This article focuses on kava (Piper methysticum G. Forst, Piperaceae) in its various forms: plant, beverage, medicine, and dietary supplement. Specifically, I examine a relatively unexplored dimension of kava's use: the ways in which both the form and the use of kava are changing as it is introduced into new and different cultural contexts. Kava's popularity outside Oceania has led to changes in how and why it is used, as well as transformations in the form in which people consume it. The best known of these is the manufacture of kava-containing pills and tinctures, which are marketed for treating anxiety and depression in Western countries. But kava is also undergoing a transformation into an alcohol-like recreational analogue, and it is being incorporated into a range of food products. In this article, I first seek to document some of these transformations and to describe the contexts into which kava has been introduced. Second, I analyze these transformations and attempt to frame them within larger discourses about medicines, recreational intoxicants, and notions of authenticity and exoticism. Finally, I speculate about the future face of kava. The collapse of demand for kava for use in dietary supplements provides a second chance for kava growers and wholesale distributors to consider how they want kava to be represented and sold to the wider world. The article's conclusion outlines some of the ongoing efforts to shape this future, while highlighting some of the lessons that might be learned by considering the problems associated with the previous kava boom.


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pp. 233-265
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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