[Found under: “Our English Items”]
What is Poi?
Mr. Lorrin Andrews in his Hawaiian Dictionary gives the following definition of the word Poi: “The paste or pudding which was formerly the chief food of Hawaiians, and is so to a great extent yet. It is made of kalo, sweet potatoes or breadfruit, but mostly of kalo, by baking the above articles in ovens under ground, and afterwards peeling and pounding them with more or less water (but not much); it is then left in a mass to ferment; after fermentation, it is again worked over with more water until it has the consistency of thick paste. It is eaten cold with fingers.”
The learned Hawaiian lexiographer [lexicographer] do not give the exact meaning of the word. Poi is a name given to mashed Kalo, potatoe, breadfruit or banana. The Kalo (a species of arum ex-culentum [arum esculentum] when cooked, is mashed or pounded with a stone, especially made for that purpose, until it becomes like a good soft (flour) dough. From that stage it is then reduce to what is called—poi. It is only at this stage the word poi is used. When the taro is merely mashed, or pounded into a hard pulpy mass, it is called a pa’i-ai or pa’i-kalo. When it is reduced to a still softer condition, and could be twisted by fingers, it is then called poi—whether hard or soft (poi paa or poi wali). When the poi is too soft, it is called poi hehee.
Our kanaka savant ventures to give his definition of Poi. He thinks that it primarily means to gather up; to collect, to pull up; to hold or lift up an article, lest it falls down or spills over. It is analogous to the word Hii, “to lift up; to carry upon the hips and support with the arms, as a child.” An expert poi pounder will call the attention of an unskillful person when pounding taro, saying: “E poi mai ka ai i ole e haule mawaho o ka papa.” (Gather up the ai (foot [food]) lest it falls over the board). He found a French definition of the word “poi” in Boniface Mosblech’s “Vocabulaire Oce’anien—Francais, et cetera, (Paris, 1843) to wit: “boullie de taro” (soft taro). That does not give the derivative definition of the word (kalo) any better than Mr. Andrews.
In conclusion we add the old legend pertaining to the origin of Kalo (taro).
Wakea was the husband, and Papa was the wife, and they two were supposed by some ancient Hawaiian tradition, the first progenitors of the Hawaiian race. They lived on the Koolau side of the Island of Oahu, and also at Kalihi. Their first born son was of premature birth. The little fellow died and its body was buried at one end of their house. After a while, from where the child’s body was buried a new kind of plant shot up. Nobody knows what it was. Finally, green leaves appeared. Wakea called the leaves “Lau-kapa-lili” (the quivering leaves) and the long stalk or stem of the plant was called “Ha-Loa” (long stalk or stem). The plant was finally called by Wakea as “Haloa.”
(Kuokoa Home Rula, 1/1/1909, p.1)
Kuokoa Home Rula, Buke VII, Helu 1, Aoao 1. Ianuari 1, 1909.