Hawai'i: October 2007 Archives

Jonny Hogg has written a very interesting article regarding the tension between the environment and tourism development in Mauritius. It's a good snapshot of how the Indian Ocean island nation is caught between economic sustainability and conservation - a dilemma facing countless islands throughout the world.

I traveled to Micronesia in June and July of this year to visit Seacology projects on Kosrae, Chuuk, Yap and Palau. I was struck by the fact that those islands are relatively unspoiled largely due to their remoteness - especially after overnighting in Honolulu, which was particularly depressing and full of island development "don'ts." After the decline in tourism from the US and Asia, Micronesia is struggling to attract visitors to its natural wonders. So far, for the most part development has been slow and careful - too slow for many. However, Palau, with its proximity to Asia, has a fairly thriving tourism economy. The Palau Conservation Society, our project partner there, has worked to help create responsible tourism standards and have trained numerous guides regarding environmentally friendly ways to expose visitors to the nation's marine and terrestrial wonders. This sort of successful collaboration between private tourism and conservation organizations is an ideal way to safeguard the natural treasures of islands.

Polynesians share many similar cultural traits, from language and music to family structure. One of the most sacred of Polynesian traditions, the kava ceremony, is also one of the most well-known. Tasting like a wet dish towel to my unrefined palette, kava is a relaxant which was banned in 2003 by several countries because of medical concerns. A recent push to lift that ban (Fiji Times article, September 24) and a new University of Hawai'i study (Honolulu Advertiser article by Dan Nakaso, September 22) brings kava back into the news. Despite these developments, it is the tradition of the kava ceremony that interests me most.

Kava has many names: 'ava in Samoa, 'awa in Hawai'i, yaqona in Fiji, and sakau in Micronesia. The drink is made from the ground root of the pepper plant Piper methysticum. The root, a long beige stick about 2 inches in diameter, is ground to a pulp and then massaged in a sack made from coconut fiber and mixed with water to make the juice. The drink is collected in a wooden bowl with legs and one uses a half-coconut shell to scoop the liquid.