Pacific academic talks about alcohol use

Saturday 11 September 2010 | Published in National

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Auckland University Pacific Health lecturer Dr Vili Nosa says his research on alcohol use by Niuean men in NZ reveals similarities to the drinking practices of other Pacific Islanders.

Nosa spoke at the recent Women in Sport seminar about his work and research which has focused on alcohol, tobacco and drug use.

For his PhD in Behavioural Science thesis, Nosa studied the drinking habits and perceptions of 32 Auckland-based Niuean men aged 16-64 years old to discover more about why heavy alcohol consumption is so embedded in their culture.

Nosa says he was lucky to escape the effects of New Zealand’s binge drinking culture himself – he is noted as the first Niuean to graduate with a PhD. He also has a Masters of Arts (Hons) in Sociology from Auckland University where he has lectured at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences for the past few years.

“When I did this (research) there wasn’t a lot of research and information about it so what I did was I basically looked at some of the literature that was available, I spoke to my community, and I also spoke from my own life experience – growing up in an environment where a lot of my family drank, especially my father, a heavy drinker, old school, I think he drank straight from the bottle, he didn’t mix it.”

Nosa described the history of alcohol in Niue difficult to uncover but through research he discovered that the island had a prohibition period in the early years of the New Zealand administration – only Europeans were allowed to consume alcohol. A points system had also been introduced for the purchase of a set quantity of alcohol for certain people and traditionally only those with status and power had access to it.

Nosa says against this background the Niueans migrated to New Zealand where they were introduced to a no-restrictions binge drinking culture. He says there are now fewer than 1000 still living in Niue and over 22,000 in NZ.

Many Niuean men, like other Pacific Islanders, began drinking heavily resulting in some negative impacts such as male to male and male to female violence, alcohol dependency, health problems and drink driving.

“The contemporary drinking practice is you drink until the alcohol is finished. You drink until you are drunk. There’s no such thing as having a little bit here and a little bit there and leaving it for later – not like the palangis do – so that’s quite common.”

A lust for alcohol is also matched by a lust for large amounts of food at cultural functions and celebrations, says Nosa.

“I think that’s quite pertinent to many Pacific cultures – that alcohol is a very important part of our culture.

“It’s very hard for us to exclude alcohol. In terms of where women and children are present, often men have a little bit of respect where they go in the garage or they go out and drink from the boots of the cars.”

Positives were few, but alcohol consumption was viewed by the sample group as a stress reliever and a confidence booster.

Nosa suggests education and public health strategies, programmes that fit a culture, mass media campaigns and good role models could help combat the problems created by the Pacific drinking culture.

Nosa is in Rarotonga on sabbatical – staying with his brother and his sister-in-law Tuaine Monga and their eight children.

“So I have a personal connection to this country. I came here last year for the Pasifika Medical Association conference – and this is my second visit. It’s a very beautiful country and very similar to where I’m from back in Niue.”

He is also meeting with local health officials such as public health’s Dr Rangi Fariu as part of his work on tobacco research.