Taro, Gift Of
The Ancient Gods
by Veronica S.
Wakea, Father Heaven, could no longer resist his desire
for his youngest daughter. Careful to not arouse the
jealousy of his wife, Mother Earth, he arranged nights
of kapu, in which men and women should sleep apart from
each other. Those were the beginnings of the many kapus
between men and women.
The first child from his union with the Daughter of
Earth was born prematurely, and shaped as a bulb. Wakea
named this fruit of his loins Haloa, and buried the
strange body at the eastern corner of his house. Their
second-born was a healthy boy, the ancestor of the Hawaiian
people, and also named Haloa. Haloa, first-born man,
was to respect and to look after his older brother for
ever more. In return, the elder Haloa, the root of life,
would always sustain and nourish him and his descendants.
So it's said in one of the ancient Hawaiian legends
about the origins of taro, a root superior and older
than people. In Hawaii, taro truly is the staff of life.
According to the kapu, only men are allowed to grow
This starchy root has been cultivated worldwide for
over 2000 years. The earliest recordings of this versatile
plant date from 23 BC, when Greek and Roman writers
first located it in Ancient Egypt. Yet only in Hawaii
are the traditions of taro cultivation so tied in to
cultural and even religious beliefs and practices.
Still today, in remote valleys, such as Waipio on the
Big Island of Hawaii, taro is a way of life. It is the
heart beat of the land and its people. Knowledge of
its cultivation and its qualities has been passed down
from generation to generation. Taro farmers often spend
the day in knee high water, planting new keikis, harvesting
mature corms, and weeding the abundant tropical growth
around the invaluable food source.
The early Hawaiians allegedly ate up to 15 pounds of
poi daily. A mashed and strained taro product, poi is
so well digestible, that the Polynesian language does
not even have a word for the indigestion so common in
the western diet.
Botanically, taro (Colocasia Esculenta) belongs to
the family of Araceae, which includes the better known
philodendron, dieffenbacchia and anthurium. The true
taro lover compares the hundreds of ever changing varieties
with the same appreciation and poetic language as a
fine wine connoisseur distinguishes her wines.
Today, taro in Hawaii is mostly used for poi, table
taro, taro chips, and luau (green taro tops). It is
surprisingly underused. The National Academy of Science
selected taro as one of the underutilized food crops
of the world. It could happily start gaining space next
to staple foods such as rice and wheat. Some are predicting
it just may become the new trend food of the '90's.
"E' ai a ma' ona." Enjoy!
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