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Government, islanders working to lift restrictions on traditional

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Dec. 21, 2011) – A Pacific researcher has joined growing calls in Australia to lift bans on drinking the traditional drink, Kava.

Pacific Islanders in Canberra have been working with Australia's Greens Party and the Government in the Australian Capital Territory to allow consumption of the alcoholic drink.

The ban was imposed in 2009, after several deaths in Europe were linked to Kava tablets.

Authorities have raised concerns about kava abuse within Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.

[PIR editor’s note: Studies conducted in Australia in the same year the EU pushed the kava ban showed kava was perfectly safe when mixed with water, as it has been for hundreds of years for Pacific Islands communities. The same research even showed that kava could be used as an effective, safe treatment for people suffering from anxiety and depression with a low chance of dependency or side effects.]

But the Australian Kava Movement's Soisiua Lafitani Tofua'ipangai told Pacific Beat the deaths arose from irresponsible consumption of kava, which has sedative and anesthetic properties.

"Western people's bodies don't have the genes with Kava," he said.

"Kava can react to alcohol or chemicals and that's what we have found out."

Mr. Tofua'ipangai said Kava tablets were usually mixed with isotone and ethanol.

"But Kava, according to traditions in the Pacific, is not allowed to mix with anything except water. Nothing else."

[PIR editor’s note: In March 2011, Tongan community members at home and in Australia held demonstrations protesting the recent import bans for kava enforced by the Australian government. Protestors claimed the ban infringed on their human rights as Pacific Islanders, particularly because kava is a common and significant cultural element to Oceania.]

He said the ban has impacted on cultural freedoms in many Polynesian communities, including Tonga, Hawaii, Vanuatu, Melanesia and in Micronesia.

"We use Kava for spiritual, for cultural, for ceremonial, which covers the whole lot. To celebrate, to welcome, to mourn for the loss of a loved one. And we use Kava, not in an abusive way, but we use kava for harmony."

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