1. Ironically, a plant so common throughout the world in places like, Africa, China, Turkey, Nepal, India, the West Indies, and in ancient civilizations of the past, like ancient Rome, taro has come to be acutely associated with ancient Hawaii and Hawaiians. Many companies, organizations, and schools use the taro plant in their logos and seals to identify themselves as Hawaiian. Taro, for ancient Hawaiians, was an important staple. So valuable was it as a source of sustenance that it was given the name the “staff of life.” In legend, it was believed that father sky Wakea, and mother earth Papa had a stillborn child son, Haloa-naka. The fetus was buried and from the grave sprouted a taro plant. Their next child was a daughter, Ho`ohokukalani. Wakea impregnated his daughter and she bore a son, a human chief, Haloa, from which all mankind descended. Haloa-naka, the taro plant, is therefore mankind’s big brother. He reserves himself for the caring and nurturing of his brothers and sisters.


    One feature of the taro that supports this belief is that taro contains the chemical calcium oxalate. The chemical is slightly toxic and injures the throat and mouth of people or animals for days, if not weeks if consumed uncooked. It is believe even insects suffer a similar fate. With the exception of disease, taro has no predators. Heat from cooking distroys the toxin and unpleasant effects. Man, the only living being who cooks his food, has exclusive use for taro as a food source.


    The taro figures prominently in Hawaiian geneology. Father Wakea’s human son, Haloa, created through incestual relationship, inherited and passes on his “mana” or personal characteristics to the next generation.  Hawaiians believed every human had the potential to inherit chiefhood of Wakea and Papa but only if their gene pool led cleanly back to Haloa. King David Kalakaua, the second to the last ruling Hawaiian monarch in documenting his geneology tree, traced it back to Haloa, and thereby qualified himself as a legitimate ruler. The taro’s bulb-shaped, rootlike corm sprouts rootlets called oha. Like the ginger plant, the oha’s create a second generation of taro without the need for seeds. The word “na” in Hawaiian means connection. The Hawaiian word for family, ohana, is derived from the propagation characteristics of taro, that is from one, many generations are created.


    There are over 300 varieties of taro. Within the variety are wet land (loi), dry land (mala), cold water, and warm water strains of taro. The plant takes from 6 to 12 months to mature, depending on the variety. Every part of the taro plant can be eaten. The bulb shaped corm is the portion used to make the Hawaiian staple, poi.. The taro distinguishes itself from its less tasteful relative, the ape. The leaves of the taro point to the ground while the ape’s leaves point upward. Another defining characteristic is the point at which the stem attaches to the leaf, called piko or belly button. On the taro, the piko is offset about an inch inside the leaf’s edge. On the ape, it’s at the leaf’s edge. The taro leaf is believed to be the body form of the Hawaiian god of fresh water, Kane. It is believed that early oceanic followers of Kane made the decision to settle in the Hawaiian Islands mainly on the basis of water available for taro cultivation. Other Polynesians, not so particular of having taro as their staple, settled in other parts of Oceania. For example, the inhabitants of the Marquesas Islands, a hilly, more arid group of Pacific islands, depended on breadfruit, ulu, as their main staple.


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