AROUND THE CALABASH: Tales of Poi

Our favorite bits of poi history &
poi personal anecdotes 

 

Warrior Food

Extracts from Voyages Made in the Years 1788 and 1789, from China to the Northwest Coast of America  by David Samwell, Ebenezer Townsend (Jr), George Gilbert, Hawaiian Historical Society, Joseph Ingraham, John Meares, Bruce Cartwright

Sunday, December 14, 1788.  The American trading schooners Iphigenia, Capt William Douglas, accompanied by the schooner North West America, Capt Funter, lay at anchor in 30 fathoms (180 feet) of water off of Kailua Bay on the Island of Hawaii.  King Kamehameha had arrived the day before with a retinue of chiefs who had slept onboard the schooner, North West America, the previous evening.  

At 3 in the morning, Capt Funter informed Capt Douglas that the North West America’s anchor cable, a line approximately 14 inches in diameter, had parted and the anchor was fouled on the sea bottom.  None of the ship’s western sailors could dive that deep so King Kamehameha was asked if he could send some of his divers to aid in the recovery of the anchor.  

Six divers were sent out by Kamehameha in canoes at 8 am.  Prior to entering the water, ships officers observed the Hawaiian divers take part in the consumption of several calabashes (native gourds) of the native poi made from taro corms that lasted about one half hour.  

At a signal from a chief, the six divers then descended below the surface of the water in search of the anchor.  

The officers aboard the ships were keenly interested to see how long these divers could stay under water and timed the descent.

Four of the six divers remained underwater for about 5 minutes, the fifth remained under water for another minute, and the sixth diver was recovered after being under water for 7 ½ minutes, having recovered and cleared the anchor cable.

Pacific Magazine 1923; ad for the Honolulu Aquarium “An Hawaiian fisherman of the olden days.”

Pacific Magazine 1923; ad for the Honolulu Aquarium “An Hawaiian fisherman of the olden days.”

100401taro.jpg

Memories of Old Hawaii

Childhood memories from our Vice President of Operation, Piikalama Boiser

As a child growing up on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Piikalama's family grew its own taro to make into Poi.  The taro was grown in spring water that fed into the family’s taro field. This event was always a family affair where all the grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins would gather, usually over a weekend, to harvest taro and make fresh Poi.  Taro harvesting and Poi making lasted several days in which all the family members would work, play and eat together...children swimming and playing together….the adults catching fish and harvesting seaweed, picking fruits and vegetables from the garden and fruit orchard to eat with the newly made Poi which was usually eaten from a large, communal bowl.


 

Piikalama’s grandmother would always save a tiny bit of the fermented, older Poi which she would add to the freshly made Poi to enhance and accelerate the fermentation process.  The idea of fermentation, turning the fresh Poi into “sour” Poi was common among the older generation of Hawaiians as this was intuitive, indigenous knowledge gained from centuries of cultural practice - knowledge that modern science has confirmed as being the single, most important, health characteristic of Poi. 

Paddling Through the Night

Missionaries arrived in Hawaii in 1820 intent on converting the native people to Christianity, create a written language, to clothe them and to encourage the banning of existing native religious and cultural practices.  As their influence spread throughout the islands, the method of being transported between islands was by native canoe.  Hawaiian canoes were generally paddled at night especially when paddling against the prevailing current, wind and ocean waves.  This was because the wind and waves tended to be most favorable at night.

Missionaries often wrote of their experiences during these inter-island voyages which could be over a distance of as much as 80-100 miles and take more than 12 hours of constant paddling.  A common observation made would be one describing the paddlers consuming many bowls of Poi before making the very arduous journey, often padding non-stop against wind, waves and current and attributing the amazing endurance and stamina of the paddlers to the Poi that they consumed.