Mānoa Heritage Center




Piper methysticum

Polynesian Introduction

ʻAwa is made into a traditional drink used to relax people and help them sleep, especially if they have a fever. ʻAwa is a drink presented during social gatherings, important ceremonial rituals as well as a medicine. ‘Awa or kava is derived from the roots and bottom portion of the stem. The traditional methods of preparing the pulp include chewing, pounding with rocks, and abrading with pieces of rough coral.

ʻAwa is used in religious, spiritual, and chiefly ceremonies in Hawaiʻi and across Polynesia. Hawaiian kahuna use ʻawa to evoke spiritual power and historically prepare for battle. The drink opens communication channels with others and with the elements. ʻAwa is a sedative, used as a sacred plant for prayer, as well as appreciated during social occasions. 

As a medicine, the drink is prepared from the roots and used to treat weary muscles, chills, colds, headaches, lung and other respiratory diseases such as asthma, diabetes, and rheumatism.

To make feverish young children go to sleep, the leaf buds are chewed by the mother and then shared with the child. ʻAwa can also be used during teething and rituals during weaning.