Yaqona is the non-alcoholic beverage prepared by mixing with water the pulverized root of the plant botanically known as Piper methysticum. This beverage has a long history of use as a refreshing beverage and as a ceremonial drink.
Although the origins of the beverage use of yaqona are not precisely known:
- Historians place its use in the Tonga Islands in the South pacific as far back as 1140 B.C.
- Captain James Cook wrote the first report of its use as a beverage by a western explorer in 1768.
- In the early days the Piper methysticum root was chewed by young boys or women (for use by the entire group), the chewed cud then soaked in water in a large ceremonial bowl, decanted and drunk. In 1930 the British government enacted legislation, in force today, prohibiting the use of this “chewing” method.
- Yaqona is now made by grinding the root with appropriate equipment, the resultant powder then available for mixing with water in much the same manner that instant coffee or tea is mixed today, by the consumer, in the United States. It is the prepared, ground version that the Co-operative wishes to export.
- Not only is the history of the use of Yaqona long in time, it is also wide in distribution. Its use in Hawaii predates western settlement there and it is still grown and used as a beverage in the State of Hawaii.
- The popularity of this beverage, and its importance to the Fiji economy, can be seen by examining the history of its sales growth in Canada. Sales have grown there from only 500 1bs. In 1974 to 3,412 kg. In just the first half of 1985.
- Aside from its older traditional use as a ceremonial drink, yaqona was and is popular as a relaxing beverage. Apparently it is a popular beverage because of its mildly stimulating properties. In this connection it appears that the effects of drinking yaqona have been exaggerated and that is reality intoxication is rare since the beverage is so dilute.
- Furthermore, the dried version (which the Co-operative seeks to market in the United States) is weaker than the green, non-dried version. It is purely a social beverage held in high esteem as the national drink of Fiji and elsewhere.
It is clear, then, that Yaqona has been used as a food (a beverage) for a very log time by many thousands of people eanging from the farthest corners of the pacific, including the present state of Hawaii, to Canada and the Federal Republic of Germany. The question then is whether that extensive usage shows the product to be safe.