My community partner, Waipa, has worked with the community for 20 years to manage 1,600 acres of land on the North Shore of Kaua’i. The community comes together to connect with the ‘aina – or the land and resources – and learn about local values and lifestyle through laulima, or several hands working together. Thursdays are special at Waipa because it is Poi Day. Waipa and Several community volunteers come together to continue a sacred tradition of the Hawaiian culture.
To Native Hawaiians, Taro – known to them as kalo – is very sacred. In the Hawaiian Creation chant – Kumulipo – the plant is said to have been where Hawaiians were formed from. It was one of the very first plants that the first voyagers brought over about 1,500 years ago, known as a canoe plant.
The chant says that Papa (Mother Earth) and Wakea (Father Sky) gave birth to Ho’ohokukalani, who grew to be the most beautiful woman. She gave birth to a still born whom she called Haloa-naka. The ground in which he was buried is where the first Kalo sprounted, which fed Ho’ohokukalani’s second born son and the Hawaiian lineage that came from him.
To this day, Hawaiians honor the Kalo, and Waipa keeps the tradition alive for the community through Poi Day. The community comes together to turn the cooked Kalo into Poi, which is a Hawaiian dish made from the Kalo that has been baked and pounded into a paste. The tradition was started about 30 years ago by Hawaiian families in the North Shore to have poi available to the community. Waipa distributes poi to Kupuma and ‘ohana – elders and families – across the island of Kaua’i.
Although the poi making begins on Thursdays at 5am, the process really begins the day before, and I was fortunate enough to see the thorough process of cooking Kalo. Farmers around the community deliver about 1200 lbs. of fresh Kalo to Waipa. We set up the work area and lay the Kalo out to be rinsed and cleaned. Once this is done, the Kalo is put into huge cylinder barrels and left cooking overnight for Thursday.
On Thursday, we arrive early to Waipa to set up Poi day. The containers of cooked Kalo are emptied into bins and given to volunteers to begin the first cleaning process. The Kalo is peeled and rinsed. Then, the peeled Kalo is taken to the second cleaning station, where it is washed once more and taken to the third station. Here, the Kalo is removed of any imperfections with a knife and cut up into chunks that will be inserted in the grinder. From there, the Kalo is mashed up and put into plastic bags, now called Poi and ready to be given out to the community.
When I got there with the other Duke Engagers, they put us straight to work. We began the first cleaning process of the Kalo. As I looked around, I was left awestruck by the dedication the foundation, its workers, and volunteers displayed. As we moved on to the next cleaning processes, we were reminded by our host of the historical value that the Taro holds to the Native Hawaiians.
Once all the Poi was bagged and ready to be delivered, we came together for lunch. The Native Hawaiians have this beautiful tradition called a Piko, which refers to the umbilical cord that was once bound to your mother, her generations, and all your ancestors in the past. Everyone holds hands and forms a circle. Those that are new are introduced and a blessing is said for the food. My experience at Waipa’s Poi Day is something I will always cherish. It was amazing to see members of all ages of the community come together to keep this tradition alive. Although Waipa does much more than host Poi Day, in my opinion, it is the most special day. Watching an ancient tradition unravel before your eyes is a humbling experience, and I am grateful I got to be a part of it.