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The Abandoned Narcotic
Kava and Cultural Instability in Melanesia


Part of Cambridge Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology

  • Date Published: November 2007
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521040051

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About the Authors
  • Ron Brunton revives a problem posed by the great anthropologist W. H. R. Rivers in History of Melanesian Society (1914): how to explain the strange geographical distribution of kava, a narcotic drink once widely consumed by south-west Pacific islanders. Rivers believed that it was abandoned by many people even before European contact in favour of another drug, betel, drawing his speculations from the ideas of the diffusionist school of anthropology. However, Dr Brunton disagrees. Taking the varying fortunes of kava on the island of Tanna, Vanauta, as his starting point, he suggests that kava's abandonment can best be explained in terms of its association with unstable religious cults, and not because of the adoption of betel. The problem of kava is therefore part of a broader problem of why many traditional Melanesian societies were characteristically highly unstable, and Dr Brunton sees this instability as both an outcome and a cause of weak institutions of authority and social coordination.

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2007
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521040051
    • length: 228 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 153 x 14 mm
    • weight: 0.353kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    List of illustrations and tables
    1. Introduction: W. H. R. Rivers and kava
    2. The traditional distribution of kava drinking
    3. Reconsidering Rivers' argument: the evidence
    4. Reconsidering Rivers' argument: assessment and implications
    5. Kava on Tanna: traditional ritual and contemporary modifications
    6. Kava on Tanna: the development of secular patterns of consumption
    7. The problems of Tannese society
    8. Conclusion
    List of references
    Glossary of Tannese words

  • Author

    Ron Brunton

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