Kava Māori - the veins on the leaf radiate out from the base. Photo: Melina Etches/22042203
Joseph Brider the Director of the Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust, who had tremendous knowledge of plants and animals passed away suddenly on Sunday.
His colleague, former director Gerald McCormack, extended his condolences to his family and friends and paid tribute yesterday to Brider.
“He had a tremendous knowledge of local plants and animals and a talent for sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge," said McCormack. The Trust is devastated by the loss of such an enjoyable and capable director.”
Last month, Brider
delivered a presentation at the ‘Iri’iri Kapua no runga i Tuku Kaveinga Māori a
te Ui Tupuna’ workshop, led by Te Puna Marama Voyaging Foundation on the
origins of the Kava Māori plant.
Recently, Cook Islands News conducted an interview with him regarding the Kava Māori. His passion for the natural heritage of the Cook Islands environment inherited from past generations, preserved in the present, his documentation and images is a legacy he has bestowed on future generations.
So what is Kava Māori?
Today, it’s is a
rare plant and few people are known to be growing it, said Brider.
Kava Māori is a
member of the pepper family, a native plant of Vanuatu, which was introduced by
the Early Polynesians to the Cook Islands via voyagers sailing on traditional
Valued for its
stimulant and medicinal qualities, Kava Māori or Kava shrub (Piper methysticum)
is a dioecious shrub - where the male and female reproductive systems occur on
‘Piper auritum’ plant which many people on Rarotonga treasure in their gardens and have mistaken
for Kava Māori and have purposely spread around the island is not Kava Māori.
“There are ample ‘Piper auritum’ plants growing on Rarotonga which many people identify as the Kava Māori. However this is incorrect,” said Brider.
A simple way to
identify the differences in these plants is to look at where the “veins” start
radiating out from on the leaves, he said.
The Piper auritum
has veins that radiate out from the middle vein of the leaf- not from its base.
they (Piper auritum) are at their flowering stage, the flower spike points
upwards and when the flowers are pollinated in terms of fruit, they face
downwards, noted Brider.
Kava Māori is a cultivar (a cultivated variety of kava) and has soft stems that reach to about 1- 2m in height. The stems are spotted black to dark and light green with dark knobby nodes.
Brider described the
plants leaves as being heart-shaped, dull green leaves with nine to 11 veins.
radiates out from the ‘base’ of the leaf, and very rarely has a flower spike
which is upward-pointing and growing on the stem opposite a leaf. The fruit
spike never points downwards.”
In the Cook
Islands, Kava Māori does not produce seeds, Brider said. Today’s plants
represent clone cuttings taken from earlier-grown plants, possibly going right back
to the original plants, he explained
It is not known to
produce flowers and does not produce fertile seeds.
“Its absence of
flowers makes it sufficiently different from Melanesian cultivars,” Brider
speaking, the mana associated with the cultural values afforded to Kava Māori
would suggest that only our cultivar (plants that have been selected and
cultivated), should be called Kava Māori.”
The kava plant has
been used for a multitude of medicinal purposes by Polynesians for several
thousand years. It is non-alcoholic, but can be “consciousness-altering” and is
renowned for its relaxing effects and purported health benefits.
It has been said
that on the Cook Islands, kava was
culturally important and it was used for traditional ceremonies at big events such
as the opening of Rarotonga’s first airport.
To make kava, the
roots are dug up, washed, dried, shredded and mixed in water and strained, the
kava has a cloudy light muddy colour and can taste quite bitter.
missionaries did not encourage its consumption and did not appreciate its
effects on people. Over time, people preferred the effects of the beer as Kava
Maori required more effort before its benefits could be enjoyed.
“Kava is highly
domesticated and requires people to plant it. People only plant plants that
they are using, so if they’re not using kava they’re not going to plant it.
That’s maybe why we find ourselves in the position that were in today, with
Kava Māori being such a rare plant,” Brider said.
for Kava Māori are medicinal, as a sedative, muscle relaxant, menstrual relief
and diuretic cleanser; Social uses can be religious, political, economic and
The plant is a
rare find, a local woman who knows of its medicinal benefits for aches says.
She says a simple method to prepare a healing brew is to boil some leaves and
drink it like tea.
According to Brider,
the kava plant would have been brought to the Cook Islands by the Austronesians
the Lapita people, who would have taken across to Fiji, Samoa and Tonga and
from there the Polynesian voyagers would have carried it on to Eastern
A similar looking
medicinal plant is the kavakava atua, a native type - botanically a member of
the pepper family, which also feature swollen nodes.
It’s veins on each
leaf radiate out from the base (like the Kava Māori) and it has glossy green
leaves. It is also related to the New Zealand kawakawa plant.
Note: Cook Islands News extends it's condolences to Josepth Brider’s family and his partner Emily.