Over 60 varieties of dry land kalo have been cultivated by farmers on the Big Island.
By Rory Akau.
While kalo (taro; Colocasia esculenta) is a common staple crop found throughout the South Pacific, Hawaiians were the only Pacific Islanders to produce pa‘i‘ai, or poi, from the kalo corm. Rather than spoil, poi ferments and was sometimes stashed alongside trails for hungry travelers.
To make poi traditionally, steamed or boiled taro corms are pounded between papa ku‘ i‘ai (wood board) and ku‘ i‘ai pohaku (poi pounder) with a small amount of water until the mixture forms a thick paste. This pulverizing action removes most of the air from the starch to extend shelf life.
Kalo is typically propagated asexually by separating the huli (planting material) from the corm and leaves and planting it directly in soil. Seed propagation is possible but mostly done for crossing varieties. Tissue culture propagation is also possible. Traditionally, Hawaiians alternated lo‘i plantings with fallow to allow the land to rest.
Hawaiian taro was genetically crossed primarily to improve poi. Over 60 varieties of dry land kalo have been cultivated by farmers on the Big Island.
‘Ōlelo No‘eau (Hawaiian proverbs)
Hilo ‘ai lū‘au. Hilo, eater of taro greens. (Storms made it impossible to obtain fish in Hilo, and so people had to rely on taro greens.)
Kalo kanu o ka ‘āina. Taro planted on the land. “Natives of the land from generations back.”
Source: Pūku‘i, M.K. 1983. ‘Ōlelo No‘eau, Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press.
–From the Sept. 2011 issue of the Agricultural Club Newsletter, College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.
Photo credit: USGS