Hawaiians’ deep connection to the ‘aina – the land – has roots in the very beginning of ancient Hawaiian culture. Hawaiians believe that humans are part of the natural world – not separate from it – and the Hawaiian creation story of Hāloa reminds us to care for the ‘aina the way that she cares for us.
The story of Hāloa brings us to the beginning of the Hawaiian people. Wākea, the skyfather, and Ho’ohōkūkalani, descendent of the celestial bodies, fell in love and together had a child. But the baby was stillborn, so the deities buried him on the side of their home – the side of the morning sunrise.
From that very spot where the gods buried their baby boy, a plant began to grow. This plant, whose heart-shaped leaf trembled in the breeze was the first kalo (taro) plant. The kalo plant was given the name “Haloanakalaukapalili” and he was loved.
When Ho’ohōkūkalani again became pregnant, she birthed a healthy baby boy. He was named “Hāloa” in honor of his older brother Haloanakalaukapalili, the long stem whose leaves tremble in the wind. Hāloa was the first kanaka – the first Hawaiian person – and he connects all Hawaiians in unity with one another, with the kalo and the rest of the natural world.
In Hawaiian culture, the plants and the ‘aina are our ancestors. They are our kūpuna – our elders, and we have a responsibility to mālama (care for) the land and all living things. Just as Haloanakalaukapalili the kalo cared for his younger brother and all of his decedents by bringing providing them with sustenance, Hāloa embraced the duty to serve his elder brother and mālama ‘aina.
When planted – in wetland patches or dryland gardens – the kalo is positioned so that its three heart-shaped leaves reach toward the mountain, toward the sea, and up toward the heavens. The sacredness of the taro plant is carried on today, as both a reminder of Hawaiian values and as a staple food, baked or steamed, then pounded into poi.
As Uncle Kauhane Adams told us at the ‘Aha Lomilomi Conference a few weeks ago, the Hawaiian men would wrap the pa’i ‘ai in ti leaf to make a bundle that would hang off their loin cloth, or “malo”. The pa’i ‘ai, made with much less water than poi, was easy to carry this way, and brought sustenance to the traveling men.
Still today, poi nurtures the body, mind and spirit, reminding Hawaiians of our essential connection to nature and our duty to the sacred ‘aina.
Try making the traditional Hawaiian dessert Kulolo – a sweet treat made with coconut, kalo and sugar.
• 3 cups raw taro, peeled and grated
• 1 cup fresh coconut, grated
• 1 cup coconut liquid (inside from a coconut)
• 1 cup coconut milk
• ¾ cup brown sugar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease and line loaf pan with foil. Combine and mix all ingredients together. Put into loaf pan. Cover with foil and bake for 2 hours. Remove foil during last half hour for browning.