Archive for January, 2012

  • Dryland Kalo Growing [Taro] In South Kona

    This is another essay written by George in the seventies on growing Taro. Keep in mind that when he wrote this he lived on the Big Island, today he lives on Maui.

    “During the 1920’s to the 1950’s according to my Uncle Willie Kahumoku, kalo was grown by our family mostly for home use. In Honaunau my uncle Charlie Mokuohai and Aunty Anna farmed about forty acres of taro for commercial poi use and owned Royal Poi. Anyone with extra taro would sell to Royal Hawaiian Poi. The varieties we grew in Kealia, where I now reside, forpoi were mainly lehua maoli, lehua ula ula, poni, palali’i, nauea, o’opu kai and several varieties of piko taro such as piko lehua and piko keokea. The table-eating varieties we grew were mostly mana ulu, mana keokea and mana ‘ele’ele. Mana ‘opelu, kumu and lauloa varieties and one called “pake taro”(but not the bunlong variety) we grew for pig feed and ‘opelu (mackerel fish) chum, as these had less favorable characteristics. They were too itchy to eat, made poi “hu”, (rise and overflow), or were huge and/or with lots of keikis.

    We fished and planted by the moon. We found that the three nights before the full moon called Po ‘Akua, Po Hoku and Po Mahealani were best for planting taro. We sometimes planted taro on Hilo or new moon. Other moon phases were used to plant ulu (breadfruit), ko (sugar cane), maila (bananas) and uala (sweet potatoe). Like my ancestors, I still use the 0’0 or digging stick for planting, exept my 10’0 was made of spring steel instead of wood. Taro was planted by softening the earth with the ’10 and planted maka lua (two eyes or two huli) in a hole twenty four inches wide in rows four feet apart. It was lonely and would grow better side by side with a friend. Before planting the land was prepared by clearing, slashing and burning. The huli was Holo makaukau (made ready before hand). All taro was planted at a slanted 45° angle in a Ku or Hina fashion. The ku style of planting slanted the huli 90° perpendicular toward the sun’s path across the sky. The hina style of planting taro placed the huli 90° away from the sun’s path across the sky. “Ku” was used for making big corms with little or no keikisi “Hina” was used for building up huli and making lots if keikis.

    During the early 1900’s mango, hau and kukui trees were planted near the stone walled edges of the fields. Along with ama’u ferns the young leaves of these trees were used to pori or mulch from six to twelve inches deep around the newly planted taro once that taro had taken and was standing up (about six to eight weeks after planting). It was the job of the youngsters ages twelve to seventeen to climb the trees and break off the young branches. Even today if you go into the South Kona uplands, one can find huge groves of mango, hau and kukui planted on the edges of the taro and the leaves were also used for fertilizer and mulching. Before the taro began to cover and canopy the entire ground, around three months old, it was weeded one last time and left alone until harvest. No one was allowed to play or make noise near the kalo patch as it was a sacred place.

    The taro grew to six, seven and even eight feet tall. When the leaves would start to shrink and drop the corms would begin to form. When the leaves were three to four feet in height or between six to twelve months old, depending on the variety, the taro was harvested. If not harvested in time certain varieties like lehua would begin to loli-loli or rot. You were considered a good taro farmer if four to five maka lua (or holes) harvested filled a one hundred ten pound coffee bag. The taro was then taken home where it was steamed in the imu or on an open fire in a fifty-five gallon drum. The taro was then pounded into pari ‘ai with a stone poi pounder by two folks sitting across from each other straddling one long poi board. It was fun to hear the kupunas’ poi pounders “talk” to each other while pounding poi.

    Pari ‘ai was really stiff pounding taro with little or no water added. The pari ‘ai was placed in thirty gallon kela mania (earthen crocks) for storage. Poi was then made by putting into smaller bowls of about two gallons each and fermented according to individual taste. My great-grandmother liked herpoi three to four weeks old, white and bubbly, as does my older brother who grew up with our great-grandparents.

    Today we still grow taro much like our kupunas did, except we use commercial fertilizer, pig manure and macadamia nut and coffee husks for mulch along with the mango, ti and banana leaves.

    Thank you for this opportunity to share. ”

    To this day you still can't take five steps in George's garden without finding some taro.

    To this day you still can’t take five steps in George’s garden without finding some taro.


  • A Hawaiian Perspective on Taro Growing by George Kahumoku Jr.

    This is an essay of George’s I found while scanning his songs from his old song book to his iPad for him.  He wrote it in 1978, enjoy.

    A Hawaiian Perspective on Taro Growing by George Kahumoku Jr.

    Taro has been documented in Chinese history 100 B.C. and Egyptian history 1000 B.C. According to Hawaiian oral history as passed on by Kupuna Aunty Edith Kanaka’ole and shared with those like myself, the Hawaiian genesis of mankind began when Wakea the god of the sky, vibrated with Papa, the earth goddess. The result of this first union was a keiki ‘alu alu or flabby-fetus born-dead. This fetus was buried near the south end of the house where sprung forth the Kalo or taro plant, called Haloa-naka or long-stalk-trembling. Those of us who have been around taro, with a light wind blowing, may have noticed this long stalk trembling behavior first observed by the Gods.

    A second union between Wake a and Papa produced man.

    Henceforth, according to Hawaiian oral tradition, the Kalo or taro plant is the eldest brother of man. Like the old time Japanese samurai, who believed that the spiritual energy or “mana” was passed on best by the first-born of the first-born of the subsequent generations, the Hawaiians believed that the taro or kalo was spiritually superior to man who was second born. This belief was so strong that only men (not women, because of their monthly cycles) were allowed to work in the taro patch and do the food preparation, including poi pounding. Post missionary contact and new belief systems gave women more freedom in relationship to food growing and the preparation and eating of taro.

    Today many of the links between taro and man have survived via the Hawaiian language. The word for family, ohana, comes directly from the word “oha”, or young shoots of the taro, and “na”, the Hawaiian word denoting plurality, or many young shoots.  The huli or “keiki” refer to the children in the family.

    The taro that is mature and ready to harvest is called makua, the Hawaiian word for parent. The taro that has long been harvested and eaten is called Kupuna, the Hawaiian word for grandparent.

    One of my favorite reasons for planting taro (besides eating) is for the spiritual link to my ancestral older brother, the Kalo. It reminds me of where I came from and where I’m going. Taro also needs the inter-relationship with man in order to survive and do well. This show of affection.

  • Keoki Kahumoku Plays to Another Full House

    Another Packed House

    Another Packed House

    This week at the Slack Key Show our featured artist was Keoki Kahumoku George’s son and my (Geoff) hanai brother.  The show drew in a full house just like last week.

    It’s always good to see my brother Keoki again and sometimes the show is the only time that happens since he lives over on the Big Island.  The show opened  with George and this time I had finished uploading his songbook onto his iPad so his selection of songs is even bigger than last time.  Among other songs,t he performed “E Nei”, an old original of his I found in his “lost files”.

    After George was finished, Keoki went up on stage with his ukulele & guitar.  My brother entertained the crowd with some great traditional songs and an entertaining hapa haole medley including Princess Pupule and Tiny Bubbles.

    After the intermission and our weekly free CDs and book drawing, Da Ukulele Boys played some contemporary songs then called up George and Keoki  and played a great jam session including “Mr Sancho Lee” dedicated to Garrett’s brother Jason who was in the audience.  It is one of my favorite songs.  Here is a sample of it.

    The crowd gave them a standing ovation and CD sales were so brisk that I had to work at the counter instead of writing this blog like I usually do.  Yet another great show.

    Standing Ovation

    Standing Ovation


  • George Kahumoku’s Taro Haiku

    I was going through Uncle George’s old song book so that I could scan his songs into his ipad for him when I found this lost gem.  It’s a poem he wrote over twenty years ago and yet it still represents what believes today…

    ‘This haiku poem I wrote best describes my
    feeling for Taro:

    Taro six feet tall
    Quivering in the moonlight
    Brings peace to my Soul!

    George Kahumoku

    As You Can See Uncle George Still Lives by this Poem

    As You Can See Uncle George Still Lives by this Poem



  • Another Great Post about George by Ray Tsuchiyama

    Here is another blog post by Ray Tsuchiyama,  Uncle George’s friend.

    RayT-headshot“Recently, my spouse C. and I visited the Edward Bailey House Museum in Wailuku for a Maui Historical Society fund-raising event.  It was a Christmas seasonal affair, so many people were searching for gifts among tables filled with pottery, books, leis, jewelry

    Slack-key musician George Kahumoku Jr. was playing and singing, and we took seats under Wailuku’s ever-changing strong sunlight, sudden swift clouds, soothing cool winds from green Iao Valley.  He spoke about his life and all the colorful incidents that led to his musical career (including a stint working for Honolulu car salesman Lippy Espinda – I recall his television commercials where the old-timer promoted used cars next to a ventriloquist’s dummy).

    C. and I stayed for a hula halau and enjoyed the keikidancing very much.  Later during a windy and rainy afternoon we ate croissant sandwiches at the Maui Bakery along Wailuku’s Vineyard Street, and C. bought some cookies and we were pleasantly surprised how buttery and light the cookies tasted.

    A few days later I met George carrying his 12-string guitar (along with his ubiquitous box of organic bananas) in a parking lot, and he told me the good news: he had been nominated for his fifth Grammy award. His face and voice expressed much surprise, as he said that although Hawaii’s musicians are no longer eligible for a Hawaii Grammy Award, they can compete in the new, umbrella “Regional Roots” category.  George’s album “Wao Akua: The Forest of the Gods*,” was nominated along with other albums highlighting polka, zydeco, and Cajun (yes, all with American musical roots).

    In a newspaper interview George asserted that he found inspiration for his album “Wao Akua: The Forest of the Gods” while teaching an ethnobotany class on Maui (on the other hand, it’s rare to find a botanist teaching guitar, but that’s George).  George explained: “The idea was to present music that if you went into the forest you would like to listen to.  .  .”

    In other words, Hawaiian trees, shrubs, flowers gave him insights to develop musical compositions that he integrated into an album.  George derived inspiration from Nature – that’s a simple analysis, yet he has a multi-disciplinary approach, combining technical abilities with spirituality and personal recollections, emotions in the 24 melodies — several George originals, two compositions by Prince William Pitt Leleiohoku Kalaho’olewa (Kaua i ka Huahua’i and Moanike’ala) and one by Queen Lili’uokalani (Pauahi ‘O Kalani), plus 11 “traditional” Hawaiian songs whose authorship is either disputed or unknown.

    In George’s words: “(The album) includes some family classics as well as newly composed melodies inspired from my recent trek through a Hawaiian forest. Just as there are different layers in the forest: the ground cover, ferns and bushes, understory, and canopy; these songs, too, are representative of the various layers of my musical life. Whenever I play an instrumental “background music” gig, I often drift into a zone of reflection that flows into a spiritual realm where I hope the listener can follow. This CD is meant to delight and to instill a sense of peace, harmony, and lokahi (unity) for the sounds and the silence found within the Wao Akua, the Forest of the Gods.”

    Much congratulations to you, George, a fellow Fern Elementary keiki, and best of luck in Los Angeles next spring.

    * Four songs from the album are featured in the George Clooney movie “The Descendants,” and another was used in an episode of “Hawaii Five-0.”  Spouse C. is still waiting patiently for the movie to come to Maui.  Note: The “Regional Roots” winner will be announced at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards Show, held in the Los Angeles Convention Center on February 12 2012.”