Tag Archives: hawaiian culture

TARO: A Miracle Food

Believed by Hawaiians to be the greatest life force of all foods.

Taro was believed to have been formed by the union of daughter earth and father sky, before man was born, and taro was honored as superior to man.  Its traditional Hawaiian name is kalo and its cultivation was associated with the god Kane, procreator and life giver, provider of water and sun.

When Captain Cook discovered the Hawaiian Islands in 1778, the native population lived chiefly on taro and sweet potatoes supplemented with things from the sea.  So intensive was its cultivation that there may have been up to 300 cultivars in Hawaii at that time. 

Taro is eaten around the world but only Hawaiians make poi. The bowl of poi was such a sacred part of Hawaiian life that when it was uncovered at the dinner table all conflict ceased. People were not to argue or speak in anger.

 Low in calories taro is one of the world’s most nutritious foods, often described as a “miracle food.”  Typical of leaf vegetables, taro leaves are rich in vitamins  and minerals. They are a good source of thiamin, riboflavin, iron, phosphorus, and zinc, and a very good source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, niacin, potassium, copper, and manganese.

Taro corms are very high in starch, and are a good source of dietary fiber.  Compared to potato, taro corm has a higher proportion of protein (1.5-3.0%), calcium, and phosphorus; it has a trace of fat, and is rich in vitamins A and C. Moreover, taro is 98.8% digestible. 

WORLD’S OLDEST CULTIVATED CROP?    Native to the lowland wetlands of Malaysia, taro was in cultivation in wet tropical India before 5000 B.C.  Taro reached  ancient Egypt, spread eastward into ancient China and Indonesia, was successful in tropical Africa, reached the New World tropics in the West Indies, and in the Pacific Islands the migration of taro went from Indonesia to New Zealand and eastward to the Hawaiian Islands where it  arrived around 450 A.D

Today taro is the 14th most cultivated crop on earth.  About 10% of the world’s population uses taro as a staple in the diet, and for 100 million people this is an important daily food. 

Maui County produced close to 20% of Hawai`i’s 4.5 million pound crop in 2006. Since 2002 taro acreage has gone from 100 to 55 acres.  Production dropped by 185 tons, and agricultural revenue fell by almost 18.5 percent.

MENEHUNE: Real or Myth?

The folklore of many nations around the world includes stories of magical little people. In Hawai`i the mythology of the Menehune is as old as the beginnings of Polynesian history. When the first Polynesians arrived in Hawai`i they found dams, fish-ponds, and even heiau (temples), all presumably built by the Menehune who were already there, living in the forests and caves.

Working only at night these mischievous little people performed legendary engineering feats. They reputedly built the largest aquaculture reservoir, the Alekoko Fishpond located near Nawiliwili Harbour outside Lihue, Kauai. Built nearly 1,000 years ago, it has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973.  Ingenious ponds like this were built to catch fish, and this fishpond is one of the finest examples of this type of ancient Hawaiian aquaculture.

 While archaeologists have never found remains of a distinctively small race of ancient people in Hawai`i, many think the Menehune legend may well have a basis in fact. In 2003, a species of dwarf human was discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores. Homo floresiensis was only about 1 meter in height and fully bipedal. The skull has human-like teeth with a receding forehead and no chin.

 Fossils have been discovered from 38,000 to 18,000 years ago, though archeological evidence suggests it lived on Flores between at least 95,000 and 13,000 years ago. It used stone tools and fire, and hunted pygmy elephants, Komodo dragons, and the giant rats found on Flores. Its discoverers believe that h. floresiensis is a dwarf form of Homo erectus. It is not uncommon for dwarf forms of large mammals to evolve on islands. Modern humans arrived on Flores between 55,000 and 35,000 years ago, and presumably interacted with h. floresiensis.

Indonesian folklore tells of small, inarticulate creatures called Ebu Gogo which sounds remarkably suggestive of h. floresiensis, but could easily be coincidence. If h. floresiensis had been found in Ireland, we’d possibly be wondering if they were Leprechauns.

Everyone that lives in Hawaii knows the Menehune had magical powers and created great deeds.

~ The Three Menehune of Ainahou (Maui) by ‘Uncle Charlie’ Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr.


Hawaiian culture has many signs and omens still observed today. Rain and rainbows are considered blessings from the gods.

Ua is the Hawaiian word for rain. But that’s just the beginning.

Entwined within Hawaiian song and poetry, rain may signify joy, life, growth, greenery, the presence of gods or royalty, sexual relations, beauty or hardship.

Light rains and mist might be a sign of good fortune, and heavy rains may be indicative of grief, sorrow and tears.

In the richness of the Hawaiian language, every type of rain has it’s own name and meaning, and is often associated with particular places:

  • kili, much beloved rain
  • ko’iawe, light moving rain
  • kili hau, chilly rain
  • ua nāulu, showery rain
  • ua hō’e’ele, drenching rain
  • ua lani pili, rain downpour
  • ua ho’okina, continuous rain
  • ua hekili, rain with large drops
  • ua hikiki’i, slanting rain
  • ililani, unexpected rain
  • uakoko, rainbow-hued rain
  • kuāua hope, spring rain
  • ka ua ‘awa, bitter rain (grief)

Ua Like Nô A Like (My Heart’s Choice)

~Words & music by Alice Everett

Ua like nô a like (It is like the rain)

Me ka ua Kanilehua (That produces the lehua blossom)

Me he ala e `i mai ana (It seems to say to me)

Aia i laila ke aloha  (Love is there)

‘OLELO HAWAI’I – The Language of Hawai’i


The arrival of American Protestant missionaries in 1820 marked a new phase in the development of the Hawaiian language. In order to achieve conversion of Hawaiians to Christianity, the missionaries developed a successful alphabet for Hawaiian. By 1826, they had taught Hawaiians to read and write the language, published various educational materials in Hawaiian, and eventually finished translating the Bible. Missionaries influenced King Kamehameha III to establish the first Hawaiian-language constitutions in 1839 and 1840.

During the 1800s, Hawai‘i became one of the most literate nations in the world with over 90% of the population able to read and write.

 “The people were amazed at the art of expressing thoughts on paper. They started back from it with dread, as though it were a sort of enchantment or sorcery.”  ~ Sheldon Dibble, Missionary and Historian from The Voices

King Kamehameha III proudly declared,“He aupuni palapala ko‘u” “I have a kingdom of education”.


In February 1834, the initial edition of Ka Lama Hawaii was the first newspaper to be printed west of the Rocky Mountains. It was printed at Hale Pa`i, on the campus of Lahainaluna School on Maui. Eventually, there were over 100 Hawaiian language newspapers in print.

But the Hawaiian-medium school system established by the Kingdom of Hawai`i in the early 1820s, was abolished in 1896, and 2 years later use of Hawaiian in Territorial schools was forbidden. Children were summarily punished for speaking Hawaiian in school. However, Hawaiian language newspapers were published for over a hundred years, right through the period of the supposed ban.

In 1957, Mary Pukui and Samuel Elbert wrote a new Hawaiian dictionary that introduced an era of increased attention to the language.  “Immersion” schools are now open to children whose families want to introduce Hawaiian language for future generations.

Today there are over 27,000 speakers of Hawaiian.


Kaho’olawe was inhabited as early as 400-1000 A.D. initially in small fishing villages along the island’s coast.

 Archeological evidence paints a picture of Kaho‘olawe as a navigational center for voyaging, the site of an adze quarry, an agricultural center, and a site for religious and cultural ceremonies. By the mid-1600’s, the largest population was at Hakioawa on the island’s eastern coast.

Smallest of the 8 main volcanic islands in the Hawaiian chain (28,800 acres)

29 miles of shore

Highest point Pu ‘ u ‘O Moa ‘Ula Nui (1,483 feet)

No permanent residents

By 1805 the inhabitants had declined to a reported 160, attributed to inter-island warfare, disease from western contact, and general emigration from the island.

Through the Missionary Period (1825-1853), Early Ranch Period (1853-1910), Forest Reserve Period (1910-1918), and Later Ranch Period (1918-1941), the island continued an environmental decline.  For a brief time it was used as a penal colony but mostly for sheep and cattle ranching. By 1941 it had become almost worthless, primarily at the hand of longterm over-grazing, erosion and loss of soil. It was eventually transferred to the U.S. Navy for use as a bombing range.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of martial law the history of Kaho’olawe became one of military use. During WWII, the island played a major role as a Navy training site. In 1946 it was reported that 800 ships ranging from destroyer escorts to battle wagons rehearsed for the day they would fire in support of marine landings. The rehearsals prepared Marines for the landings at Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and other sites throughout the southwest Pacific.

Community efforts from the Military Period (1941-1978) through the active years of the Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana lawsuit, brought cleanup and formal conveyance back to local control.

The thread of Native Hawaiian culture binds the contemporary with the ancient, defining Kaho’olawe’s importance as a special place, a wahi pana, and as a sanctuary, a pu’uhonua. It remains a place where traditional ceremonies and practices are perpetuated in a continuum of culture.

The history of the Hawaiian people is preserved in these wahi pana, legendary sites. They provide a sense of place, a feeling of well-being, of stability and belonging — to the past, the present, and the future. 

For further information http://kahoolawe.hawaii.gov/history.shtml