Kalo is the Hawaiian word for taro. Taro is a “canoe crop,” a plant that Polynesian settlers brought with them because it provides a substantial amount of food. The leaves are always cooked, and when it’s wrapped around pork, it’s called laulau. The root, or corm, is baked or boiled, and is much like a potato. Except kalo has more fiber and less sugar than a potato and is very easy on the digestive system.Kalo continues to play a great role in the Hawaiian culture. Today, it’s also been introduced into non-Hawaiian households around.
Having sustained Hawaiians for thousands of years, kalo is deeply rooted in the culture and is considered to be the staff of life.
Recently, the Waipa Foundation and Limahuli Garden and Preserve hosted the annual Kalo Festival on Kauai. The Waipa Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to preserving Hawaiian tradition and is located in an ahupuaa, or subpision of the land, on Kauai’s north shore.
Melodic guitar and soothing voices that are so uniquely Hawaiian echo through the damp afternoon air. It’s winter in Hawaii, and it rains a lot. But the rain is warm and doesn’t last long, so we don’t let it stop us from having a good time. Music and face paint colored the Kalo Festival on Kauai.
We are in a valley, surrounded by the towering peaks of Mount Makaihuwaa. Children with painted faces dance to the music as smoke billows from a fire pit, juicy huli huli chicken roasts and sputters over hot coals.
Vendors are selling T-shirts, taro cheese cake, deep-fried and sugar-coated poi mochi balls. Other items include uncooked taro corms, chocolate-covered bananas, beef stew with taro, fine-art photography, lemons and limes and chocolate grown and made on Kauai.
Under the shelter of large canopy tents, folks participate in hands-on workshops. Hawaiians traditionally teach by doing and experiencing first-hand the particular practice. At the festival, people pound taro into poi using time-worn pounding boards and pestles called pohaku kui ai.A child uses all her might to pound kalo into pa’i’ai, or the undiluted form of poi.
In the center, a large canopy shades rows of long wood tables. Families enjoy the music while eating traditional Hawaiian food. No one is in a hurry; everyone has a smile on their faces. As I pop a chocolate-covered poi truffle into my mouth, the sun comes out and I feel very grateful to be celebrating Hawaii’s staff of life with such good people in a very beautiful place.
Photo Credit: Daniel Lane