Chewing kava and chicha: is there a connection?
Traditional chew-spit preparation of the Pacific beverage kava (Piper methysticum) was recognised by early European explorers and anthropologists for its similarity to the South American preparation of chicha, an alcoholic beverage often made from maize (Zea mays). Chewing kava was thought to enhance the potency of the pacifying drug, yet a similar result can be gained from pounding or grating the root. In contrast, chewing maize allows enzymes in saliva to convert plant starch to fermentable sugars as a preliminary step to make alcohol, but this can also be achieved using sprouted grains. Despite their chemical differences kava and chicha were each traditionally prepared by chewing plant material, placing the pulp in communal vessels and macerating with water to prepare an intoxicating drink. Several scholars of trans-Oceanic contact at the turn of the last century suggested the similarities in preparation link the kava complex of the Pacific with the chicha complex of the Americas. My honours thesis explores the historical and contemporary literature to critically evaluate potential links between these complexes to substantiate or refute potential diffusion of terminology or behaviours related to the beverage processing of Piper methysticum and Zea mays.
Pacific Archaeology: documenting the past 50,000 years to the present
Archaeology of New Guinea and Pacific Islands (excl. New Zealand)