Checklist of Hawaiian Kava Varieties
Authors: Andrew Gerren, Michael B. Thomas, and Kawika Winter
Citation: From Winter, K. 2004. Hawaiian `Awa Piper Methysticum: A study in ethnobotany. MS Thesis. University of Hawaii at Manoa. 299 p.
Locality: Hawaiian Islands

`Awa, or Piper methysticum G. Foster, is a highly significant plant in many Pacific island societies. This is particularly true in Hawaiian culture. The plant is known by many names, examples being Kava in Tonga, Sakau in Pohnpei, and Yoqona in Fiji. The plant has a very rich history and associated cultural knowledge within each of the societies in which it is cultivated (Lebot et al. 1997). Hawai`i has lost much of its indigenous cultural knowledge since the time of European contact in 1778, because of colonization and the subsequent repercussions of the influences of foreign cultures and religions (Kame`eleihiwa 1992). `Awa has gone from being an integral aspect of daily life in Hawaiian culture (Kamakau 1991) to being nearly forgotten. It is likely that of all the indigenous cultures in the Pacific, Hawaiians are among those who have lost the most cultural knowledge pertaining to this plant (McClatchey, per. Comm. 2003). In recent years, however, `Awa has experienced a renewed popularity within Hawaiian society. Unfortunately, much of the cultural knowledge of this plant has not accompanied its revival. It is not uncommon for contemporary Hawaiians, who utilize this plant, to substitute traditions from the South Pacific in place of the traditions of the old Hawaiians. This is due to a discontinuation of `Awa traditions within the majority of Hawaiian families. A more complete understanding of this plant and its traditional uses is crucial if contemporary Hawaiians are to maintain a distinct cultural identity. `Awa is considered to be a “canoe plant,” or a plant that was dispersed throughout the Pacific by ancient voyagers who traveled by canoe (Abbott 1992). It has been cultivated for approximately 3,000 years (Lebot et al. 1997). Within that time it has arguably become the most heavily cultivated nonfood plant within the cultures that use it, and probably has had a large impact on the evolution of these cultures. Because of this, an immense amount of cultural knowledge of this plant has been accumulated.

`Awa Names and Descriptions
Knowing the old varietal names and descriptions will be useful in determining whether or not any of these ancient varieties are the ones being grown in the common garden. Below is a list of the names and their associated descriptions as described by the original sources.  The following is a complete list of all known varieties and descriptions.


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Families: 1
Genera: 1
Species: 1
Total Taxa: 1

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Distinguished by its short green stalks (Emerson 1903).