The Abandoned Narcotic: Kava and Cultural Instability in Melanesia
Ron Brunton revives a problem posed by the great anthropologist W. H. R. Rivers in History of Melanesian Society (1914): how to explain the strange geographical distribution of kava, a narcotic drink once widely consumed by south-west Pacific islanders. Rivers believed that it was abandoned by many people even before European contact in favour of another drug, betel, drawing his speculations from the ideas of the diffusionist school of anthropology. However, Dr Brunton disagrees. Taking the varying fortunes of kava on the island of Tanna, Vanauta, as his starting point, he suggests that kava's abandonment can best be explained in terms of its association with unstable religious cults, and not because of the adoption of betel. The problem of kava is therefore part of a broader problem of why many traditional Melanesian societies were characteristically highly unstable, and Dr Brunton sees this instability as both an outcome and a cause of weak institutions of authority and social coordination.
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List of illustrations and tables page
traditional ritual and contemporary
the development of secular patterns
List of references
abandoned appear areca betel bowls Brunton Canberra chapter Christian cultural distribution of kava drink kava drinkers Dutton European contact evidence explain Fiji ginger Gogodala Gregory and Peck Guiart hamlets Hebrides ibid informants Irakik island John Frum Kamula kastom kava and betel Kava cognates kava drinking kava ritual kava was drunk kawa Kiwai Kolopom kouatkasua Landtman languages Lapita lauanu Lebot Lenakel Madang Madang Province Melanesia Miklouho-Maclay mission missionaries moieties myth Nevermann niko nikoviaar nukulu occur Oceania Pacific Linguistics pagans Papua New Guinea Paton personal communication Piper betle Piper methysticum Piper species Piper wichmannii plant Polynesia Ponape possible post-contact Presbyterian psychoactive Quarterly Jottings Rangi Hiroa referred region religious restrictions Riesenfeld Rivers root Serpenti social Solomon sorcery southern New Guinea specific suatu suggest taboo Tanna Tanna Law Tannese Tikopia timavha told Tonga traditional Vanuatu W. H. R. Rivers women words for kava yeniniko yeremira yimwayim