Since the first significant contact with Europeans in the 18th century, the Oceanic plant, Piper methysticum Forst. (Piperaceae) and the beverage prepared from it, both of which are called kava, have become familiar to much of the outside world through both the written and visual media. The ceremonial preparation and consumption of the beverage are probably its most conspicuous and spectacular features. Kava continues to occupy a central place in everyday life in the islands concerned, although its role has been somewhat diminished by time and outside influences. Despite the large body of literature on kava--about 800 entries are listed in a recent bibliography by Singh (1986)--there has been no comprehensive review on the subject. Earlier contributions by Keller and Klohs (1963) and Shulgin (1973) were selective in treatment and dealt primarily with chemical and pharmacological aspects. The monograph by Steinmetz (1960) remains a standard reference but understandably some of the information in it has become dated. The attention of the reader is also drawn to two excellent additions to the recent kava literature, by Lebot and Cabalion (1988) and Brunton (1989), which are, although somewhat restricted in focus, are very significant contributions to the subject. The present review paper provides an updated and a multidisciplinary overview of the subject. It was prepared on the basis of the author's personal experience--he is a native of Fiji and lived in that country for about 30 years--as well as the relevant literature listed in the Singh (1986) bibliography and some more recent publications.