Effects of Varietal Diversity on Knowledge of Kava (Piper methysticum) in the Pacific

Gerren, Andrew
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
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This study investigated ethnobotanical knowledge variation in Hawai’i and Vanuatu, two regions in opposite ends of the Oceanic archipelago known for its distinctive yet interrelated cosmologies that have shaped kava culture and epistemology. The theory of perceptual salience suggests that the more exposure one has to a certain environment, the more one will know about that environment. In this study, this theory was applied in both Hawai’i and Vanuatu to understand the drivers of kava consumption and how exposure to an environment where diverse varieties of kava are grown influences knowledge of kava and selection of varieties for consumption. Data were obtained by free-listing of kava cultivars and through semi-structured surveys. Perceptual salience was determined by location, frequency of cultivars cited, tudey cultivars, and rate of consumption. This study also explored how the dynamics of gender and age affect how much a person knows about kava. The results show that there is no significant relationship between varietal diversity and varietal knowledge. This lack of significant influence of exposure on individual knowledge is due to the high variation in varietal knowledge in Hawai’i. However, there was a significant relationship between the predictors of knowledge, age and region. Specifically, varietal knowledge has more to do with exposure over time, rather than how much exposure one has had to varieties of kava. This study provides insight into how varietal diversity alone is not enough to influence people’s knowledge. It also shows how the length of exposure to a given environment better defines how environmental structures affect people's knowledge. This study provides further insight into future pathways as kava enters the global market, which varieties require more attention to ensure their survival, and how exposure to kava varieties over time influences consumption patterns.
Kava, epistemology, perceptual salience, ethnobotany, knowledge
45 pages
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