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Kalo: Hawai‘i’s Source of Life

Kalo, a native Hawaiian plant, has profound importance in Hawaiian culture. Seen as the plant from which Hawaiians were born, it is a staple in their diet and is consumed in its entirety, from root to leaf.

 

Kalo came to Hawai‘i on the canoes of the early Polynesian voyagers nearly 1500 years ago. It is central to the Native Hawaiian creation story and is a significant part of Hawai‘i’s cultural, historical and culinary identity.

The plant itself is a root with a stalk and heartshaped leaves. The tubers of the kalo are often made into poi – a nutrient dense soft food that is enjoyed by people of all ages – although all parts of this incredible plant are eaten.

The kalo fields (lo‘i) are a familiar sight on the Hawaiian landscape, and the farmers who tend the land are stewards of this tradition. With lessons learned from hundreds of years of cultivation, they understand how to work harmoniously with nature, and are typically happy to share their expertise and stories about Hawai‘i’s most important plant.

Kamuela Yim, one such farmer, explains how the land, or “‘āina” in the Hawaiian language, is more than a sheer commodity to them.“‘ "'Aina is the thing that defines you as a Hawaiian,” Kamuela explains. “Outside of being Hawaiian, ‘āina is the thing that supports you and gives you the resources that you need.”