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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy

Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index

Islands, Plants, and Polynesians:

An Introduction to Polynesian Ethnobotany.

Cox, Paul Alan, and Banack, Sandra Anne. (Editors). (1991).
Portland, OR: Dioscorides Press.

ISBN: 0-931146-18-6

Description: Hardcover, 228 pages. Proceedings of a symposium sponsored by the Institute of Polynesian Studies, Brigham Young University-Hawaii Campus.

Contents: Preface, 10 chapters, index of scientific names, index of Polynesian words.

Contributors: Isabella A. Abbott, Sandra Anne Banack, Paul Alan Cox, F. Raymond Fosberg, Vincent Lebot, Karl H. Rensch, D. E. Yen.

Note: Each chapter contains a bibliography. Few references to entheogens.

Excerpt(s): Why would Stair and other missionaries gloss over the existence of Polynesian herbalists yet detail the practices of "sorcery"? I suggest his and other missionary accounts are lacking in details on Polynesian herbalism because (1) spirit possessions and religious healings were of high saliency to the early missionaries, and (2) the missionaries usually lacked the botanical experience and linguistic ability to deal with a difficult topic such as indigenous herbal traditions.

The early missionaries viewed their proselytizing efforts as direct warfare against Satan and were looking for evidences of Satanic power and mischief. Certain Polynesian cultural practices, such as propitiation to pagan deities on behalf of sick persons or possession by evil spirits, were of high saliency to the Christian missionaries since these events had direct bearing on the evangelical vocation. It should be of no surprise, then, that the missionaries paid a good deal of attention to any healing practices involving the supernatural and ignored the indigenous pharmacopoeia. The use of medicinal plants had little bearing on the Christian profession, and thus was of low saliency to the missionaries. ...

Some missionaries may have had an additional reason for ignoring or denigrating indigenous herbal medicine. To increase interest in his missionary labors, and as a humanitarian gesture, Turner began to manufacture and dispense to Samoans his own powders and preparations. (Chapter 8, Polynesian Herbal Medicine, Paul Alan Cox, page 163)

The Oceanic peoples who are familiar with kava hold it in esteem primarily as a ritual offering or a ritualized form of payment. Kava's medicinal reputation would appear, at least originally, to be a corollary of its narcotic action and its role in the exchange system between individual and especially between human beings and the gods. Other plants also play the part of a customary gift, but kava has acquired a special favor. Such a pre-eminent role over many different plants is believed to be due to its pharmacological properties.

The most frequent use of kava is in the form of an essentially ritual and social drink because of its soporific and anxiety-relieving properties. By offering kava to the gods and spirits, humans were gaining their goodwill, and by drinking it they could move closer towards the supernatural world. As a present or offering to the gods, ancestors or spirits, kava was used as a sign of respect towards them, to obtain favor, to appease their resentment or anger if due respect had not been shown them, and, through divination, to communicate with them and to accede to the supernatural world and therefore to the secrets hidden from the mere mortal.

In Hawaii, as a ritual oblation on the family alter, kava was offered to the spirits of the ancestors or the gods, such as the "protecting shark." (Chapter 9, Kava: Polynesian Dispersal, Vincent Lebot, page 184)

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