AUT PhD student, Edmond Fehoko, continues to garner international attention with his master’s thesis on the experiences and perceptions of New Zealand-born Tongan males participating in the faikava or kava drinking circle.
His work features as a case study in a recent report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy headed by Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Over the past six years, the Global Commission on Drug Policy has become a leading voice in the debate surrounding ‘the war on drugs’ – namely the human cost of ‘misguided policies’ and their inability to stem the production and consumption of illegal drugs or thwart criminal organisations.
The World Drug Perception Problem aims to counter prejudices about people who use drugs.
The report examines the most common perspectives and fears about drugs and the people who use them in contrast with the available evidence – recommending changes to support reforms towards more effective drug policies.
It also highlights historical and cultural contexts for consuming psychoactive substances.
In New Zealand, Kava circles are a social and cultural space where Pacific communities gather to share ideas, knowledge and experiences while drinking kava as a means of reconnecting with their Pacific homelands.
Kava is a drink made form the roots of the kava plant. It is well known and recognised within the Pacific for its mythical, narcotic, spiritual, medicinal and cultural value.
“I can vividly recall when I participated in my first kava circle at my local church with my father at the age of 14. When I consume kava, I feel sociable, yet equally at peace,” says Fehoko.
“My family appreciates the role it plays in ensuring my fluency and understanding of the Tongan language and culture, and engaging in harmonious talanoa (dialogue) with others in the circle.”
Fehoko’s study indicates that participation in faikava stands in opposition to alcohol consumption, providing an alternative that makes people sociable without ineptness or interference with their reasoning. It is also seen as a possible diversion from youth gang affiliation.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy calls on all members of society to look for and share reliable, evidence-based information on drugs, people who use drugs, the ways and reasons they use them, as well as the motives behind current perceptions.
Fehoko is currently completing a PhD in Public Health at AUT South Campus.
His research on kava drinking has also featured on Al Jazeera.