for the Deseret News
For centuries, kava was an integral part of Polynesian life, but today, kava is the bane of our culture. The kava plant is pounded into powder, mixed with water and used as a ceremonial drink. Anciently, chiefs counseled together over a bowl of kava, and the kava plant was used in the marriage ceremony. The Tongan word for "covenant" is "fua kava," which literally means "first fruit of kava." Today, the once-sacred kava ceremony has evolved into kava parties, where men drink kava for hours and sometimes days. Kava is often the culprit in unemployment, financial hardship, broken marriages, infidelity and occasionally, untimely death. Church leaders once tiptoed around kava, careful not to offend cultural mores, but today, they've simply counseled us, "STOP."
Despite our cultural biases as Polynesians, children don't learn from being beaten. Instead, they become resentful and often incapable of solving problems without anger. Moreover, abusive behavior is perpetual and therefore cyclical. Abused children become abusive parents. I suspect one reason why Tongans and Samoans have succeeded so spectacularly in football is because of our familiarity with the physical aspect of the game. Sadly, much of that is cultural. Our young warriors relish dishing out the hits because they've grown up on the other end of it. Modern prophets have warned against the physical abuse of children. I've come to learn that children respond much more effectively and consistently when they're taught with lowered voices, without anger or threat of physical abuse.
Though I had practically no family modeling, I dutifully followed church counsel and at appropriate ages — which was different for each one — I took each of my children from school and spent a day together to discuss the most wonderful, amazing and incredible experience that was simply "to die for." Over lunch, I explained to each the wonders of the human body and the godly powers given us to be partners in the pro-creative process. While at first awkward, slowly each warmed to the idea that Dad was opening a door for questions and to dispel myths they had learned at school or elsewhere. I'm certain my children's self-awareness and confidence in living the law of chastity stemmed from those special lunches, sex talks and occasional Family Home Evenings and Family Councils on chastity and dressing modestly.
Our Polynesian culture can be both a blessing and a constraint depending on how we draw on it. Our faith is legendary and often recognized and cited by modern prophets. Yet, we are sometimes shackled by cultural barriers that keep us from reaping the full blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Next week, I'll explore the delicate balance of straddling gospel culture with one's ethnic culture and the unique blessings we all reap because of our individual heritage and upbringing.
Vai Sikahema is the Sports Director and Anchor for NBC10 Philadelphia and host of the "Vai & Gonzo Show" on ESPN Philadelphia Radio. He is a two-time All-Pro, two-time Emmy Award winner and was a member of BYU's 1984 National Championship team.
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