G. W. E. Kupele responds to Kanepuu’s question on the Kanepuaa plant, 1857.

Pertaining to the Kanepuaa Plant

O Hae Hawaii

Aloha oe:—I saw in the Hae Hawaii, Issue 19, the thought of J. H. Kanepuu. Asking the oldsters who know of the plant of Kanepuaa. The thing that will increase food and fish according to him, if the plant of Kanepuaa is gotten.

Here below is the response. The other day, I asked some oldsters with knowledge of the plant of Kanepuaa. They answered, it is not an actual plant like the plants of the medical kahuna [kahuna lapaau]. But it is a kind of worship by the name of Kanepuaa.

He is the god of farming and the god of fishing in the olden days. And this is what was done that is known from that time. If a person planted a field of sweet potatoes,  he took out all of the tubers and left none behind, he took them all out. It was called a vine [kalina] after, and at that point he would replant the kalina and pile up dirt for the sweet potato mounds. He continued this until the whole field was made into proper dirt mounds. And then he put it under restriction; no one else was to step in it until the sweet potatoes grew once again. During those days, this is what he did, he fetched some sweet potato leaves from the fields, that being palula; he baked them in the imu until done, he went into the fields with a plate of the palula, and said in the name of Kanepuaa, the god. But as a prayer. “O Kanepuaa, don’t go to the fields of others and dig; W. is a wrathful man. You will get stabbed by the oo stick, pelted by stones; you will be hurt, your bones broken, you will perish. Here is our fields, root there, root until that corner, root until this corner. You will be at fault if you go elsewhere.” That is what they would say in the name of Kanepuaa. In the morning, in the evening, and for many days they would do this saying the words above. And this is how he completed this; when he saw the soil bulged [hukeu], he decided that there was a lot of tubers in the fields. When he went out to worship and return to the house, he was not to look back. And when he dug up the fields, there would be much potatoes, so very much. That is what I was told by some people about Kanepuaa as pertaining to farming. And so too with fish, it is a sort of worship in the name of Kanepuaa.

O J. H. Kanepuu, if you have some knowledge by the person you heard it from that there is an actual plant of Kanepuaa, not like this that it is a kind of worship, then tell us. So that we understand it is a real plant. Not a type of worship like I heard. With aloha.


Onomea, Hilo, H., Aug. 22, 1857.

[It is this ability to question back and forth from all the corners of the archipelago and beyond (because Hawaiians used to subscribe to the newspapers when they moved beyond the Pacific Ocean) that made the newspapers such an awesome means of communication back then, and a priceless archive today.]

(Hae Hawaii, 9/23/1857, p. 102)


Ka Hae Hawaii, Buke 2, Ano Hou—Helu 26, Aoao 102. Sepatemaba 23, 1857.

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