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The Canoe Plants of Hawaiʻi

This weekʻs DA BOX is partially inspired by Hawaiian Canoe Plants. Hawaiian Canoe Plants are an important part of ot Hawaiʻis food system today, as they set the stage for what we grow and eat in modern day Hawaiʻi.

When the first Polynesians arrived on the Hawaiian Islands roughly between 300 and 600 CE, they brought with them a number of edible plants such as ʻuala, ʻolena, ʻulu and niu. Many of these plants are now prominent food sources in Hawaii and across Polynesia.

These plants were brought on beautiful double-hulled canoes to Hawaiʻi and were therefore called “Canoe Plants.” Many local farmers are growing these canoe crops today. Kalo was considered the staple food of Hawaii and was one of the most sustainable food sources due to its resilient properties and its nutritional value. Early Hawaiians believed that the first kanaka Hawai’i (Hawaiian person) was brought to life in the form of a kalo plant. He was conceived from the sky god, Wākea and his daughter, Ho’ohōkūkalani. They named this first child Hāloanakakalaukapalili, a stillborn who was buried and grew up from the earth as the first kalo plant. Wākea and Hoʻohōkūʻs second child grew to be a strong, healthy man. He was named after his older brother, Hāloa, and is said to be the first kanaka Hawaiʻi. This story comes from the Kumulipo, the Hawaiian creation chant.

Hawaiians trace their roots back to Hāloa, thus stating that we are all “mamo o Hāloa,” or descendants of Hāloa. This creation story shows Hawaiians reverence to this primary food source and speaks to the sacred human relationship to kalo, ʻāina and the rest of the natural world. The following is a list of Hawaiian Canoe Plants:

`Ape (elephant’s ear), `Awa (kawa), `Awapuhi Kuahiwi (shampoo ginger), Hau, Ipu (gourd), Kalo (taro), Kamani (Alexandrian laurel), Ki (ti), Ko (sugar cane), Kou, Kukui (candlenut), Mai`a (banana), Milo (portia tree), Niu (coconut), Noni (Indian mulberry), `Ohe (bamboo), `Ohi`a `Ai (mountain apple), `Olena (turmeric), Olona, Pia (Polynesian arrowroot), `Uala (sweet potato), Uhi (yam), `Ulu (breadfruit), Wauke (paper mulberry).

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