Can a sacred drink boost an island’s fortunes?

Kava being served at the Last Flight bar
Image caption Kava is a popular drink across the South Pacific

It’s a typically humid afternoon in Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, an island nation scattered across hundreds of miles of Pacific ocean.

The cicadas are loud, the mosquitoes are in search of a bite, and in a makeshift bar, a Ni-Vanuatu woman scoops muddy liquid into a small plastic bowl. The liquid in question is kava, which is a mixture of water and the crushed root of the kava plant.

“You have to drink it all in one go….. your mouth and tongue will start to go numb,” explains Dr Vincent Lebot, a world-leading kava expert. Originally from France, he’s lived in Vanuatu for decades. We ask what else will happen. “Not much,” he chuckles.

There’s a light above the bar’s front gate, telling customers there’s kava in the house. When the day’s limited supply has run out, the light will be switched off.

The bar, or nakamal, is called Last Flight – thanks to its location behind the country’s main airport. It’s popular with workmen in overalls and heavy boots and has the atmosphere of a very quiet beer garden.