How Do Evolving Kava Related Practices Impact the Role of Tongan Women Living in Aotearoa?

Port, Hilda
Tautolo, El-Shadan
Nanai, Juliet
Vaka, Sione
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

The purpose of this doctoral research was to gather the participants' experiences with kava-related practices (KRP) and contribute to the existing body of research on kava by augmenting the female voice and disseminating their experience and understanding of KRP. By doing so, this doctoral research will benefit individuals working within our Pacific community by fostering cultural understanding of this traditional cultural practice and areas in which it has evolved. Furthermore, this doctoral research will be of value to community members who hold an interest in KRP and seek to gain insights into others' experiences within this realm. It will provide a broader understanding of diverse perspectives surrounding KRP.

A kakala framework utilising qualitative methods, with talanoa and tauhi vā methodological approaches ensured this doctoral research aligned with Pacific values and world views. Talanoa and tauhi vā together were found to strengthen the relationship between participant and researcher by prioritising the relationship through mutual respect, and genuine positive regard. Individual talanoa combined with talanoa faka’eke’eke (formal/direct) was effective in extracting specific information in a semi-structured format. Data was extracted through thematic analysis where patterns and themes were identified that linked to KRP.

The results show that despite opposition, women will continue to consume kava and will not allow others to devalue them or their right to do engage in KRP. The benefits of kava consumption have been highlighted by female and male kava consumers who believe it can improve their physical, spiritual, and mental health. Tou’a identified feeling valued and honoured when she was serving in a traditional setting where cultural protocols were adhered to. When tou’a are paid, and cultural protocols not adhered to, it can lead to inappropriate relationships. This included sexual objectification of the tou’a, and the tou’a being placed in a vulnerable position. This has led to the tou’a role being devalued in the community and the tou’a status being one of disrepute. Participants talked about the fears, they have regarding the tou’a and believe it is necessary to implement protection for the tou’a. This may be in the form of education.

Education plays a crucial role not only in empowering men to understand and respect the role of the tou'a and her self-worth in KRP, but also in challenging the perception that kava is solely a male commodity and can only be consumed by men. By educating individuals, both men and women, about the evolving roles of women in KRP, a shift can occur towards a more inclusive and accepting environment. This broader understanding will help dispel the notion that women's participation in the kava setting is limited to serving and being visually appealing. Instead, it will foster a deeper appreciation for the diverse contributions and capabilities of women within the realm of kava, promoting gender equality and empowerment.

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