated with medicines containing kava and liver failure. However, the TGA's fact sheet notes that "The forms of kava used traditionally by Pacific Islanders and by some aboriginal communities are NOT believed to be associated with the serious forms of liver damage".
This is exactly what people in Indigenous communities, ceremonial practioners and those who frequent kava outlets in capital cities indulge in.
Kava has been thrown into the fray of a long running national issue;
substance(s) abuse in Indigenous communities. There is no quick fix for the issue and Indigenous
leaders are more concerned with the military entering their communities.
There are some exceptions to the importation ban though, medical/scientific use as well as two kilos can be brought back into Australia for personal use. This is a small attempt to understand the cultural use of kava by people of South Pacific islander descent with no consideration for any others.
So it's not illegal to have kava on your person or drink it, it's just practically impossible to obtain now. There has been no consultation with those with a licence to import kava, and thousands of Australians have been denied the chance to have a relaxing drink of their choice.
The government had the authority to do it under existing legislation, so it was done.
The politics around this move on kava are up for speculation really, but nobody would disagree that it is in response to the Little Children are Sacred report, A report comissioned in 2006 into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse which amongst many other things, details how drug abuse is a contributing factor.
However of the 4 times kava is mentioned in the report, it has been in relation to the cost of purchase (equated to $100 for a small bag) which would not have been from a licenced source, there are no reccomendations within the report which specifically mention kava, in fact cannabis use is recommended to be the main focus of a multi-faceted approach.
The military can't stay up in the Northern Territory forever to police the matter, and the police force is already thin on the ground. A large black market formed last time kava was banned and as such this move will only take away from the household budget of the people whom can least afford it, remote Indigenous Australians.
This year is an election year in Australia and due to the relatively little amount of knowledge in the public arena regarding Kava, I have seen no political party come to its aid. The Kava Hut has started a
petition and a letter writing campaign to re-institute licences for non-medicinal/scientific purposes and support is growing by the day.
it's on Orato.com, check it out here!
Update 12/10/2007 - made a few suggested edits (actually added more detail) - will add photo later.
Update 4/01/2014 - good lord this is old now but unfortunately still very relevant :(. The orato links no longer work as that content farm is basically kaput, this is the only copy left. Here's a government source that says the kava changes were due to 'concerns of kava abuse in indigenous communities'