Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Who needs a drug-free Olympics?

It was marvellous to see Fiji beat the Poms and win a first gold medal for the Pacific last week in Rio. It was even better to see the Fijians celebrate their triumph by drinking yaqona (or kava, as it is known in this part of the Pacific) in front of thousands of spectators. We've heard a lot about the necessity of disentangling drugs from the Olympics, and athletes in Rio have endured all sort of peculiar tests for traces of substances deemed illegitimate by the guardians of their sports. Curiously, though, nobody seemed to object to a group of gold medallists consuming a venerable narcotic in full view of fans and cameras. 
Kava, it seems, is a drug that can hide in plain sight. A couple of years ago demonstrators up and down New Zealand demanded, and eventually got, a ban on the sale of synthetic cannabis. Our media covered the debate over synthetic pot in great detail, visiting the shops were the stuff was sold and interviewing various users in various states of health. But neither the campaigners against drugs nor the advocates for synthetic pot nor the media ever seemed to notice that scores of ordinary corner dairies in south and west Auckland sell bags of an imported, completely unregulated narcotic every day. Kava is used by many members of Auckland's huge Pacific Islands community, and by a few palangi who have discovered its pleasant effects. 
I suspect that the protesters and the media ignore kava because it doesn't fit some of the stereotypes they hold about recreational drugs. Kava users don't end up holding up dairies or begging outside the Warehouse for money to buy another fix. They do not seclude themselves shamefacedly from the rest of society when they enjoy the drug. Kava drinking is an activity that ornaments rather than disrupts lives. 
I hope that the Fijians' very public endorsement of kava will prompt greater interest in the drug outside the Pacific. I can't help thinking that regions like Europe and the Middle East would be better off if their populations took to ingesting some of the drug at the end of the day. Kava relaxes its users without addling their brains, and makes them sociable yet not voluble. It is not surprising that Melanesians often use the drug in ceremonies designed to settle disputes and ameliorate bad feelings. Imagine how much more pleasant the bars and streets of Bolton or Scunthorpe would be at two o'clock on a Saturday morning, if punters had been drinking kava rather than lager. Picture how much more smoothly Middle East peace negotiations might proceed,if they were held around a bowl of kava.
I wrote a little about the kava culture of Tonga here
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

give it to whitey and he'll find some way to misuse it, either shooting it up or sticking it up his arse: https://drugs-forum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=165732

7:02 pm  
Anonymous Ryan Bodman said...

Hey Scott,
Interesting blog, though I figure, from comments like 'Kava drinking is an activity that ornaments rather than disrupts lives', you haven't made it to Vanuatu yet. Their kava is fierce, so tread carefully when you do get there. A night at a nakama in Vanuatu is more akin to a night on the turps, than a few quiets with friends. I think the strength of the ni-Vans kava is a reflection of how they brew it directly from the root of a fresh plant, rather than using the dried root, which is popular amongst Tongans and Fijians.
Cheers, Ryan.

11:02 am  
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5:35 pm  
Anonymous Scott Hamilton said...

Thanks for the warning Ryan: I'm going to Vanuatu next month! I've heard stories from Tongans about the strength of ni-Van kava, and also about the solitary way some ni-Vans drink. I'm not sure if this solitariness is the pattern across the whole archipelago, though. There are some great stories about the role of kava in the creation of ni-Van poetry - some ni-Van peoples apparently buried their poets in sacred clearings in the forest, so that future generations of composers would drink kava in these clearings and be inspired!

9:25 am  
Blogger Richard said...

I tried kava in Fiji and the effect was more or less a little narcotic of numbing. I was about 25 when I went there and I didn't drink so I avoided non-prescribed drugs. It was interesting to taste but didn't endear me much. But Fiji in 1973 or was it (74? I forget) was quite fascinating. We stayed free in the University of the South Pacific (it was arranged as my ex wife knew someone at the Auckland University) and while the meals were nothing much it was so hot it didn't matter.
I have to say that, as usual my resistance was to going anywhere. I am a person of comfort and routine. And I didn't really want to go to Fiji (once my wife had to persaude me that it was a good idea to go on a holiday miles from Auckland by car, and even though I was well paid in those days I had a young family I didn't want to go but enjoyed it once we went. Later I took my daughter to places such as Rotorua and New Plymouth but more recently I feel uncomfortable THINKING ABOUT traveling anywhere too far from Panmure. It is possible due, not to any philosophy, but an ancient feeling of unease or insecurity, as I am here in the very house I was brought up in. Not born in, as I was actually born in a hospital in Remuera....
But once I get to a place I quite often enjoy it. Be it a book launch in the central city, or some other place....
And it was good to see Brett when he was living by the Kaipara harbour. I believe Sam Hunt is up there somewhere these days.
From the showers as one entered frogs would slowly or quickly hop hop out, it was surreal!
Then we hired a car and toured the main Island. Later we went by boat to Ovalau where this eccentric Frenchman had a boarding house, I still have the book on the Fijian language he gave me with his name etc in it...and we ate fish and fresh vegetables or fruit prepared by his Rotuman wife and daughters.
There I borrowed some goggles and all I had to do was to wade out on the reef (I wore sandshoes to avoid the coral and or cone shells (some of which if by a long shot you get 'stung' are more venemous than snakes I think): pushing my face into the sea water with goggles reveals an incredible, unbelievably beautiful world of sea creatures (angel fish and many others).
Also on that Island thousands of crabs could be seen running along the beach.
We went to another Island where I saw a dark deltic shape which was a manta ray, not dangerous, but good for food as the Fijians ran along with spears trying to catch it.
I recall discussing with a student from (Arabia, India, or somewhere, he was Moslem) re the relations between the indigenous people and Indian and other immigrants. He seemed to think that things were good.
It was a culture shock to be there, the heat, humidity, the people all being "black" made me realise what it might be like for the reverse.

But it was an interesting experience.

11:59 am  
Blogger Richard said...

I have to say that, as I don't watch television, I forgot there was an Olympic games on. I am massively uninterested in who wins what. I once was when Snell and Halberg ran and later John Walker. I used to do a lot of jogging and once came close to winning a land race up North near Ahipara while on a holiday. I was very fit in my 20s and 30s as I ran every day as a way of "contemplating": but not competitively.
Competition is problematic for me. In addition, the olympics has become riddled with politics and "medal counting" and boasting.
"The first x to do y, the fastest p to do z." And so on.
I play chess, and competitively, and in that game only one thing matters: not whether NZ wins or someone else wins, but whether I win or lose or draw. To lose is, in fact, terrible. It is like dying without the pleasure of extinction and total annihilation!! It is just how those who lose (and mostly I lose, and most people lose most competitions they are involved in: most of those at the Olympics get "nowhere".But the question is where do they want to go?
And yet it seems an inborn thing, this drive to destroy the other bastard.

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