The Migration of Melanesians of West Papua: Kava People and Betel People


Meta Description: The migration of kava and betel people brought influence to Melanesian culture. There existed two kinds of culture which kava and betel people brought. 


Slug: migration-kava-betel-people-influence-Melanesian-culture. 


Migrations are part of human history. History takes note of this human mass movement that happened from one place to another. People move to other places and pass very long distances. Even though large-scale migrations do not happen frequently, it is very important to the history of mankind. It is important to record the migrations of humans if one wants to study culture. 

This is because migrations bring changes to culture as its consequences. The migrants will settle in the new places where they meet the indigenous who have different cultures and customs than their own. They would later interact and blend with them, which will affect their culture. There are two types of migration, primary and secondary. (Rivers, 2017)

Primary and Secondary Migration

According to Rivers (2017), there are two types of migration – primary and secondary migration. Some people settle after they migrate. They blend with the indigenous and produce new cultures, which will be called primary migration. However, there is no strict definition that distinguishes between primary and secondary migration. For instance, certain people will move again after they settle for some time and thus do not get influenced by the local culture. They would continue to move. The secondary movement talks about the settlement of the next generation among a people, which has resulted from a mixture of cultures.

Migrations also happen among the Melanesian community, who inhabited West Papua of Indonesia. Melanesians have a rich history that involves migrations which affect their culture. As a result of the migration, Melanesians have produced varieties of cultures. Both primary and secondary migration took place on Melanesians. 

There is community as a result of secondary movement. However, secondary movement is not as important as primary migration because of the small numbers of people involved and the lack of interaction which does not produce a lot of cultures (Rivers, 2017).

This article talks about the migration of the kava-people and the betel-people, which is classified as primary migration. Primary migrations have tremendous effects because of the varieties of cultures they produce. 

The migration has caused a mixture of kava-people and dual people. The interaction, the blending, and the geographical or other conditions have produced a lot of varieties and complexity among the Melanesian culture (Rivers, 2017).

Who are Kava-People and Betel-People?

These two are significant to Melanesians’ changes and progression of culture. According to Rivers (2017), the kava generally inhabited the southern and eastern islands, while the betel inhabited the northwestern part of Melanesia, such as West Papua and New Guinea. Betel-people may bring influence to the southern part of Melanesia, such as Fiji and Polynesia. But it is even more possible that the kava people is the one who brings more influence to Melanesian culture. 

Kava and betel is the name of substances and not people. It is called kava-people and betel-people because these people use kava and betel substances in their daily practices. The difference between betel and kava substance is how people use it. Some cultures use betel habitually while kava only occasionally. 

Betel is part of Vanikolo culture, and they chew it every day. Betel is a substance and mixture of areca-nut, betel-leaf, and lime. People chew it every day and make it as a custom. This practice happens in the northern part of Melanesia, such as West Papua, New Guinea, even to India. 

Kava or kawa means “bitter,” and it is used in religious ceremonies. There is evidence that kava comes earlier than betel, which shows that kava is more of an ancient custom. Polynesian culture used to drink kava as a custom. And some suggestions said that Polynesians introduced kava to Melanesian culture. 

These two substances (kava and betel) and the different modes of using them show there existed two different cultures in Melanesia (Rivers, 2017). Those cultures are kava-culture and betel-culture, and the people who adopt them are called kava-people and betel-people. It also suggests that one culture may subdue the other. 

Kava-people are the early immigrants who exert influence among the Melanesian community. At that time, Melanesians adopted several systems of the earliest social organization, which kava-people influenced later. There are three early social organizations of Melanesia, namely dual-society with matrilineal descent, the dominance of the old men, and the peculiar form of marriage (Rivers, 2017). 


There are waves of migrations among the Melanesian communities. The migration of Kava-people and Betel-people is categorized as primary migration, which brings a lot of cultural varieties among Melanesians.

Kava-people and betel-people mark those migrations which influence and bring changes to the Melanesian community. Kava comes first as the ancient customs, and betel comes second as a later practice. 

The distribution of these two people is divided into two. Kava-people inhabited the northern west part of Melanesia, such as West Papua and New Guinea, while betel inhabited the southern parts like Fiji and Polynesia. 


Rivers, W. , H. (2017). The History of Melanesian Society. CUP Archive.