Hidden in the mix of bars and timeshare gimmicks that make up Downtown Kona sits Kanaka Kava. Every weekend the Kava Man and farmily members preserve the traditional Hawaiian culture of Kava while simultaneously assimilating it in to our modern world. “It’s [Kava’s] roll is similar to what it was in the olden days. But, it’s more spiritually embraced by all cultures. The free thinkers, people who don’t want to drink alcohol, anti-establishment types, anti-government types.” Zack, the Kava Man, focuses on sharing Kava with all those who encounter it’s calming allure through his Kava Bar and farm.
“Kava is both a plant and beverage,” shares Zack, “the beverage is a negotiation ediquit essential to Polynesian government and spirituality.” The beverage is made from the roots of the plant. It leaves one feeling relaxed. Almost as if they had taken a muscle relaxer with out the high risk of dependency and addiction. “It’s important culturally to the Hawaiians. But, the kava bar tends to be a mixing place too. People come because they want to be social and relax but keep their health good.”
The Kava Man plays an essential part in Kava’s past and present existence. “Traditionally the kava man was an etiquette person. Say you’re visiting with the chief, the Kava Man would make sure it’s done properly. He’d prepare kava. A lot of people call the Kava Man a spiritual priest type but, it’s more about etiquette. Now a days I believe my role as a Hawaiian Kava Man is not to govern but to make sure people drinking kava get along together. Not just today, but tomorrow, and outside the kava bar. When people aren’t getting along I try and leverage the love of the kava bar to solve issues and change people’s minds.” Kava has commonly been viewed as a negotiating tool.
Alexis, who has been working intimately with the Polynesian plant since September 2015, noted “It’s about bringing people together and showing them how to communicate. We even need cooperation to get the root out of the ground. It takes the whole group, no one can do it by themselves.”
The Kava culture doesn’t start or end with the bar. Tucked away on the Hamakua coast in Honoka’a is P’u’ala Farm. P’u’ala is Hawaiian for ‘Fragrant Hill’. Zack established the farm and live in community seven years prior to opening Kanaka Kava. “We got our land back from the sugar cane company in 1991. When we moved to the farm we wanted to grow Hawaiian medicinal plants, organically. Kava was the one most people had interest for…We grew all the medicinals but focused on Kava, Noni, and the Indian plant Neem.” Kava is a slow growing plant. It takes 2-5 years to reach maturity for harvest and requires partial shade to grow.
Alexis, Co-Farm Manager with partner Jason gave special insight saying, “The plant can’t reproduce on its own, it relies on its connection with the humans to be propagated.” With out communal effort and interactions with humans, Kava would not still be present in modern Hawaiian culture. “The farm itself is a place for people to go and learn and communize around the plant. Kava needs livin type workers so people find their way to the Kava Farm and then they change and grow and heal. A lot of people who are looking for themselves go to other farms and find they’re spiritually empty. The people running it don’t share and aren’t offering a real living situation. That’s so western style. Our Kava farm is more Polynesian style. We share and eat together. We don’t always strive for profit, maybe we should, but our other life things take presidency.”
There is no farm or bar on all of Big Island that can compare to the loving and healing environment that the Kava Man has been nurturing for 22 years. When people gather around Kava, whether it be the plant or beverage, their own roots grow deeper into the Hawaiian soil. It offers a deeper understanding of oneself and their surroundings.
Kanaka Kava is located open everyday 11am to 10pm. Located downtown Kona.