Hawaiian traditions describe the birth of the islands and the life that exists on them in terms of genealogical accounts.
All natural forms of the environment are believed to be embodiments of gods and deities. From godly forces the Hawaiian Islands are born of Wākea (the expanse of the sky‐father) and Papahānaumoku (Papa who gave birth to the islands).
Wākea and Papa are credited for being the parents of the first man, Hāloa, the ancestor of all people. Commoners and aliʻi were all descended from the same ancestors, Wākea (sky father) and Papa (earth mother.)
It is from this genealogical line that Hawaiians address the environment and it forms the basis of the Hawaiian system of land use.
“The first born son of Wākea was of premature birth (keiki alualu) and was given the name Hāloa-naka. The little thing died, however, and its body was buried in the ground at one end of the house. After a while from the child’s body shot up a taro plant, the leaf of which was named lau-kapa-lili, quivering leaf; but the stem was given the name Hāloa. After that another child was born to them, whom they called Hāloa, from the stalk of the taro. He is the progenitor of all the peoples of earth.” (Malo)
“The first Hāloa, born to Wākea and Ho‘ohokukalani, became the taro plant. His younger brother, also named Haloa, became the ancestor of the people. In this way, taro was the elder brother and man the younger–both being children of the same parents.”
“Because our chiefs were of the senior line, they were referred to in respect and affection as “kalo kanu o ka aina” (The taro grown in the homeland) by the junior branches of the family.”(Handy-Pukui)
In pre-Captain Cook times, taro played a vital role in Hawaiian culture. It was not only the Hawaiians’ staple food but the cultivation of kalo was at the very core of Hawaiian culture and identity.
The early Hawaiians probably planted kalo in marshes near the mouths of rivers. Over years of progressive expansion of kalo lo‘i (flooded taro patches) up slopes and along rivers, kalo cultivation in Hawai‘i reached a unique level of engineering and sustainable sophistication.
The Hawaiian concept of family, ‘ohana, is derived from the word ‘ohā (Fig., offspring, youngsters,) the axillary shoots of kalo that sprout from the main corm, the makua (parent.) Huli, cut from the tops of mauka, and ‘ohā are then used for replanting to regenerate the cycle of kalo production.
Kalo lo‘i systems are typically a set of adjoining terraces that are typically reinforced with stone walls and soil berms. Wetland taro thrives on flooded conditions, and cool, circulating water is optimal for taro growth, thus a system may include one or more irrigation ditches, or ‘auwai, to divert water into and out of the planting area. (McElroy)
In 6 to 12 months, depending upon plant variety along with soil and water conditions, the taro is generally ready to harvest. Each parent tuber produces from two to 15 ʻohā, side tubers of corms, up to 6 inches in diameter.
Kalo patches are variously named on the basis of size, shape, planting method and other factors. Mo‘o ai are narrow strips of planted kalo, much longer than they are wide. Mo‘o kaupapa lo‘i are long rows of lo‘i or wet kalo patches. Other types of wet planting mounds include pu‘epu‘e hou and kipi or kipikipi. Of the wetland methods, lo‘i was most frequently occurring form.
Taro or Kalo has been a traditional form of food sustenance and nutrition, particularly in ancient Hawaiian culture. Reportedly, it is the world’s fourteenth most-consumed vegetable. All parts of the plant are eaten, including poi, table taro (the cooked corm,) taro chips and luau leaf.
Kalo starch is one of the most nutritious, easily digested food. Kalo corms are high in carbohydrate in the form of starch and low in fat and protein, similar to many other root crops.
The starch is 98.8 percent digestible, a quality attributed to its granule size, which is a tenth that of potato, making it ideal for people with digestive difficulties.
The corm is an excellent source of potassium (higher than banana), carbohydrate for energy and fiber. When eaten regularly, kalo corm provides a good source of calcium and iron. Kalo leaves (lū‘au leaves) are eaten as a vegetable.
The staple of the ancient Hawaiian people, poi, is a gentle food, hypoallergenic, gluten free and easily digestible. It has saved the lives of babies who have been allergic to everything else. Poi is just about for everyone – from the health-challenged to the super-fit endurance athlete. (Bishop Museum)
Kalo, like other plants in its family, is considered poisonous when raw because its tissues contain an acrid component; thorough steaming or boiling eliminates this and allows it to be eaten.
It is estimated that at the peak of kalo production, areas under its cultivation covered more than 20,000-acres (about 31 square miles) over six islands.
Since the early to mid-1800s, kalo cultivation and the demand for kalo has markedly declined, and many of the ceremonial, medicinal and upland kalo cultivars became neglected and were lost.
In the last 200 years, Waipi‘o has experienced many changes: new ownership of the land, assimilation of other ethnic groups into the indigenous Hawaiian population and the shift from subsistence taro farming to market production. (UH)
In 1900, it was estimated that about 1,280 acres were being used for kalo production. By 1907, rice had become a major crop, occupying about 10,000 acres.
At that time, Chinese farmers were growing about half the kalo crop and milling 80 percent of the poi. By 1937, the major kalo growers were Japanese.
With the outbreak of World War II in 1941, demand for kalo declined and production dropped to 920 acres. Today, less than 400 acres of kalo are planted.
The 21st Annual East Maui Taro Festival will be held in Hana, Maui, 9 am – 5 pm, April 20-21, 2013, Hana Ballpark – Hauoli Road & Uakea Street. Hawaiian entertainment & Hula, 20 Food Booths, 50 Arts & Crafts Booths, an Info Tent for non-profits, an Ag Tent & Farmers Market and hands-on Cultural demos such as poi-pounding, kapa cloth making, creating Hawaiian musical instruments, lauhala weaving. Family-friendly and no admission charge.
The image shows a couple of men pounding poi. (Lots of information here from CTAHR.) In addition, I have added some other related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.