I heard about Tafa’i’s adventures in an old timer’s book about Polynesian navigation.  He was a righteous dude who set Tahiti in place back in the day when Tahiti was a big ol fish.  He cut its sinews with a long hard spear and the fish could swim no more.


Then with his buddies in a double hulled canoe they sailed and paddled everywhere in the ocean.  Tafa’i pulled up more lunkers with his fishhook and set them in place as islands.  He plotted maps so that they could return with women and kids, taro, pigs, coconut, breadfruit, and dogs.


Much later on in the story, he had to battle a man-swallowing kava monster in order to win the favor of a Hawaiian princess and her court of royalty. Of course, he was victorious, and even brought his dead cousins back to life.  But instead of marrying the princess, he goes back to Tahiti and marries a local girl, lives happily ever after.

plants and magic

About a decade ago we set up a day of festivities and speakers celebrating the connection between plants and spirit.  It was sponsored by the San Francisco Botanical Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers.  There was representation from a handful of cultural traditions.  So before the main event (Dr Plotkin), Gamo Da Paz got the crowd dancing to the drums of samba-reggae and Candomble, and Feroz presided over the kava lounge.  Feroz was from Fiji, he brought his bowl and made some nice strong kava.  In every bowl there was smiles and hospitality, kindness and family.  That was my first taste of kava, thanks Feroz!



So kava belongs to a big family named Piperaceae.  There are several thousand members in this family, mostly from the warm and wet regions of the world.  The two primary genera are Peperomia and Piper.  Around these parts, we know Peperomia as our little indoor friend with the roundish or heart shaped leaves.  The Piper we are familiar with in the kitchen is the spice that gives us black pepper and white pepper.  Piper nigrum.  Kava is Piper methysticum, the intoxicating pepper.

Some six or seven years ago a big storm knocked down a bunch of monterey cypress trees at our school.  Somebody craned two whole trees to our yard for some reason, and we ended up chunking them into pieces for chainsaw practice with our tree care class.  Took five or six sessions.  Lucky we had Martin Kutches Jr and his husqy in the class or else we’d still be whittling away.  Anyhow, I salvaged a few big chunks of the material, and hoarded it for some future use.

This spring,  a nice Samoan lady came asking for a kava bowl so that she could do a presentation in her Plant Identification class with Ms. Charmain Giuliani.  The cypress log was now wanted and went to meet Mr Stihl.  Andreas Stihl.


This was the rough cuts all chainsaw.  There was quite a bit of rot in the piece which required some patching.  Thinking back, I probably should have researched what authentic bowls looked like before I got started.  At this stage, I got design input, some polynesian patterns, a request for turtles and dolphins, and began to dremel away.


There is a concave turtle shell inside the bowl, four legs, and a head.  Ok, lets take her to ceremony!


The plant. Comes to us from Carolyn at the Park nursery and Martin Grantham of San Francisco State University, horticulturists extraordinaire.


Our lovely host.  Anonymous here but well known in our garden world.  Good little turtle.


Kneading the root to release its power.  Bowl inside of the bowl because the tung oil had not yet totally dried on the wood,  and best not to mix it with the flavor of kava.  Too bad you cant join us for a coconut bowl of the best stuff.  Drink up!

Tung oil, that comes from a species of Aleurites tree in the Euphorbiaceae family.  Its cousin is the kukui nut tree.  Yup, you probably have one of those shiny black nut necklaces.  Okay, back to the islands, and back to work!  Leave the spurges for another day!