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Poi

Posted By Marie McCoy-Thompson On May 14, 2013 @ 9:33 pm In Customs,Foodways,general | Comments Disabled

My informant was born and raised in Hawaii. He talked about a particularly special food that is important in Hawaii, and then talked about how it is linked to Hawaiian culture in general:

“So poi is a very important food to the ancient Hawaiian culture. And supposedly the poi plant—the taro plant—came from the son of the main god, which is probably the sun god I believe, named Wakea. And so, supposedly when the ancient Hawaiians ate poi, it was kind of a family affair. The males were the ones to pound it and prepare it. It’s pounded out… basically you have to turn it into a paste. So you take the taro root, which is  kind of starchy, kind of like a potato. You just pound it out into a paste and add a little bit of water to it so you get the right consistency. And poi was a sacred food so nobody could be like, angry around the table when you ate poi, so it brought families together. And the way you ate poi was to take your index finger and middle fingers and dip them into the first joint of the poi bowl, and everyone would dip their fingers into the poi bowl and eat poi like that. And it was supposed to symbolize purity, or something like that, I’m not too sure. Personally, local Hawaiian culture is like… You won’t eat poi that often, it’s not quite continued specifically from ancient Hawaiian culture. So when you eat poi now, it’s generally not the same affair as it was during ancient Hawaiian days. So you’ll usually eat it with a Hawaiian meal with like, lomi lomi salmon or something like that. But it definitely hasn’t carried over with all of the same connotations to today. The production of it is dying out a bit, but some groups are trying to keep the ancient Hawaiian traditions alive. But normally now, if you get poi, you’ll just go to the supermarket and get a bag of poi. Personally, it’s kind of bland, so I don’t care for it that much, but I know people who definitely like it. I still eat it today at potlucks with my family. Generally, if people get together and have parties, we will just have potlucks as opposed to big luaus. Luaus are generally more festive for tourists who come down to have the Hawaiian experience. So anyway, the rule I was always brought up with was, ‘Bring more food than you ate.’ So we would get together and have potlucks after baseball games on Saturdays. So Saturdays would always have a giant assortment of food placed out from all different families, often including poi. But yeah, local Hawaiian culture is different from ancient Hawaiian culture. Generally Hawaiian people are kind of known to be really friendly and stuff, and to a large extent, I find that to be true. A lot of Hawaii people are generally chill. But it’s definitely not the culture you see like, on postcards.”

My informant describes how poi inherently carries a great deal of significance. There are special guidelines for how it is supposed to be prepared and eaten. These customs all promote a pleasant experience; there is no room for negativity around the table where poi is served. Eating poi is supposed to involve family and friends, so it brings people together. As my informant explained, the traditions surrounding poi are more formal when it is presented to tourists during a luau than when it is served at local potlucks. He talked about the differences between stereotypes about Hawaiians and what he actually thinks is true about locals; he agrees that locals have a positive vibe, but they don’t live life like postcards. Even so, they still make efforts to carry on some traditions, like eating poi. Although the poi itself may not be particularly tasty to my informant, he still appreciates its historical and cultural significance. He thinks that traditions like eating poi with each other help foster the kind of “chill,” positive, relaxed mindset that local Hawaiians have.


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URL to article: http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=17950