This weekend is an exciting time for residents and visitors in Hana, Maui as it is the 20th annual East Maui Taro Festival!
This two-day festival began in 1992 to bring together the community of Hana and as an opportunity for farmers, artisans, cultural practitioners, scientists, visitors and other community members to network. Its symbol and center of celebration is the taro or kalo plant. Kalo is important to the Hawaiian people, as they are genealogically tied to this remarkable plant. In rural East Maui, it is still a staple crop and source of sustenance for most families, usually in the form of poi.
(Left) Kalo grows in loi like this one in Hana. (Right) After kalo is pounded, you get poi.
The first day of the East Maui Kalo Festival starts tomorrow. This is the actual festival event, in which an assortment of booths pop up in the middle of Hana’s baseball field. Booths are organized according to what is being sold. One cluster of booths features a farmers market. Poi, fish and kulolo are abundant. My favorite poi booth is the one belonging to the Kipahulu ohana. Informational booths, such as those hosted by Haleakala National Park, the East Maui Watershed Partnership and the Maui Invasive Species Committee, educate the public on environmental issues. Hawaiian arts and crafts workshops are offered as well, featuring lauhala weaving and apu (coconut cup) making.
The food is always amazing and kalo-centric. My favorite booths include specialties such as kalo corn chowder, kalo nachos and kalo mochi. So ono! If you’ve caught the shopping bug, a plethora of artisans are there to offer handmade shell jewelry, local clothing, unique woodwork and much more. There is Hawaiian music and hula happening throughout the day. This year’s festival is dedicated to Pekelo Cosma, an amazing Hawaiian musician from Hana who sadly passed away last year.
On Sunday, the Taro Festival continues with a scrumptious taro pancake breakfast served back at the baseball field. Hawaiian musicians serenade you as you scarf down the delicious local breakfast consisting of taro pancakes, eggs, Portuguese sausage and rice. When your belly is satisfied, make your way over to Kahanu Gardens, where director Kamaui Aiona will take you on a free tour of the beautiful, sea-cliff perched botanical gardens which also features Pi’ilani heiau (place of worship), the largest restored heiau in Hawaii. After the tour, you can make your way to Kipahulu where you can get your feet in the mud with the Kipahulu ohana and help replant next year’s kalo crop.
EAST MAUI TARO FESTIVAL • Hana Baseball Field (Look for the signs in the middle of Hana town, you can’t miss it) • www.tarofestival.org