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Kava and witchcraft

FidjiLover

Kava Curious
I was doing some research on the ritualistic use of kava by indigenous peoples, and came across several hints of the use of kava for fortune telling, gaining magical powers, cannibalism, and witchcraft. Here are some excerpts from anthropological texts that I found:

The customary chief named Siaka from the village of Henamanu, in the southeast of Tanna Island, recounts the following myth: "Long ago the inhabitants of the island consumed only wild kava, when one day a woman from Futuna was found alone peeling her yams. She was squatting in the water when the devil took advantage the opportunity to slip a magical pebble into her vagina. As soon as she noticed it, she pulled it out and examined it. Very intrigued by the elongated shape of it and the presence of knots and buds. She immediately decided to bring it back to the village. The customary chief took possession of it and that same evening brought it to the nakamal where all the men of the village were. While they surrounded the chief to observe the stone, a devil appeared. He showed them a kava the size of a banyan tree and explained to them that it was real kava. He also said that this stone was sacred and that they should now respect it. As soon as said, they put the stone in a canoe. carved in a magical wood and sprinkled it with water. Atin, the canoe was full to the brim with thousands of identical pebbles. People flocked from all corners of the island to bring back to their villages these stones which allow them today to grow kava thanks to their sacred and magical powers.

(version collected by V. Lebot in May 1982, cited in Lebot and Cabalion 1986)

According to the explanation of the world given by the oral tradition of the island of Tanna, the first inhabitants arrived with yams, taro, breadfruit, bananas, cabbages and poultry. It was not until much later that a new canoe sent by the god Karapanemum would have arrived from the east and via the island of Futuna. She brought three new powers to Tanna in the form of magic stones: pigs, the new black magic of poisoning and kava (Bonne-maison, 1985).

In the southwest of the western province of Papua New Guinea, among the Marind-Anim, kava is said to have come from the hairs of a demon (Nevermann, 1938 after Sterly, 1967)."

Source: https://www.persee.fr/doc/jso_0300-953x_1989_num_88_1_2855#jso_0300-953X_1989_num_88_1_T1_0093_0000

"The belief in higher beings or spirits is manifested through magic or witchcraft rites. These rites are practiced by people empowered to manipulate the supernatural: mediums or clairvoyants, called" clever "in Vanuatu. magicians or wizards everywhere in the Pacific; they often use the drink in association, as a medium to get in contact with the afterlife or as an ally. Those who have these gifts, officiate for the better but also for the worse and the literature is full of allusions to witchcraft. Jealousy is frequently the primary motivatino of beggars acting through the sorcerer and among the curses noted, female sterility, miscarriages, disease and death figure prominently. place. In Vanuatu the islands of Erromango, Ambae and the north of Mallicolo are known for these occult practices ... "

"Through these white or black magical practices, the rite of kava most often appears as a sacrifice to a god in the form of libations."

"Kava would also intervene in certain ritual executions or human sacrifices. In 1929, Deacon says that in Santo, one gave kava to the widows of high-ranking men before strangling them. But the most famous case is that ... (see page 8) " On page 64, there is also the story "the appearance of the magic pebble: the real kava" which speaks "of a devil (spirit or devil)".

Source : https://www.persee.fr/doc/ilarc_0758-864x_2001_mon_29_1#ilarc_0758-864X_2001_mon_29_1_T1_0003_0000

On divination: "In the traditional culture of the archipelago, kava was used for divinatory purposes and, undoubtedly, because of its properties, for medicinal purposes by people empowered to manipulate the supernatural, priest-diviners or high dignitaries . "

"On the other hand, the conflicting relationships had rekindled certain black magic practices associated with kava-based preparations contributing to heightened suspicion and leading to a decrease in its consumption." "Communicating with the afterlife is an ancient practice reserved for diviners possessing stones and magical techniques. With" John Frumism ", more than a return of these divinatory practices, we are witnessing the development of direct dialogue between man and the hereafter. Through the brew, the kava-drinker speaks to the missing or to John's spirit and applies the messages received to the letter. "

"Another invariant concerns the relationship between women and kava, which remains strictly confined to the food space. Thus in Tanna, in the evening, they place the root at the edge of the wood which surrounds the dance place where the men brew and drink the beverage. As women attract spirits, if they crossed this line, they could compromise men's contact with the afterlife. It is said that at the end of the 19th century, a man surprising a woman at watching him prepare his drink, allegedly hit her to death with a branch of kava (Brunton, 1989). "

Source: https://journals.openedition.org/jso/6483

I would update if I find more references. Do not hesitate to add other references !
 
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FidjiLover

Kava Curious
As far as I know, Vincent Lebot is far from being a Christian missionary...on the contrary, he helped a lot to popularize the kava. It seems to me that he himself interviewed natives in the 1980s.

Another study is university I believe, and most of the authors cited for references are recent researchers (second half of the 20th century).

It seems to me that cannibalism in Vanuatu and Fiji is not questioned. It even seems to me that in Vanuatu, this practice existed until quite recently (1960s?).

After that, I can understand that this information can seem disturbing, especially for a Christian for example. But I think it is always interesting to know in detail by whom and in which contexts a plant has been traditionally used.
 

Jacob Bula

Nobody
I had a course in Shamanism and Witchcraft when I was studying Anthropology in college and have been interested in it ever since, so these accounts are interesting for me to read.

It's important to note that these practices aren't really a reflection on kava as much as they are about how human societies understood the world around them before science. All religions were/are an attempt to understand the philosophy and mechanics of our world. For example: "Who am I" , "How did we get here", "Why am I sick", "Why does my family have bad luck?", "Why can't we catch any fish this week?", "What happens when we die?" etc...

Before science, statistics and germ theory, witchcraft and magical thinking provided answers to why people got sick. If you didn't know about microbes and viruses, it gave you that security blanket of knowledge and made you feel that you understood what was happening, and if you understood it than you could go to a healer that could do something about it. Often the placebo effect of thinking that you are healed is enough medicine to feel better, and that would reinforce the beliefs. The opposing side of that hold true as well: if you believe your neighbor put a hex on you, then you will be primed to pay more attention to negative things in your life and be primed to attribute them to witchcraft which will then in turn cause you so much distress that it can produce real, devastating physical symptoms. The reason they used kava in Vanuatu for witchcraft and magic is most likely because that's the primary intoxicant they had access to.

Although more functional questions have been addressed by science, some of those philosophical questions will never be able to be answered by science, which is where I feel that a more modern take on shamanism can still be beneficial for us today when we are struggling with those bigger questions that you can't make a verifiable, repeatable experiment for.
 

Palmetto

Thank God!
There was a Polynesian account for how kava got to some of the islands. I forget the details, but it involved a woman hiding kava in her vagina. Not sure why these people chose such a strange idea to tell a fable.

If you believe in witchcraft, then you believe in evil. If you believe in evil, you must also believe that good exists. If given the choice, I would rather learn more about good things than bad things. Having been associated with people involved with satanism when I was younger, I learned by experience that was can start out as a curiosity can get incredibly ugly really fast. I totally rejected any concepts of holiness involved with Christianity, until I got my arm burnt by holy water stolen from a church, and I watched a satanist violently choking on a sip of it. That was my first insight into the power of good versus evil. Yeah, I know most people will doubt it, but when you experience it firsthand, no doubt can remain.
 

Kojo Douglas

The Kavasseur
Not all of these accounts describe witchcraft. Witchcraft is usually petitionary in nature - either asking for healing power or fertility (white magic) or power and revenge (black magic). It is also typically connected to ancestral beliefs. Some of these are just origin myths or fables. Very interesting though!

I have observed rites and rituals all over Africa, and some in the Solomon Islands as well. I love this stuff.

Christianity is full of rituals that predate Christ, including the idea of eating and drinking the body of God. Petitionary prayer in some forms of Christianity can be described as witchcraft (see Santeria, or even donating money to pastors and priests in exchange for healing, etc.)
 

kastom_lif

Kava Lover
It's important to note that these practices aren't really a reflection on kava as much as they are about how human societies understood the world around them before science. All religions were/are an attempt to understand the philosophy and mechanics of our world. For example: "Who am I" , "How did we get here", "Why am I sick", "Why does my family have bad luck?", "Why can't we catch any fish this week?", "What happens when we die?" etc...
The Combs family lived on Malekula in the early 1990s and had some fantastic journals online (still available through archive.org). They were CUSO volunteers from Canada.

Anyway, one entry describes their experience with traditional culture in a sort of humorus way:

I made an error a while back when I told you that half the people here believe in custom sharks. Everybody does. I had a chat on the subject with Kalosak, my new counterpart, the other day, and with a guy in Lamap on my recent cruise around Malekula. The ability to assume the form of an animal and work other spiritual magic is nakaemas (pronounced na-kie'-mas). I think it is inherited. It isn't all fun and games, because if you don't use it, it will kill you. Also, while your spirit is inhabiting another body, your own body looks like you are asleep. If anyone tries to wake you, you die. The same if someone kills the animal whose form you have taken. Kalosak tells me that there used to be lots of men with nakaemas on Malekula, but not so many anymore. Ambrym, on the other hand is "fulap". Everyone in Vanuatu is afraid to go to Ambrym. Government workers who are assigned there often refuse to go, or leave shortly after moving there. Kalosak said that if a man Ambrym wants to kill you, he does the deed. Then he guts you and fills the cavity with kastom lif (custom leaves) and his spirit enters your body. He then returns to your home and lives with your family, sleeping with your wife (this always enters into the issue), for some predetermined time until abandoning your body and returning to his own. You can tell such a possessed dead man because he passes green stools (from the leaves). Kalosak told me that everyone here has to learn science in school, but think it is all gyaman (lies). In response to his inquiry, I told him that because I was a whiteman, I have trouble believing in nakaemas, but his attitude seemed to be that, well what can you expect - that was my problem.
 

kastom_lif

Kava Lover
Not all of these accounts describe witchcraft. Witchcraft is usually petitionary in nature - either asking for healing power or fertility (white magic) or power and revenge (black magic). It is also typically connected to ancestral beliefs. Some of these are just origin myths or fables. Very interesting though!
I agree. Witchcraft, (aka sorcery or nakaemas in Vanuatu) refers specifically to work done by human beings - that is, by sorcerors, kleva, or magic practitioners.

If something happens in traditional Melanesia, it's always attributed to something. That is, everything happens for a reason. But just because something bad happened does not mean that a poison man is out to get you. It could be from natural spirits or something non-human. Witchcraft is specifically activity done by living humans.

A while ago I had compiled a list of short anecdotes collected from ni-Vans and people who've spent time in Vanuatu:
  • If you are worried about weak or broken bones, you can have double bones installed in your body (according to a PCV who related the time someone generously offered double bones to her.)
  • Don't swim under any canoe that has a woman in it.
  • Never leave your clothes drying outside overnight or you will become very ill.
  • Never throw peanut shells in your yard. Dispose of them carefully.
  • If you fall ill and don't know why, you may have been posen. Seek the help of a kleva, who may divine the location of small nakaemas stones buried around the outside of your home. Nakaemas is a type of harmful sorcery--nakaemas stones are only one specific kind.
  • and one more recent incident.... @kasa_balavu had a coffee mug full of "fiji wota" break while drinking it in a zoom session where everyone else was drinking Vanuatu Kava :ROFLMAO:

These sorts of things are quite variable between one group to another, yet everyone accepts that some sort of supernatural powers exist. Sometimes, people will say that foreigners are immune to curses because they simply don't belong to the local spiritual culture. Yet also, there are stories of foreigners who've had very direct supernatural experiences.

Remember, every tok ples (local language / culture group) is different. Vanuatu has over 100 active local languages spread over 87 islands. When people get together for regional festivals in town, kastom dances tend to generate lots of interest. Lots of people are curious to see how other cultures do things differently. The ability to posen or place curses across culture group boundaries is universally accepted. Just because that village over there, on that distant island does things differently, doesn't mean their magic is fake. This has led to some friction in town when one group accuses another group of causing bad things to happen.

Christianity is full of rituals that predate Christ, including the idea of eating and drinking the body of God. Petitionary prayer in some forms of Christianity can be described as witchcraft (see Santeria, or even donating money to pastors and priests in exchange for healing, etc.)
As Jim Morrison once sang in Soft Parade...
Taem bifo we mi skul yet
Ikat wan man i talemaot se
Yumi save askem gud long Papa God
Wetem prea


::KavaChug::
 
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Palmetto

Thank God!
Not all of these accounts describe witchcraft. Witchcraft is usually petitionary in nature - either asking for healing power or fertility (white magic) or power and revenge (black magic). It is also typically connected to ancestral beliefs. Some of these are just origin myths or fables. Very interesting though!

I have observed rites and rituals all over Africa, and some in the Solomon Islands as well. I love this stuff.

Christianity is full of rituals that predate Christ, including the idea of eating and drinking the body of God. Petitionary prayer in some forms of Christianity can be described as witchcraft (see Santeria, or even donating money to pastors and priests in exchange for healing, etc.)
Santeria isn't a form of Christianity at all. It is an amalgam of shamanism and occultism disguised to pretend to be Christian to elude local authorities back when the occult was illegal in many countries.

The practice of giving money for healing is forbidden in the Christian Bible. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous people do solicit such things, but it in mainstream Christianity, such things are wisely discouraged.
 

kastom_lif

Kava Lover
It's turtles syncretism all the way down, man. Christianity is based on Greek/Roman religion, Western European religion, and Judaism. And of course Judaism is evolved from of older Phonecian, Egyptian, Mesopotamian beliefs. "Mainstream" is in the eye of the beholder, 'cause it's all a big family tree.

But even so, that's no excuse to be evil to someone because of their beliefs. It's ok to disagree. But if we get _too_ tribal, that's when things go poorly.

There is some value, in my opinion, to avoiding the "bufet approach" to spirituality. That is, if someone wants to be spiritual / have faith, then develop the discipline to stick with something. Don't just, like, pick and choose stuff that appeals to you. But what do I know, 'cause I don't really practice anything. Just a regular guy who wants to understand people and be respectful.
 

Bubba Bula

krunkadelic relic
I agree. Witchcraft, (aka sorcery or nakaemas in Vanuatu) refers specifically to work done by human beings - that is, by sorcerors, kleva, or magic practitioners.

If something happens in traditional Melanesia, it's always attributed to something. That is, everything happens for a reason. But just because something bad happened does not mean that a poison man is out to get you. It could be from natural spirits or something non-human. Witchcraft is specifically activity done by living humans.

A while ago I had compiled a list of short anecdotes collected from ni-Vans and people who've spent time in Vanuatu:
  • If you are worried about weak or broken bones, you can have double bones installed in your body (according to a PCV who related the time someone generously offered double bones to her.)
  • Don't swim under any canoe that has a woman in it.
  • Never leave your clothes drying outside overnight or you will become very ill.
  • Never throw peanut shells in your yard. Dispose of them carefully.
  • If you fall ill and don't know why, you may have been posen. Seek the help of a kleva, who may divine the location of small nakaemas stones buried around the outside of your home. Nakaemas is a type of harmful sorcery--nakaemas stones are only one specific kind.
  • and one more recent incident.... @kasa_balavu had a coffee mug full of "fiji wota" break while drinking it in a zoom session where everyone else was drinking Vanuatu Kava :ROFLMAO:

These sorts of things are quite variable between one group to another, yet everyone accepts that some sort of supernatural powers exist. Sometimes, people will say that foreigners are immune to curses because they simply don't belong to the local spiritual culture. Yet also, there are stories of foreigners who've had very direct supernatural experiences.

Remember, every tok ples (local language / culture group) is different. Vanuatu has over 100 active local languages spread over 87 islands. When people get together for regional festivals in town, kastom dances tend to generate lots of interest. Lots of people are curious to see how other cultures do things differently. The ability to posen or place curses across culture group boundaries is universally accepted. Just because that village over there, on that distant island does things differently, doesn't mean their magic is fake. This has led to some friction in town when one group accuses another group of causing bad things to happen.



As Jim Morrison once sang in Soft Parade...
Taem bifo we mi skul yet
Ikat wan man i talemaot se
Yumi save askem gud long Papa God
Wetem prea


::KavaChug::
All well and good, but remember no one can disprove the existence of God either. Therefore, just as the belief in God is a leap of faith, so is the belief there is no God an equal leap of faith. Because a God, if there is one (and I believe there is), doesn't play by the rules you believe he should play by does not prove anything. A captive God would not be much of a God.
 

Palmetto

Thank God!
All well and good, but remember no one can disprove the existence of God either. Therefore, just as the belief in God is a leap of faith, so is the belief there is no God an equal leap of faith. Because a God, if there is one (and I believe there is), doesn't play by the rules you believe he should play by does not prove anything. A captive God would not be much of a God.
I always shake my head when people think that science disproves the existence of God. I'm a scientist. I believe in God.

By pure logic, no one should be convinced of atheism. Assurance of atheism could never be logically supported, because if there is the possibility of an omniscient, omnipotent being, then it certainly would have the intelligence and ability to make certain people unable to perceive its existence, if it chose to. Thus, people who chose to be in opposition to the available evidence or who chose to oppose what the god stood for would certainly have the ability to hide itself from such people. Thus no amount of scientific or philosophical experimentation could ever bring those opposed to God into the understanding of that god.

Additionally, many people try to disprove God in ways that are completely irrelevant to determining the existence of a god. It's like using a thermometer to measure the distance to the moon. While the distance to the moon can be measured, a thermometer is an inappropriate ay of determining it. Likewise, science is an inappropriate way of determining the existence of God.
 
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